California produces 98 percent of all the fresh figs grown commercially in the United States. But San Diegans with a fig tree in their yard can harvest their own. Here are growing tips from Karen Contreras, president and CEO of Urban Plantations.
Fig trees are beautiful, easy to grow and produce an abundance of delicious fruit every year. They’re disease resistant, drought tolerant and can be propagated easily from backyard cuttings.
Growing figs is easy in San Diego County, but finding the warmest location on your property and selecting the right variety is the key to sweet, delicious fruit. On the coast, choose varieties such as ‘Black Mission,’ ‘Celeste,’ ‘Conadria’ and ‘White Genoa.’ Farther inland, where climates are warmer, try any of these, but add ‘Kadota’ and ‘Black Jack’ to your list. ‘Black Jack’ fig trees also can be grown in pots on a balcony or patio.
Most of the fruit is produced on the first-year’s growth of fig trees. Since they can grow from 6 to 8 feet per year, it’s good to cut them back during the winter after they lose their leaves.
Though figs love the heat and are drought tolerant, they like a good layer of mulch over their roots to keep the soil cool and weed-free in summer. Excess water during the ripening period can cause loss of flavor.
Fig trees have very few insect or disease problems. Birds can be pests in home gardens, but netting will keep them out of your trees. Keeping trees short and manageable by pruning them yearly will make it easier to net the trees as the fruit ripens.
Birds are pretty darn smart when it comes to ripe fruit. Mylar balloons and reflecting tapes or hanging old CDs from limbs (bouncing light from the silver finish) work great in the very short term; but because figs ripen over a long period of time, the birds get wise and invade. Netting is the best way to go if you have problems with birds.
Ants also can be a problem, but a layer of sticky Tanglefoot around the base of the tree and keeping the lower branches of the tree pruned up off the ground will eliminate ants from your fruit.
Harvesting your figs at the ideal time can be tricky. Fruit should be soft to the touch; in most cases, the skin will split. If you pull a fig off and you see white sticky sap, it’s too early to harvest. Tasting is the only way to know if fruit is sweet enough to harvest.
‘Calimyrna’ figs are, in my opinion, the best tasting of all figs. However, they are not very suitable for home gardens, because the female fig trees require male caprifigs to pollinate them with the help of a very specific wasp. California ‘Calimyrna’ figs are grown mainly in the Central Valley, where orchardists hang bags of tiny wasps to fertilize female trees with pollen from male trees. The technique works well in large growing environments, but we do not recommend planting them in the home garden because so little fruit is produced.
President and CEO
Urban Plantations cares for dozens of fig tree orchards in San Diego. Personnel will be handing out fresh figs and answering questions on how to grow figs at Fig Fest San Diego on Sept. 8 at the Public Market. For more information about Fig Fest San Diego and to purchase tickets, visit figfestsd.com.