Thursday, September 6, 2012


Ficas carica 'Orphan'
What is more delicious than a beautiful, luscious, lemony- colored fig, sliced in half, drizzled lightly with  honey and served with a bit of creamy gorgonzola? It is a dessert fit for the gods.With a minimum of trouble, figs can be part of your everyday menu in late August and early September. The common edible fig (Ficus carica), a deciduous shrub or tree depending on pruning, is easy to grow here in Philadelphia, either in the ground or containers.

There are over 200 fig cultivars grown in North America with a variety of fruit shapes and colors. What we commonly refer to as fruits are botanically not fruits at all but fleshy growths in which tiny flowers and fruits form when polinated by an itty-bitty specialized fly from the Mediterranean where figs are native. In selecting a fig for your garden, be certain to choose one that is self-pollinating . Most nurseries will only carry such cultivars. Figs are zone 8-10 plants if grown unprotected in the winter. Knowing that, you have two choices: plant in the ground and be prepared to winter wrap or grow in a container. Figs like a sunny location and require moist, well-drained soil that is slightly acidic. If you decide to plant in the ground, choose a cultivar that is adapted to cooler temperatures. 'Brown Turkey', 'Chicago' or 'Celeste' are good choices. Planting in containers and moving them indoors for the winter widens your choices in cultivars.

Ficas carica 'Orphan'
Wrapping in-ground plants for the winter should be done well after leaf drop when the first inch or two of soil begins to freeze. Prune any unnecessary branches, carefully pull the plant together tightly,  wrap with heavy paper, burlap or plastic and tie it together. Cover the bundle with straw and cover again with plastic. Make sure that water cannot enter the top. This is clearly a two person job. The wrapping should be removed in the early spring when the trees in your neighborhood are beginning to bud. Frankly, this process has always been more work than I am willing to do. Growing in containers seems much easier to me.

Ficas carica 'Niger'
Given how quickly figs grow -- my two "babies" can put on over three feet each growing season -- it is best to choose a large container with good drainage holes. Plastic is preferable to clay as figs like evenly moist soil. Plastic pots are also lighter in weight which can be an issue when moving the plant indoors for the winter months. A good quality potting mix with added compost will work just fine. A top dressing of compost will help maintain moisture. Figs fruit best when placed in a sunny location. I feed my figs about once a month with liquid seaweed, following the directions on the package. Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers as they will encourage foliage growth, not fruiting. I prune my figs hard every year in the late fall once the leaves have all dropped and the outside temperatures are cool enough that the plants are dormant. In addition, I root prune the plants every two years in the early spring before the new growth begins. Container grown figs in Philadelphia will need to be brought indoors for the winter. If you are lucky enough to have a greenhouse, you can bring them inside and have them stay green all winter. They may even bear fruit for you. Those of us that are not so lucky need to find a cool, relatively dark space to winter our plants. A garage where the temperature does not go below freezing will work. Or perhaps you can easily access an unheated basement to store the containers. Bring the containers in once the fig leaves have all dropped.  Plants that are stored in garages or basements will need a minimum amount of water during the winter months. It is wise to check them every so often to make certain that they have not completely dried out.

When the trees in your garden or on your block begin to show buds in the spring, it is time to haul those dormant figs out of the basement or the garage, place them in their summer home and dream of all the wonderful dishes you will be preparing at harvest time in the late summer. Well.... that is if those figs actually make it to the kitchen. I usually just pick and eat them immediately!!

Lois Fischer

No comments:

Post a Comment