There’s nothing quite as ambrosial as a ripe fig, plucked fresh from a tree. Make no mistake, these beauties bear no relation to Fig Newton cookies; the flavor is more intense and redolent with natural sugars. If you live in USDA growing zones 8-10, there’s a fig for you. What if you live north of Zone 7? No worries, consider planting fig trees in pots. Let’s consider how to care for potted fig trees and other info on container grown figs.
Growing Figs in Pots
When growing figs in pots, the first consideration is to ascertain the appropriate varieties suitable for container grown figs. The following cultivars are suitable for fig tree container planting:
- Blanche, also known as Italian honey fig, Lattarula and White Marseille, is a slow grower with a dense canopy that bear medium to large lemon scented fruits.
- Brown Turkey is a popular cultivar for fig tree container planting and is also known as Aubique Noire or Negro Largo. This variety is a small cultivar that produces abundant medium sized fruit. It is especially suited to containers due to its tolerance for heavy pruning, which in turn results in larger fruit crops.
- Celeste, also known as Honey, Malta, Sugar or Violette fig, is another small fig tree with plentiful fruit production most commonly grown and eaten as a dried fig.
- Verte, or Green Ischia, fig has the benefit of producing fruit over a short growing season.
- Ventura is a compact fig that produces large figs which ripen late in the season and are suited to the cooler climates. Chicago is another cool weather cultivar.
You can purchase plants from reputable nurseries or propagate from spring divisions or summer cuttings from mature trees — say if your neighbor has a lovely fig to share. Root suckers can also be pulled and propagated in the spring or branches can be fastened to the ground and layered or tip rooted. Once rooted, remove the new plant from the mother and transplant into the container.
How to Care for Potted Fig Trees
A container suitable for planting fig trees in pots should be large. Half whiskey barrels are ideal, but any container large enough to accommodate the root ball plus some growing space is fine. You can always transplant the tree in later years as it outgrows the container. Placing the pot on casters makes for ease of movement if the tree needs to be moved during cool months to a protected area.
Figs crave sun, so choose a site with as much exposure as possible, preferably next to a south-facing wall. The soil pH should be between 6.0 to 6.5. Plant new fig trees in the spring after all danger of frost for your area has passed.
You can use regular organic potting soil or make your own mix as long as it is loamy, well-drained and contains plenty of compost or well-rotted manure. Mix in soilless media to lighten heavy soil and facilitate aeration and drainage. As you plant the tree, backfill it to 2 inches (5 cm.) below the top of the container; take care to ensure the point where the trunk meets the root ball is level with the soil.
Water the container fig when the soil is dry to an inch (2.5 cm.) below the surface. Keep in mind that container grown trees dry out more quickly than those in the garden. If you let the tree dry out too much, the stress may cause it to lose its leaves or lessen fruit production.
Use a foliar spray or diluted liquid seaweed mix, compost or manure tea each month to promote health and encourage prolific fruit set. When fruit begins to form, be sure to provide the tree with adequate water to promote juicy, plump fruit.
Figs can be pruned back to restrict size. Suckers can also be removed throughout the growing season and then pass them on to friends or relatives to propagate.
As temperatures begin to drop, it is a good idea to protect the tree. Some people wrap the tree, but the easiest thing to do is roll it into an unheated, generally unlit area such as a garage. This will be enough to protect the fig from freezes, but allow it to go into a necessary dormant period.
Planting fig tree in pots has the added benefit of improving yields and reducing the harvest date due to root restriction. They are also gorgeous trees that enliven the deck or patio with the promise of sweet figs to come.