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All Things Garden,  Grow Guides

How to Grow Fig Trees: Varieties, Planting, Care & Harvesting

Few things in life are more delicious than a sweet, ripe, juicy fig straight from the tree. It’s a shame that few people get to experience this delicacy! Fresh figs bruise easily and have a short shelf life, making them rare in grocery stores. Dry figs are cool and all, but are definitely not the same. Thankfully, fig trees are quite easy to grow at home! They are low maintenance, attract few pests, and can grow as compact trees – perfect for gardens of all shapes and sizes. In addition to scrumptious fruit, provide beautiful foliage for your landscape. 

In this fig grow guide, you’ll find all the information you need to successfully grow fig trees, including: tips to choose the best fig variety for your garden, planting instructions, how to prune, fertilize, and harvest figs and more! I’ve even included a long list of ways to prepare and eat figs at the end. Truth be told, fig trees are among my top favorites to grow. So much so, we had 5 fig trees in our old garden, and were the first trees we are adding to the new homestead!



Fig Tree Growing Requirements, at a glance:


  • Growing Zones: Fig trees grow best in USDA hardiness zones 7 or 8-12, though some extra-hardy varieties like ‘Chicago Hardy’ can survive in zone 6. Lower zone gardeners can grow cold-hardy figs in containers and move them to a protected location over winter, such as a garage, shed, basement, or even indoors. Most established fig trees can survive temperatures down to 15 to 20 degrees F.
  • Size & Structure: Fig trees grow 10 to 30 feet tall and up to 20 feet wide, depending on variety and pruning. Fig trees are deciduous, meaning they naturally lose their leaves in the winter and grow fresh ones each spring.
  • Sun: Full sun to partial shade. Like most fruit trees, fig trees can tolerate some shade but will fruit more prolifically when provided at least 7 hours of direct sun.
  • Soil: Grow fig trees in well-draining soil amended with ample organic matter (i.e. compost). They will also tolerate moderately clay soils, but not a lot of standing water. Figs are said to prefer slightly acidic soil conditions (pH of 5.5 to 6.5) though we never adjust our fig soil pH; they aren’t very picky.
  • Water: Moderate water. Most varieties are drought-tolerant once established, though they will produce better quality fruit with continued moderate water.
  • Fruiting Season: Depends on variety; often late summer. If planting several fig trees, choose a combination of early, mid, and late-season bearing trees. That way you’ll be flush with fruit over a longer season – and not overwhelmed with too many at once!


An image taken towards the sky underneath the canopy of a Desert King fig tree. The main branches are free of leaves aside from the ends where the new growth has taken place.


Getting Started: Seeds, Nursery Trees, or Cuttings 


The best and most reliable way to grow fig trees is from cuttings that are taken from a female, fruit-bearing tree. While it’s technically “possible” to grow fig trees from seed, the resulting tree may not be female, breed true to the parent tree, or reliably bear decent fruit. Young fig trees you’ll find at the garden center were propagated from cuttings and/or grafted rootstock

We prefer to get a jump start and purchase decent-size trees from the local nursery in 5 gallon pots since fig trees can already take several years to bear fruit. However, you can also propagate your own cuttings from a friend’s tree and grow your own fig tree that way too. 


Two young fig trees standing side by side in 5 gallon nursery pots. The one on the left is slightly taller and has been pruned into a "Y" or vase shape, the one on the right is in the shape of a whip. Grow fig trees in various ways to suite your needs.
The first two fig trees we’re planting at the new homestead: a Corky’s Honey delight (right, one of our go-to green-skinned favorites) along with an Excel fig (left), a new-to-us variety that is also green-skinned and apparently resists splitting when ripe. Note the difference in the two tree shapes. We’ll talk more about that in the pruning section below!


What kind of fig tree should I get?


Black Mission and Brown Turkey are two very well-known types of figs, but there are dozens of interesting and delicious varieties to choose from! It’s important to select a fig tree variety that is well-suited for your climate, space, and taste buds. Read descriptions before making a purchase. I always suggest checking locally-owned nurseries first; they should carry varieties that grow well in your area. I’m working on writing up a detailed list of 18 different fig varieties (available now here!) In the meantime, let’s take a deeper look at how to best choose…


Climate


Most fig tree varieties grow best outdoors in hardiness zones 8 through 11 where summers are long and hot and winters are mild. However, some fig tree varieties can survive in much colder climates too! For instance, the ‘Chicago Hardy’ fig grows in zone 6. Many others are adapted down to zone 7, especially when planted in a protected location. Celeste and Brown Turkey are two other popular fig varieties well-suited for cold climates.

Here on the Central Coast of California, we seek out figs that thrive in more temperate conditions (such as Desert King or Corky’s Honey Delight) since we have moderately cool, foggy summers. Fig varieties that prefer high heat won’t be as sweet and fruitful here, such as Violette de Bordeaux or Kadota – both of which I’ve heard great things about!


Fig Tree Size


In addition to climate, consider the size of the tree. Some fig trees are available as dwarf or semi-dwarf varieties that will reach a maximum height of 10 to 15 feet, perfect for smaller gardens, tidy orchards, or containers. We’ve grown many semi-dwarf varieties that are still less than 6 feet tall, many years after planting. Other fig trees grow quite large, reaching up to 30 feet tall. Fig trees are bushy in nature and can grow a canopy as wide as the tree is tall. However, figs are easy to train and tame – so you can always keep a larger variety pruned to stay on the smaller side. Maintaining shorter fig trees also makes harvesting fruit much easier.


A fig tree growing in the border of a garden under the canopy of an avocado tree. Nasturtium is growing around the base of the fig tree, covering its lower trunk from view. Grow fig trees and keep them pruned to take up less space.
One of our several ‘Corky’s Honey Delight’ semi-dwarf fig trees. The tree is already about 5 years old here, staying quite compact, and bears ample large juicy fruit come summertime.


Fruit Characteristics


Now, let’s talk about the fruit itself!  I’ve never crossed a fresh fig that I didn’t like, but some fig tree varieties bear sweeter, larger, or more unique fruit than others. Eye-catching striped ‘Penache Tiger’ figs, massive tennis ball-like ‘Yellow Longneck’ figs, extra-sweet ‘Honey’ varieties… the list goes on! 

We personally love to grow green-skinned figs, also referred to as “white figs”. Green or white fig varieties stay green even once they’re fully ripe, turning only lighter green or yellow-green. Because of this, wild birds don’t tend to eat them! Unlike other figs that send a visual cue (hey look at me, I’m sweet!) by turning dark purple, red, or black as they ripen.


A wood bowl is being held sideways to show the many large ripe green figs that are being held within. One of the figs has been sliced in half to reveal the juicy, purple flesh within. Four chickens are in the background, looking in from a gate.
A bowl of ripe Desert King and Honey Delight figs, both green-skinned figs.


Do figs need a cross-pollinator (do you need 2 fig trees to produce fruit)?


No! Fig trees are self-fertile, meaning they do not require another fig tree nearby for cross-pollination in order to bear fruit. This is just one more reason why figs are such a great choice for home gardens! Though if you have the space, I bet you’ll want more than just one.


What are Breba Figs? 


Breba figs are those that grow on last year’s wood growth, as opposed to the ‘main crop’ that grows from the current year’s new branch growth. Some fig varieties produce an exceptionally large and delicious breba crop, such as Desert King. Others are known for their main crop. Most figs produce some of both, so you could get a couple crops of figs per season! Overwintering as buds on the tree, breba figs develop and ripen earlier than the main crop, typically in late spring to early summer rather than late summer to fall. If you find your tree tends to produce a weak (or not tasty) breba crop, you can remove those fruits early so the tree can focus it’s energy on the main crop instead.


Two large green figs are hanging from a branch as they ripen. Many smaller figs are growing from various spots throughout its branches of new growth. Below lies the foliage of a bougainvillea plant that has maroon/pink flowers. Grow fig trees for tasty fruit.
The largest figs in this photo are breba figs. As you can see, they’re growing on the brown portion of the branch (older wood from last year). The smaller figs that are growing on this year’s new green growth will continue to grow and ripen a few months later.


Planting a Fig Tree


To plant a fig tree, follow general tree-planting best practices:

  • Choose a planting location that receives full sun and good drainage. In zones 8 and lower, consider a spot that offers some added protection in the winter such as near a fence or house.

  • Space fig trees anywhere from 6 to 15 feet from other trees, depending on the variety, landscape, and planned intensity of pruning.

  • Dig a hole large enough to accommodate the existing root ball or pot, up to 2 to 3 times wider but not much deeper.

  • Plant the tree so the top of the root ball and base of the trunk are level with the surrounding ground surface. Do not bury the trunk.

  • It’s okay to amend the planting hole with quality potting soil, worm castings, and/or well-aged compost, but otherwise do not fertilize at the time of planting. 

  • Optional: sprinkle granular mycorrhizae on the root ball, or water with a soluble mycorrhizae after planting. Mycorrhizae helps reduce transplant shock, encourage strong root development, deter root knot nematodes and other pests, and boost overall tree health. 

  • Water the tree thoroughly after planting. 

  • Add a layer of mulch on top, but leaving a clear mulch-free ring several inches around the trunk. 


Do you have gophers in your yard? If yes, I highly suggest planting your fig tree in a gopher cage to protect it from damage. Trust me. We learned the hard way that gophers find fig trees absolutely irresistible. They will chew and eat the roots as well as around the base of the trunk. You can either buy large pre-made gopher baskets, or make your own like we do! Learn more about making and installing gopher baskets for trees here.


A four way image collage of planting a fig tree, the first image shows a young fig tree in a 5 gallon nursery pot sitting inside of a homemade gopher basket, the second image shows the gopher basket sitting inside a hole in the ground with the fig tree sitting next to it, the third image shows the fig tree sitting inside of the hole and gopher basket, the fourth image shows the tree after is has been buried with native soil, compost, and potting soil. If you have gophers, grow fig trees and plant them in a gopher basket to protect their roots from damage.
Planting the new Corky’s Honey Delight fig tree after it was pruned/topped (explained more below). We end up digging deep holes in order to accommodate our homemade gopher baskets, so once the basket is placed in the hole we backfill the bottom with fresh soil and compost mixed with the native soil – so that the top of the fig root ball will be level with the surrounding ground surface. See more detailed step-by-step instructions for planting trees here (video included).



Can I grow a fig tree in a container?


Absolutely! We kept several of our fig trees in half wine barrel planters for many years, though we did eventually plant them in-ground. Growing figs in containers is an especially desirable option for cold-climate gardeners (zone 6 and lower) that will need to move their fig trees to a protected location for winter. Potted fig trees should be brought outside to soak up the sun during the warm months, or at least placed near a large sunny window if not.

Bear in mind that the size of the pot will directly limit the growth and production of trees (e.g. smaller pot = smaller tree). A dwarf or semi-dwarf fig tree variety will do best in a pot. Containerized figs will need to be fertilized more often; see fertilizing notes below. Most trees are admittedly happier in the ground than in pots. If you have the option, plant your fig tree in the ground. 


A half wine barrel with a fig tree planted inside it. The tree has various limbs shooting out of both sides with some visible fruit. Grow fig trees in the ground or in containers if necessary for your location and space.
Another one of our Honey Delight figs, happily growing in a half wine barrel.


Fertilizing Fig Trees


Fig trees are not typically heavy feeders, especially if they’re planted in decent soil from the start. Plan to fertilize in-ground fig trees only once or twice per year (spring and possibly fall) with an organic slow-release fruit tree fertilizer like this one. We simply feed our fig trees with homemade compost tea a couple times per year! Applying a water-soluble mycorrhizae in the spring can also help increase fruit production.

Fig trees growing in containers will need more frequent fertilizer than those planted in the ground, requiring up to quarterly feeding. Feed potted figs with a slow-release granular organic fertilizer by dusting it over the soil surface, lightly scratch it in, and then water thoroughly. Follow the amounts listed in the product instructions.



Pruning Fig Trees


Fig trees grow well with little pruning, though some clean-up here and there can help maintain a more tidy and compact tree. Pruning can also encourage new growth, branching, and more fruit. 

At the time of transplanting, we typically prune the top of young fig trees if they’re growing as a single vertical trunk. Topping straight “whips” young will encourage branching and a more bushy structure – perfect to easily harvest fruit. See the photos below for further instruction. Unpruned whips will eventually branch too, but not as soon or vigorously as when topped.

Thereafter, prune fig trees during the dormant season, once they’ve lost their leaves in late fall or winter. Use clean and sanitized pruning shears or loppers to remove weak, diseased, dead, or otherwise undesirable branches from the tree. Removing (or topping) vertical branches near the center of the tree will create a more open and wide canopy, and increased growth of lateral fruiting branches. Pruning back the main branches by one quarter to a third each year will promote continued branching. 

Last but not least, remove any branches that spring up from the very base of the tree by the soil. These undesirable growths are called “suckers” because they draw energy and nutrients away from the main tree. (I don’t find suckers to be very common on fig trees compared to other fruit trees like apples or stone fruit.)


A diagram showing how to prune a young tree whip. The first image shows the whip, the second shows the whip after it was pruned, and the third image is the branched tree in a vase form after it shoots off new growth after being pruned.

Diagram courtesy of Deep Green Permaculture
A four way image collage, the first image shows the top of a young fig tree whip with pruners positioned above a node, the second image shows a close up of the pruners placed just above one of the nodes, the third image shows the top after it has been pruned, and the fourth image shows the newly pruned young whip next to another young tree in the same sized pot that illustrates a "Y" shape growth pattern. Grow fig trees in various shapes to suite your needs.
Of our two newest fig trees, the Excel already had a nice branched top. Yet the Corky’s Honey Delight was growing as a single vertical sapling with no branches – also called a “whip”. To encourage branching, we topped the whip by pruning off the top 1/3 to half of the tree. Using clean pruning shears (sanitized with rubbing alcohol) I cut just above a leaf node.
A close up image of the top of a young fig tree that has been pruned into a "Y" shape by cutting the main stem above a node. Grow fig trees in various shapes to fit your needs and yard space.
A closer look at the new Excel fig, which was already branching when we bought it. You can see where it was previously topped in the same manner we just did to the Corky’s above.


Caring for Fig Trees in Winter 


If you grow fig trees in a climate where temperatures dip below 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit for extended periods of time, plan to protect your tree during winter. Potted fig trees should be brought inside or into a garage, shed, or other place that is sheltered from freezing conditions. In-ground trees can be protected with frost cloth or burlap if needed. A good deep layer of mulch around the base of the tree will help to insulate the soil and roots to reduce hard frost damage. 


Fig Tree Pests or Disease


Thankfully, fig trees are afflicted by few pests or disease. The most common fig tree pests we contend with are gophers (who eat the roots) and birds (who eat the fruit). Planting your fig tree in a gopher basket will protect them from gnawing gopher damage. As previously discussed, green or white-skin fig varieties are far less attractive to birds in our experience! 

Another solution to stop birds (or squirrels) from eating your figs is to place reusable mesh bags like these over each fig as it becomes ripe. While tedious, it’s effective! I don’t love draping traditional bird netting over fruit trees since birds and other wildlife often become entangled in it. A finer mesh insect netting could be used instead with less risk. 

Other potential fig tree pests or disease include thrips, root knot nematodes, rust, and leaf spot. 


DeannaCat, clad in a bikini top with short workout type shorts and brown sunglasses is holding a fig tree that has had all but a few roots chewed off as well as a good portion of the trunk chewed down. The bottom of the tree resembles a field hockey stick although all of its leaves still remain intact. A homemade gopher basket would have helped this tree thrive instead of forcing it to be moved. The background contains portions of a couple garden beds with tomatoes and kale growing amongst them. There are various other green plants amongst the image with large trellises along the back fence line that are  naked aside from a small vine centered in the middle of each. If you grow fig trees, use a gopher cage if they are present in your area.
Gopher damage. This poor Black Mission fig tree has no roots left! I am surprised it was still alive at all. The leaves started to yellow and droop, which was our first indicator something was wrong. Upon closer investigation I spotted the chew marks around the trunk just below the soil line, and then it pulled right up out of the ground! We replanted it in a gopher basket and it survived.


Do figs really have wasps inside?


Yes and no. Have you heard that there is a dead wasp inside every fig? That “fact” can creep some folks out, but don’t let it deter you from enjoying or growing fig trees – because it’s not nearly as gnarly (or true) as it sounds! 

Many fig tree varieties (but not all) are pollinated by small beneficial wasps, which crawl inside and eventually die within the fruit. Yet the relationship is mutualistic; it benefits both parties! The wasps are providing an essential service for the fig trees: pollination. In return, the fig fruit offers a safe haven for the wasps to reproduce. Even then, the figs release specialized enzymes that dissolves the wasp inside, so you would not notice anything unusual when eating the fruit. The crunchy bits are fig seeds – not wasp parts or eggs!


Two ripening green figs hanging from a branch. One of the figs has a sugary sap substance hanging from the bottom of it, revealing the sugary sweetness within. Beyond, the sun is filtering in between the figs and surrounding leaves.
A prime example of a very ripe fig with a “juicy booty”, dripping honey-like fig juice.


Harvesting Figs


How long does it take for a fig tree to bear fruit?


Fig trees typically take about 3 to 5 years to start producing quality fruit. During the first few years, don’t be dismayed if your crop is dismal. Young fig trees may develop small, dry fruit on their branches for a couple years before their production really picks up. Every year will be better than the last! Eventually, if your tree is producing a huge amount of figs, you can thin (remove) some of the smaller fruit to encourage larger, juicier figs if needed. Insufficient water and/or nutrients can lead to less than ideal fruit production.


How do I harvest figs from the tree?


Ah, the fun part has arrived! To harvest figs, gently pull up on the fruit so that it detaches from the branch at the very tip of the stem. Don’t pull down, and avoid tearing or squishing the fruit. If harvested early, under-ripe figs will not continue to ripen on the counter as other fruit might. Therefore, it’s best to harvest figs when they’re fully ripe (or darn close to it) if possible.

After harvesting figs, keep in mind that they have a very short shelf life. You can keep them out at room temperature for a day or two, but otherwise should be refrigerated. Store very soft or overripe fruit in the refrigerator right away.


How do you know when figs are ready to harvest?


There are a few telltale signs that figs are ripe and ready for harvest:

  1. They will become increasingly large in size
  2. A ripe fig will change color from dark green to whatever color is expected for that particular variety, such as dark purple, yellow-green, or reddish brown.
  3. Ripe figs become increasingly thin-skinned, soft and droop on the branch. One way to tell if a fig is ready to harvest is to gently squeeze the fruit to check for softness. Harvest them when they’re supple to the touch but before they get mushy. 
  4. Finally, a very ripe fig may split or drip honey-like juices from the bottom end – or get a “juicy booty” as I like to call it.

Figs will also pull off easier from the stem when ripe. Of course, the ultimate test to know if a fig is ripe is to get in there and take a bite – revealing the unique, sweet, slightly gooey (but in a good way!) jam-like inner flesh.


DeannaCat's hand is a set of three figs that are hanging from a branch. They are starting to droop which occurs when they ripen. Grow fig trees if you want delicious fruit.
Very ripe Desert King figs. They’ve turned lighter yellow-green in color, are large and droopy, and even becomingly slightly wrinkled.
DeannaCat is holding a green fig showing the blossom end of the fruit that is slightly splitting open from the bottom. This can occur when the fruit becomes large and ripe.
Eat figs that have split first. They won’t hold up as well in storage.
DeannaCat is holding a large fig that has been cut i half, revealing the purple/pink gooey flesh within. Grow fig trees to have an ample supply of ripe and juicy figs.
Oh yeah baby.

What do fresh figs taste like?


Fresh figs have a unique sweet flavor – like a spectacular blend of honey, fruit syrup, and ripe berries. I just read this question out loud and Aaron replied “like a party in your mouth”! Lol. Figs are one of our favorite fruits to grow for a reason. If you’ve never had a fig right from the tree, you’re in for a real treat once you grow you own!


Ways to Eat or Preserve Fresh Figs


90% of the time, we simply enjoy our figs fresh – eating them whole like a pear or plum. We also like to cut them up to serve in breakfast with plain yogurt, nuts, seeds, and granola. Figs are amazing on top of sourdough pancakes, or over vanilla coconut ice cream. 

Tree-ripened figs are plenty sweet on their own. They don’t require additional sugar or a drizzle of honey as I see many folks do. However, if you’re looking for an extra-special treat, or if you have more fresh figs than you can eat plain, please enjoy these tantalizing ways to eat figs:


  • Oven-roasted figs with cheese, honey, nuts, and/or aged balsamic vinegar. Cut the figs in half, stuff or top them with a tangy rich cheese (such as goat cheese or blue cheese), drizzle with honey or thick sweet balsamic vinegar, sprinkle walnut or pecan pieces on top. Roast in the oven on 375°F until slightly softened, warm and juicy. Balsamic-honey marinated figs are also excellent grilled!
  • Serve as a fresh fig bruschetta. Top crackers or crusty bread with a soft spreadable cheese like ricotta, mascarpone, or goat cheese. Then add chopped figs, chopped pecans, a drizzle of honey or reduced balsamic vinegar, and a sprinkle of fresh herbs like thyme or rosemary.
  • Use fresh figs as a topping on salads, pizza, or even sourdough focaccia. In addition to tangy cheese, herbs, and balsamic, figs pair exceptionally well with caramelized onions. 
  • Turn your harvest into fig jam or fig compote.  
  • Dehydrate into homegrown dried figs. I can’t recommend our favorite Excalibur food dehydrators highly enough!
  • Make chocolate-covered figs. Dip fresh figs in melted chocolate and then pop them into the refrigerator to harden. 
  • Freeze figs to enjoy later on desserts, in smoothies, transform into spreads, and more
  • Use fresh figs as the filling for a sweet baked cobbler, crumble, tart, galette, or pie. 
  • Make homemade fig newtons or fig bars. Try these vegan gluten-free oatmeal fig bars!


A white ceramic bowl which has ingredients spaced throughout the bottom like a pie cut into eight slices. There are hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, granola, almonds, passionfruit pulp, strawberries, and cut figs rounding out the breakfast bowl.
Plain yogurt topped with homegrown figs, strawberries passionfruit, and a mix of almonds, pumpkin seeds, hemp hears, and granola. A divine breakfast indeed.

And that sums up how to grow fig trees!


If all that doesn’t get you excited to grow figs, I don’t know what will! Even more, I hope this article helps you feel prepared and confident to plant, grow, care for, harvest, and enjoy homegrown figs. Please let me know if you have any lingering questions in the comments below. Do you grow fig trees too? I’d love to hear what your favorite varieties are and why! Last but not least, please feel free to pin or share this article if you found the information you learned to be useful. Thank you so much for tuning in. Enjoy those figs!


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DeannaCat signature, keep on growing

27 Comments

  • Willow

    I live in the Southeast US, zone 7. Would it be better to plant a fig tree in the late-winter/early spring, or in the fall? I read this article, the “18 varieties” article, and the tree planting article, but I still don’t know…
    Help please?

    I am so very thankful for you two and all the articles & videos you make for us!!!

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hi Willow, I would plant it in early spring once the chance of frost has passed, giving your newly planted tree a bit of time to grow before it goes dormant once winter starts. Hope that helps and enjoy!

  • Nadia

    Hello! I have just bought two Ronde de Bordeaux fig trees. I have wine barrel planters, would the trees do better if I planted one in each planter or both in one planter? Thank you!

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hello Nadia, give each tree its own designated barrel as they won’t have to compete for root space with each other. Good luck!

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