The common fig (Ficus carica) is a sweet summer fruit. Depending on cultivar, its skin may range from black to purple to green, and the pulp from ruby red to pink to a white color, containing between 30 and 1,600 seeds per fig. They have long since left their native range, and now grow in many parts of the world.
Figs are native to the eastern Mediterranean and dry, arid parts of western Asia. Under cultivation for at least 5,000 years, the fig was introduced to northern Europe, eastern Asia and the Americas in the 1500s. It is now grown in other mild-temperate parts of the Mediterranean and in gardens around the world, including Australia and South Africa. Although it will grow well in many parts of the world, its origins are tropical and subtropical, related to ficus or rubber trees (Ficus spp.).
The common fig grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 through 11. They are hardiest in USDA zones 8 through 10, however: They do not appreciate very cold weather, and hard freezes will cause dieback and sometimes even death. In USDA zones 6 and 7 they need the protection of a south-facing wall and mulch over their roots. If you want to chance growing them in USDA zone 5, you can grow them as a low-branching shrub and lay the whole plant down underneath mulch during winter.
Figs prefer warm climates. When air temperatures fall below 15 degrees, you should protect figs with plastic sheeting or removable cold frames to protect them from dieback. Because they are native to the Mediterranean, they like wet winters and grow well in areas that experience lots of seasonal rainfall. They also like hot summers, as rain during their fruit production lessens the quality and causes splitting. Prolonged hot, dry weather, however, can lead to drying out.
Figs need irrigation during hot weather and good drainage to ensure they are not sitting in water during rains. They grow in both full sun and partial shade, and prefer organically rich soil. Although figs are a beloved addition to many home gardens, be careful where you plant them: They have been reported as invasive in many parts of the United States, including California, Indiana, North Carolina and Florida. When possible, keep them away from wildlife areas and clean up fruit drop to prevent animals from eating them and spreading seeds through their droppings.
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