By Matthew R. March, MNRD
Polk County Extension Agent
Have you failed in growing fruit trees and are looking for a relatively problem-free, easy-to-grow fruit tree? If so, figs are the answer. Figs grow great in regions with mild winters such as Polk County and are generally free of diseases, require little cultural management, and are high yielding. Figs have never taken off as a commercial crop in Texas, even though they are suited for our climate, because figs are quite perishable and must be marketed or preserved in a short time span. However, figs are a great option for small orchards and homeowners.
Figs can generally withstand temperatures well into the teens without sustaining significant damage. However, even if severe winter damage occurs, figs will typically grow back from the ground and may produce a crop the same year depending on the variety. Popular varieties suited for Texas include alma, celeste, and Texas everbearing. All these varieties are classified as common fig type varieties. Common fig type varieties are the only varieties suited for Texas. Another consideration is choosing varieties that have open or closed eye. Open eye varieties are more susceptible to feeding damage by beetles and rotting from rain. Rooted cuttings can be brought from a nursery to plant or figs can be propagated by hardwood cuttings when trees are dormant.
Figs should be planted in well-drained soil and on sites that receive full sun. Dormant rooted cuttings should be planted in late winter. Cut dormant trunks by about one-third to encourage vigorous growth. Figs should be planted at least 16-20 feet apart. After planting, water the soil thoroughly. Do not fertilize at planting. Mulching can help with soil moisture and reduce the need to water. Small infrequent applications of nitrogen can benefit fig production. Fig trees should be pruned in the spring once growth starts to where only five to six of the strongest shoots should be left to produce fruit.
The biggest threat to figs is fig rust. This fungus thrives in humid wet regions like east Texas and can cause severe damage if not managed for. Infected leaves will turn brown, and trees can become defoliated causing failure of that year’s crop. Tress can become weakened and more susceptible to other diseases and environmental stresses. No fungicides are approved to control fig rust so culture management is required. This includes raking and destroying leaves that have fallen to prevent spread. Copper may control fig rust if applied at the onset of the disease.
Figs are an easy-to-grow fruit tree that are sometimes overlooked. If you want to get started growing fruit trees or are looking for a problem-free fruit tree, I highly recommend giving figs a try.