When selecting a fig for the home garden, almost all gardeners in Texas plant the common fig (Ficus carica). Other species are grown commercially, but those require special pollinating wasps or planting multiple trees for yields. While figs have Mediterranean origins, several cultivars do well in different parts of Texas. Planting chores are not complicated.
When to Where to Plant
Figs are deciduous and typically grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7a through 10b, but there are differences among cultivars. Figs are very hardy growing along the Gulf Coast of Texas and don't usually suffer any damage during winter. Those grown in extreme northern regions or western portions of the state require protection from the cold. Gardeners living in drier regions of the state need to give the tree supplemental irrigation for proper growth and production of fruit.
Fig trees planted at the beginning of the dormant season often develop root systems before leafing out in the spring. This can be advantageous; however, young trees are more susceptible to cold injury. In areas where cold damage may occur, it is often advisable to delay transplanting until just before dormancy is broken in late winter.
- If you live in a part of Texas without winter freezes, plant fig trees at the beginning of their autumn dormancy when their leaves begin to lose their color. They’ll develop roots before they leaf out in the spring.
- If you live in a part of Texas with winter freezes, it’s better to wait until late winter just before they break dormancy. When they begin growing buds, they're ready to break dormancy and grow leaves.
Choose a location that gets sun most or all the time. Early morning sun helps reduce diseases by quickly drying dew from the trees. They prefer a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.5, but will grow in soil pH ranging from 5.5 to 8.0. They can grow in a wide range of soil from sandy to clay, although they may be
Don't plant figs where the water sits for a day after a rain. Sitting in water will stunt fig trees and eventually kill them. Give them room enough to grow, spacing them 20 to 25 feet from other trees or on the east or south side of a barn or home to help protect them from cold winter wind and so morning sun can dry the foliage and leaves quickly after nighttime rain.
Buying and Preparing a Tree
Make sure fig tree seedlings you buy from a nursery are healthy and undamaged. Use sterile pruning shears to remove dried or broken roots. To sterilize the shears, soak the blades for five minutes in a solution of 1 part rubbing alcohol and 1 part water, then air dry.
Prune the top one-third of the trunks of dormant bare root or container trees to make up for the roots they lost when they were dug by the nursery. Pruning dormant trees encourages growth the first year.
Look for a change from dark to light color on the bark going down on the trunk of a bare-root nursery seedling. That will mark the original planting depth of the seedling.
Dig a hole wider and deeper than the width and depth of the roots. Make a small mound of soil in the center of the hole.
If the tree is growing in a container, remove the plant from the pot and lay the root ball on its side. Use sterile pruning shears to remove any roots that were circling inside the container.
Without bending the roots too much, set them on top of the mound, spreading them down and out so the tree is upright and 2 to 4 inches deeper than the original planting depth.
When the tree is in the hole, crumble the soil and pack it around the roots to make sure they have contact with the soil. In dry conditions it helps to water the hole before it is completely filled. Water the soil to help settle the soil around the roots.
Water young trees regularly until they get established. Keep the soil uniformly moist. If you live in a dry part of Texas, this may require deep watering every one or two weeks.
A young fig tree will use carbohydrates in its roots and young trunk to fuel its initial growth. Do not fertilize at planting.
Cultivars Recommended for Texas
Before thinking about planting details, you need to find a cultivar that fits your part of Texas. Texas A&M University has several recommendations:
- ‘Alma’ (Ficus carica ‘Alma,’ USDA zones 8a through 9b), is very productive, yielding rich, sweet figs at an early age. ‘Alma’ is frost sensitive and should not be grown more than 200 miles from the Gulf of Mexico.
- ‘Celeste’ (Ficus carica ‘Celeste,’ USDA zones 6a through 9b), is the most cold hardy of fig trees grown in Texas. A large, vigorous, productive tree, ‘Celeste’ typically yields rich, sweet figs in mid to late June. The closed eye of its figs blocks rain and the dried fruit beetle that can cause figs to sour.
- ‘Texas Everbearing’ (Ficus carica ‘Texas Everbearing,’ USDA zones 6a through 9b), also known as ‘Brown Turkey,’ yields ripe figs from June through August and will yield figs on new growth after suffering severe freezing. Its large, reddish-brown figs offer mild, sweet fruit with reddish- pink flesh. The figs can crack or sour in very wet years. 'Texas Everbearing' is especially adapted to east and central Texas.
- ‘LSU Purple’ (Ficus carica ‘Purple,’ USDA zones 7a through 10) grows 3 to 6 feet tall. It has dark purple skin and mild, sweet, strawberry-colored flesh. 'LSU Purple' is widely grown along the Gulf Coast and is suitable for warm areas of South Texas.