Common fig tree (Ficus carica) cultivars are grown by home gardeners because they don’t need pollination to yield edible fig fruits as other species do. Although common fig is native to the Mediterranean area and is associated with North Africa and the Middle East, it is widely cultivated in the United States, with some varieties growing well in cold areas.
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Flavorful Common Figs
Although most common fig varieties are hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 through 10, several kinds that yield sweet and flavorful fruits thrive in colder climates. They include:
"Celeste" (Ficus carica “Celeste,” USDA zones 7 through 10), a productive tree that yields light-violet fruits with a very sweet, reddish amber flesh.
"Osborne Prolific" (Ficus carica “Osborne Prolific," USDA zones 7 through 9), a dwarf tree growing up to 10 feet tall that bears especially sweet fruits.
- "Brown Turkey" (Ficus carica "Brown Turkey," USDA zones 7 through 9), known for its flavorful fruits that have a purplish-brown skin and pinkish-amber flesh.
Most Cold-Hardy Cultivars
Fully dormant common fig trees often withstand winter temperatures of 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit, and frozen fig trees may resprout and yield fruits the next summer. In colder climates, common figs grow as multi-stemmed bushes and are pushed over and buried before winter. Common figs also can be grown in containers and moved indoors for winter. Some common fig cultivars are especially suited to cold USDA zones. Among them are:
"Chicago Hardy" (Ficus carica “Chicago Hardy,” USDA zones 5 through 11), which yields sweet, purple skinned figs.
"Desert King" (Ficus carica “Desert King,” USDA zones 5 through 9), which produces deep-green fruits with sweet, strawberry-red flesh.
- "Violette de Bordeaux" (Ficus carica “Violette de Bordeaux,” USDA 5 through 10), which yields sweet fruits and can grow in small spaces, including containers.
Common Fig Tree Basics
Bearing what is called the breba crop in spring on the previous season's grow, the common fig tree yields a second, main crop in fall on the current year's growth. It needs soil that is moist but not soggy and at least eight hours of full-sun exposure per day for its fruits to ripen.
The tree grows from 15 to 30 feet tall and just as wide. It does not have a taproot, and its shallow roots can grow more than three times their width. The tree should not be planted within septic tank drain fields or within 25 feet of a clay sewer pipe.
Mature common fig fruits typically have a tough peel that is purple, brown, pure green or green mixed with purple or brown. Each fruit is actually a hollow sphere with hundreds of small, fleshy flowers facing one another in its interior.
In common fig's native Mediterranean habitat, tiny wasps enter the flowers of other fig tree species through an opening at the flower' tips and pollinate them. Those wasps are not found in North America, but a common fig tree does not need them. Common fig bears only female flowers and does not need pollination to bear fruits. Its fruits have hollow seeds. Seeds of fig species requiring pollination give their dried fruits their nutty taste.
Common fig tree bears fruits prolifically, and the numerous fruits ripen all at once. The tree is not suitable for planting near patios, decks or lawns because its ripe fruits fall in a rush and rot quickly, attracting flies and wasps. The riper the fruits are, the faster they rot. They don’t ripen after they have been picked, however. Even though fresh fig fruits deteriorate quickly after being picked, dried fig fruits last for months.
- California Figs: About Figs
- Alabama Cooperative Extension System: Fig Production Guide
- California Rare Fruit Growers Inc.: Fig, Ficus Carica L.
- Organic Gardening: Fig Trees -- A Growing Guide
- Floridata: Ficus Carica
- University of Illinois Extension: Plant Palette -- Ficus
- Pender Nursery Inc.: Ficus Carica “Celeste” (Common Fig)
- Photo Credit MajaHouse/iStock/Getty Images