the season to pick figs
Mississippi Gardens Newspaper and Web Column - July 28, 2003
Mississippi has never been known as having four distinct seasons of the year, but we do have wet and dry. It's just that we never know which one we will wake up to. Some good news is that it's the season to pick figs! Yes, there is a bright spot in the garden and it's where the fig tree grows!
Figs are a member of the genus Ficus and have been cultivated for thousands of years. Remember the sycamore fig of the Bible? That is Ficus sycamorus (the sycamore fig of Egypt). The fig we can successfully grow is simply known as the Common fig (Ficus carica). Two recommended varieties include 'Celeste' and 'Brown Turkey'. The Common fig is delicious and quite unique in that it does not need pollination to set fruit.
Growing figs is relatively easy in our part of the country. Its greatest enemies are cold weather and nematodes. A mature plant can stand temperatures down to 15 to 20 degrees F. On the other hand, soil inhabiting parasitic nematodes can devastate figs. Contact your County Extension Service office for nematode test instructions.
Fig trees should actually be called fig bushes. This better describes the method that should be used for proper training. At planting time, remove about half of the stem. Shoots will then begin to arise from the base of the plant and should be allowed to grow through the first season. The first winter, choose 3 to 8 well-spaced stems and cut them down to about one foot above the soil. The second year after planting, head back the bush after danger of frost has past but before new growth begins. Remove one-third to one-half the length of the previous years growth.
Give your fig bush plenty of sun. Eight hours would be great. Plant it on the south side of a building for winter protection, but not within 25 feet of the septic system. Figs need plenty of moisture, but do not like wet feet. Fig bushes benefit from organic fertilizers like cottonseed meal or compost. Fig bushes are typically fertilized according to size. A suggestion for young plants (1 to 2 years old) is to use a fertilizer like 6-8-8. Apply a quarter pound each month from April to August. For older bushes (10 to 15 feet tall) consider using 2 to 4 pounds of fertilizer three times a year. Soil pH for fig bushes is best at 6.0 to 6.5.
Just the other day someone brought me a big bag of fresh figs. Talk about excitement! The rainy season seems to have spared figs in our part of the south and what a joy it is to see them on the kitchen table. Eat them fresh, make jam, cook 'em down. There great just about any way. Happy Gardening!
These archived columns were written by Kerry Johnson<, a hobby gardener, former weekly newspaper columnist and retired Extension Horticulture Agent for 11 coastal counties in Mississippi.