How to Choose, Plant, and Take Care of Your Fig Tree

Fig trees may be unusual for gardens, but do not disregard it just yet.

They are easy to maintain and may even yield some edible fruit in the future, depending on the variety you will choose.

Fig Tree
Fig Tree

The Basics of Fig Trees

The fig trees are part of the mulberry family Moraceae, under the genus Ficus.

There are several ficus species, with over 200 cultivars, and the most common of which is the ficus carica or the common fig.

They are native to warm climates such as the tropics, and a few from semi-warm temperate zones.

The fruit of most ficus species are edible; that is why they are commonly cultivated for its fruit.

Wasps pollinate each species of fig. Certain specific specialised wasp species need to pollinate specific fig trees.

Ficus carica

Also known as the common fig.

This fig tree is native to western Asia and the Middle East and is cultivated for its fruit and even as ornamental plants.

The F. carica is a large deciduous shrub or small tree that can grow to about 23 to 33 feet (7 to 10 metres) high, a good tree of choice for shade.

It has a smooth white bark. This fig tree has fragrant and deeply-lobed leaves that are about 5 to 10 inches (12 to 25 cm) long and 4 to 7 inches (10 to 18 cm) wide.

The common fig is gynodioecious, meaning female and hermaphroditic plants can coexist within a population.

Its tiny flowers grow from inside a cup-like structure called syconium, which develops into the fig fruit (a false fruit).

The fig tree’s fruit is about 1.2 to 2 inches (3 to 5 cm) long and has a green skin which will sometimes turn purple or brown when it ripens at the end of summer or in early autumn.

Its fruiting cycle is about 120 to 150 days. Some varieties will produce one crop within a year; others could produce two.

There are different cultivars of ficus carica such as ‘Brown Turkey,’ ‘Celeste,’ and ‘Chicago.’

Ficus carica
Ficus carica

Ficus Benjamina

Also known as the Benjamin fig, weeping fig, ficus tree, or ficus.

This fig tree is native to Asia, as well as Australia, and the Pacific.

The weeping fig tree is a popular houseplant, but it can grow into shrubs or trees with its mature size reaching to about 100 feet (30 metres) in natural conditions.

The average height of the weeping fig for domestic gardens is at about 20 to 30 feet (6 to 9 metres) but can reach up to 60 feet (20 metres). It grows to about 3 to 6 feet (1 to 2 metres) when grown indoors.

This evergreen fig tree has gently drooping branches. The leaves are light green and slightly wavy foliage when young, and turns deep green, smooth, and ovate as it matures.

It blooms in summer with creamy to yellow flowers.

Ripe weeping fig fruits are red-orange and are about 0.75 to 1 inch (2 to 2.5 cm) in diameter.

Ficus Benjamina
Ficus Benjamina

Ficus benghalensis

Also known as Indian banyan.

This fig tree is native to South Asia, particularly in India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka and can grow up to 100 feet (30 metres).

The strangler fig got its name for its habit of growing out of the cracks of nearby trees and wrapping itself around the trunk of that tree, eventually strangling the original tree.

The Indian Banyan is epiphytic, meaning it needs another plant for support, but not for food, so it is not parasitic.

Ficus benghalensis
Ficus benghalensis

Ficus congesta

Also known as cluster fig or red-leaf fig.

This small rainforest fig tree is generally endemic to Australia and the South Pacific and is not often grown as ornamental trees. However, it is used as a parent tree for many useful ficus hybrids.

The red-leaf fig tree can grow up to 50 feet (15 metres) tall.

The leaves of the cluster fig are red to copper-brown when young. Mature leaves are around 4 to 6 inches (10 to 12.7 cm) long and 3 to 5 inches (8 to 13 cm) wide.

Ficus congesta
Ficus congesta

Ficus macrophylla

Also known as Australian banyan or Moreton Bay fig.

This large evergreen fig tree is native to Eastern Australia, with its name coming from Moreton Bay in Queensland.

Like the Indian banyan, the Australian banyan is a strangler fig. It strangles its host tree as it grows and will eventually become freestanding.

Australian banyans can reach heights of 200 feet (60 metres).

Its leathery leaves are dark green and about 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm) wide.

This fig tree is monoecious, meaning each tree grows functional male and female flowers. 

It has small and round green fruits or inflorescences that turns purple when it ripens.

Due to its large size and very aggressive root system, the Australian banyan is not suitable for ordinary gardens.

Ficus macrophylla
Ficus macrophylla

Ficus lyrata

Also known as fiddleleaf fig.

This fig tree is native to Western Africa.

Although it is most popular as an indoor houseplant, the fiddleleaf fig can also be grown as a tree outdoors and can grow up to 39 to 49 feet (11.8 to 15 metres) tall.

It has a very large leathery foliage, about 18 inches (45 cm) long and 12 inches (30 cm) wide. They are shaped like a violin, hence its name fiddleleaf.

Ficus lyrata
Ficus lyrata

Ficus elastica

Also known as rubber tree, rubber fig, rubber bush, rubber plant, or Indian rubber tree.

This popular indoor plant is native to Indonesia and India.

The rubber tree belongs to the banyan group of figs and grows large at around 100 to 130 feet (30 to 40 metres) tall. It is even known to grow up to 200 feet (60 metres).

It has a stout trunk and has broad shiny oval leaves of about 4 to 14 inches (10 to 35 cm) long and 2 to 6 inches (5 to 15 cm) wide.

The rubber fig tree’s fruit is barely edible, yellow-green and oval and small at about 0.4 inches (1 cm) in diameter.

Ficus elastica
Ficus elastica

Planting Your Fig Tree

When planting fig trees, consider the species or variety for their needs, as well as the available area for growing, as some fig trees can grow into huge ones.

You can plant them from seeds, cuttings, seedlings, or as young plants.

Choose one that is suited to your climate and soil conditions. Fig trees can grow from sea level up to 5600 feet (1700 metres)

Choose a sunny position to plant. Make sure your fig trees are protected from harsh winter winds.

If planting from young trees, plant your fig tree as any young tree, at a depth of 3 to 5 feet (1 to 1.5 metres).

Take note that the roots of fig trees are invasive, so keep that in mind when finding a spot for them when planting directly on the ground.

Caring for Your Fig Tree

Fig trees are relatively low maintenance and prefer moist but not soggy soil, so mulch them preferably with compost.

If your outdoor fig trees are in containers, bring them indoors when the temperature drops to below 50 °F (10 °C). Some cultivars can withstand temperatures down to -4 °F (-20 °C).

Feed your growing fig trees every other week with a weak liquid fertiliser.

If you plant them in containers, they may need to be transplanted as the fig trees outgrow it.

Fig trees will go dormant in winter but water them when the soil dries.

You do not need to prune fig trees formally, except for those grown as a bonsai. You can thin it out as necessary to control its size.

Control tree-boring pests before they even get to your fig trees by enclosing the lower portion of your fig tree in netting so that pests such as fig stem borers cannot lay their eggs in the bark. Cover the mesh with petroleum jelly-coated foil.

Common Problems with Fig trees

Fig trees will show issues when under stress, such as lack of nutrients.

Although fig trees generally do not require very rich soil, the leaves may brown, and their growth will slow down if they are low on magnesium and manganese. If this becomes an issue, supplement with the appropriate feed for your fig tree.

However, take care also not to overfeed especially young trees. Overfeeding may cause premature dropping of the fruits, and it may take years for the fig tree to recover.

Fig trees may get pests such as fruit flies, mealy bugs, fig stem borer, carpenter worm, earwig, darkling ground beetle, sap beetle, fig mite, and scale.

Use the appropriate insecticide to control fig pests. Diseases such as fig rust, endosepsis or internal rot, surface mould, aspegillys rot, smut, sour rot, and mosaic virus are also a risk to fig trees.

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