What Do Fig Tree Leaves Smell Like

Close up of a ficus plant
(Image credit: Alla Tsyganova / Getty Images)

Fresh figs are a summertime treat which are not commercially available in my area. Most likely, this is due to fig trees not being winter-hardy in our climate. So if I want fresh figs, I must grow them myself. This means growing fig trees in containers

Can You Grow Figs Indoors 

A fig tree was the first food-producing plant I attempted to grow in a container. It turned out to be a good choice. Growing fig trees in containers is relatively easy. They adapt well to a cramped root zone, grow fast and usually produce fruit their second year. However, I quickly discovered a downside to growing fig trees indoors.

The problem started after I transplanted my Brown Turkey fig tree into a gigantic planter. When cold weather approached, the planter was too heavy for me to move up the steps into our enclosed front porch by myself. Rather than trying to round up help from reluctant family members, I decided to simply slide the tree from the back porch into the house and keep it inside for the winter. 

At first, all was well. The leafless tree patiently stood in the corner of the mudroom waiting for the arrival of spring. I watered it sparingly during the winter months to maintain its dormancy and right on cue, it began to break bud. Up until this point, growing fig trees indoors hadn't seemed like such a bad idea. 

What Do Fig Tree Leaves Smell Like

When the Turkey fig tree leaves began to emerge, I noticed a pungent aroma lingering around the house. It smelled like a mixture of cat urine and B.O. Thinking perhaps that one of our cats had mistaken my husband's dirty work clothes for the litter box, I repeatedly searched the mudroom for the source of the odor.

It took several tries until I pinpointed the problem. And then I struggled to believe it. All that day, I kept going back to the Turkey fig tree and sniffing the leaves. Yep! That was where the smell originated. I even invited my husband and children to join in the crazy game of "Hey, Smell This." 

We all agreed the indoor fig tree needed to go outside. (Funny thing, this time I had no problem finding volunteers to help move the heavy container!) But before I put a ban on growing fig trees indoors, I wanted to find out if this was a common problem and if there was a solution.

I felt a bit silly as I typed "What do fig tree leaves smell like" into my search bar and I honestly didn't expect any results. Much to my surprise, I wasn't alone. While some gardeners describe the aroma from growing figs trees indoors as being earthy or woodsy, many more compared the smell to cat urine.

Since that time, I've overwintered my fig trees on my enclosed front porch. It's not heated. But on those sunny spring days when the southern-facing windows warm up the porch, you can be sure the door leading to the house is tightly shut!

Laura Miller

Laura Miller has been gardening all her life. Holding a degree in Biology, Nutrition, and Agriculture, Laura's area of expertise is vegetables, herbs, and all things edible. She lives in Ohio.