Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Fruit & Nut Trees

Fabulous Figs (page 2 of 5)

by Robert Kourik

When Figs Fruit

In the most favorable regions, such as Hawaii or San Diego, some figs produce three crops a year. But in most areas, trees produce either a summer crop (also called the breba crop, from the Spanish brebathe, meaning "first crop") or a fall or main crop. The summer crop usually offers fewer but larger figs, compared with the fall crop.

In mild-summer areas, the summer crop may be the only one--early fall rains or cold can ruin the fall crop. In areas with long, hot summers, the fall crop may have sweeter and more richly flavored figs than the summer crop. At the northern extreme of fig territory, where trees are heavily pruned and wrapped prior to winter, expect only the fall crop.

Climate plays the major role in crop timing for most varieties, but cropping patterns are genetically determined in a few cases. For instance, 'Panachee' and 'Pasquale' produce fall crops only, while 'Kadota' and 'Mission' are noted for good production in both seasons.

Which Fig Tastes Best?

Flavor is as always subjective, and making objective comparisons is logistically difficult. But I did informally survey various authorities and some pattern did emerge.

In the South, fig enthusiasts Diana Lalani at Hidden Springs Nursery in Cookeville, Tennessee, and Ray Givan of Savannah, Georgia, rate 'Celeste' "best flavored." Lalani considers 'Brown Turkey' a close second, and Givan follows with 'Alma', 'Hardy Chicago', 'Excel', and 'Flanders', in that order.

Howard Garrison, who maintains the USDA collection of more than 50 varieties of fig trees at the Wolfskill site near Davis, California, rates 'Panachee' as best flavored, followed by 'Brown Turkey.'

Photographer Saxon Holt and I were obligated to sample more than 20 fig varieties while taking the photos for this article. We agreed that 'Panachee' is at least among the top five. While it was our favorite that day, most fig aficionados interviewed for this article considered it in the second tier for flavor.

Soil, Drainage and Roots

More than many common fruit trees, figs require good drainage. In wet clay or poorly drained soils, fig trees produce mostly vegetative, viny growth with few fruits. They tend to be short-lived.

Fig trees grow well in sandy loam to clay loam soil and seem to thrive in soils rocky enough to defy many plants, not to mention gardeners. In the Mediterranean, I've seen large, robust fig trees sprouting from craggy slopes and fractured rock cliffs. Rocky soils have another advantage: Gophers don't like them. This is important in the West, where the tunneling rodents are a worrisome pest of fig roots.

Figs tolerate soil pH between 6.0 and 7.8 and don't need as much fertility as most fruit trees. For instance, there is no need to fertilize a fig tree if new growth is longer than 6 inches. If growth is less than that, fertilize with 1-1/2 pounds of actual nitrogen per mature tree (7 to 8 pounds of blood meal or 10 pounds of 10-10-10). The best time to apply fertilizer is spring.

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