ABOUT FIGS IN ESPALIER FORM

MORACEAE

Relatives: Rubber plant, Mulberry, Breadfruit, Jackfruit

The fig has been around for a long time; the Ficus species has been dated back to the beginning of the Cenozoic era (65 million years ago, following the last period of the dinosaurs.) The fig is thought to be native, originally, to western Asia and was distributed by people throughout the Mediterranean area. Remnants of figs have been found in excavations of sites traced back to at least 5000 BC. The first known cultivation by humans has been dated back to ~3000 BC. Historically, Classical, Eastern and Biblical mythology are full of fig and ficus lore. The fig allegedly originated when and where a thunderbolt from Zeus struck the earth. The name 'fig' was used by the Ancient Greeks as slang for the female genitalia; to 'show (someone) the fig' was to make an obscene, disrespectful gesture. Buddha contemplated Buddhism while sitting beneath a fig tree. It was quite important to Adam and Even in Eden. Mention of the fig occurs many times in the Bible, and symbolizes peace, prosperity and fertility.

DESCRIPTION

Trees appear tropical, even ornamental in appearance and are typically about 12 feet in height and about as wide. The trunks of old trees sometimes form growths where branches have been shed. Its branches are twisting and wide spreading, and the bark is smooth and grey. If injured, the tree exudes a white latex that can be irritating to human skin. It is a moderately fast growing and long lived tree. There are thought to be over 700 varieties of figs throughout the world.
Leaves: Deciduous, palmate, they are bright-deep green, single, alternate, deeply lobed into 3-7 lobes Roughly hairy on the upper sides, they give a wonderful tropical effect.
Flowers: A very unusual plant in that the 'fruit' seems to form before the flowers and actually surrounds them. The flowers are tiny and are clustered within the green 'fruit'; called a synconium, which is not actually a fruit. From outside, the synconium does not appear to contain any flowers. The true fruits are small drupelets that line the inner surface of the synconium, and form after the flowers. Pollination- only the common fig has flowers that are female and can form fruits without pollinators. In other types of figs, a female fig wasp (Blastophaga grossorum) is needed for pollination.
Fruit: Mature, ripe fruits are green/brown/purple with a fairly tough skin that is white within, and often splits when ripening to expose the pulp inside. Inside, are many small, edible seeds embedded within yellow/brown, soft flesh. The seeds are hollow unless pollinated. The first crop of the year of the common fig is knows as the breba crop and ripens in spring-summer on fruit that formed in the previous autumn. They tend to be large and few in number. Figs grown in regions with long summers often have a second crop: some cultivars are more likely to do so than others. The second crop is produced in late summer- early autumn on new growth and is known as the main crop; it is often more prolific, and although the fruit are often smaller, they also taste better and are sweeter than the breba crop.

CULTIVATION

Location: Simply put, they grow best in full sun; they generally thrive where grapes do. They will produce the tastiest fruits when grown in Mediterranean and dryer warm-weather climates.
Temperature: Mature, dormant trees can withstand freezing temperatures, but plants in active growth can be harmed by hard frosts. However, plants killed back to the ground have often been known to re-grow.
Chilling: Chilling refers to the number of hours, 45 degrees F and under, during the dormancy period. All fruit and nut trees need a specific amount of chilling hours before they will produce fruit. The amount varies with each variety and the hours need not be continuous. For example as listed: (500 hours).
Soil/water/nutrients: Figs are can be grown in a wide variety of soils: light sand, rich loam, heavy clay or limestone, providing there is sufficient depth and drainage. Trees do not like waterlogged soils, particularly in winter. Too much rain during fruit development and ripening can cause the fruits to split and can decrease the number of breba figs that form. Soil pH is best if not too acidic. Trees are only moderately nutrient hungry, and many people we know do not feed their trees once they are established, although figs grown in containers should have their soil replaced every three years and will benefit from fertilizing.
Pruning: Figs can be severely pruned without ill effect down to about 4 feet. Figs can be pruned to an open center, but trees are productive with or without heavy pruning, although allowing sunlight to reach the fruits will improve ripening. Since the fruit crop is borne on terminals of the previous year's wood, once the tree is established, avoid heavy winter pruning, which causes loss of the following year's crop.
Pests and diseases: Rust on leaves can be a problem, with copper sprays being the only main defense. Nematodes can also cause root damage, especially in sandy soils (try planting your figs in containers of more clay soil if you live in very sandy areas.) Botrytis can be a problem on terminal branches, but is usually self controlling. Fig canker is a bacterium that enters through wounds or sunburned areas; birds can get into your fruit harvest and cause damage and you may find yourself putting up netting if this continues to be a problem.

CULTIVARS

There are many fig cultivars out there, but they all have different chilling requirements and do best in different climatic zones. Despite what other Nurseries say, Figs are Self Fertile and do not require another variety for pollination.

// means the fig cultivar is grown on it's own rootstock

Rabbit Ridge Nursery currently offers the following cultivars, which will do quite nicely in our area and are abundant producers of figs:

(Click on Fig Variety to link to that Fig)