Q: Every summer I look forward to fresh figs but they are not always bountiful or easy to find. This year I am determined to plant my own fig trees, hoping to have my favorite fruit within reach. Can you tell me what varieties will grow here and what I can expect with regard to size, flavor and general production with the varietals?
A: Oh, the joy of growing figs! Even if you never ate a single fruit from your tree, you would still enjoy the beauty of a fig tree in your garden. Ficus carica or the common fig is a member of the mulberry family. Fig trees have long been a symbol of prosperity and abundance as well as innocence lost.
The amazing thing about the fig is that everything begins and ends from the inside: from the flowering to the fertilization, to the eventual ripened fruit. So when you eat a fig, you are eating a receptacle called a syconium in which tiny flowers are massed inside a fleshy hollow.
Common figs don’t require pollination to fruit, and there are a number of varieties that do quite well in our zone, including green and yellow figs. If you have the room in your garden, planting more than one variety will not only extend your harvest but will allow you to enjoy a range of flavors.
LSU Gold is a large yellow fig with red flesh. Green Ischia is a late-season fig with the flavor of jam. The outside is light green and the inside pink to red in color. Brown Turkey is considered a late-season fig and is light brown to purple with light, reddish-colored flesh. It’s known for its sweetness and can bear two crops a year.
LSU Purple is a more purple-colored fig with yellow-red pulp. The stems on the LSU Purple are also purple. It’s a mid-season fig that is mildly sweet in flavor. This variety is known to be nematode resistant and well-adapted to our area. A favorite and classic Southern fig is Celeste. This is another mid-season fig with brown to violet coloration on the outside and light red, sweet-flavored flesh on the inside.
I haven’t tried it, but I’m intrigued by a mid-season variety called Italian Black. This variety is touted as being one of the best for making really good preserves. The Italian Black is also known for its beautiful color — absolutely classic fig imagery: black on the outside and deep red on the inside.
Once established, your fig tree will be drought tolerant and a mature tree will grow 15-30 feet in height with a span of about the same. Plant your fig tree where it will have southerly exposure in well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter. Fertilize mature fig trees twice a year, in late winter and early spring, with a balanced fertilizer such as 6-6-6 or 8-8-8. You should water regularly throughout the growing season, taking care not to overwater as this may cause the fruit to split open.
Figs are a bit high in calories (1 fig = 80 calories) but they are also high in potassium at 194 mg per fig — and you thought bananas were a good source of potassium! Figs are very perishable so don’t expect them to keep in the fridge for more than a few days.
Try adding figs to pasta or salads. They make great appetizers when served on focaccia bread with a little red onion, rosemary and olive oil. You can glaze them on meats or bake them on brie. Stuff them with pecan halves and gorgonzola, then wrap with bacon and bake — yum!
Figs are truly a delicacy that will fill your mouth with the sweetness of honeyed sugar and make you wish for warm summer days and the fragrant smell of figs growing in your yard all year long. If you want more information about fig varieties and planting/growing specifics, visit your local Extension office or go online to ACES.edu and type in “figs” under publications.
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