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Ficus carica

Photo: Dr. Robert Polomski

When it comes to home-grown fruit, nothing could be easier than figs. Cultivated for thousands of years, figs can remain fruitful for many generations. There are about 470 varieties of common figs (Ficus carica)—the ones we grow in the southeast.

Two of the most commonly available and highly recommended figs for us are ‘Brown Turkey’ and ‘Celeste.’ ‘Brown Turkey’ produces purplish brown figs that occur over several months. It’s winter hardy to 10 degrees F. ‘Celeste’ bears smaller, violet-brown skinned fruit. The tree itself is more winter hardy than ‘Brown Turkey,’ capable of surviving temperatures as low as 0 degrees F. Both varieties produce excellent fruits that can be eaten fresh; however, ‘Celeste’ figs have more culinary versatility: the fruit can be dried or processed in preserves, glazed tortes, and compote.

A few other popular cultivars include Alma, Hunt, Conadria, Champagne (yellow), LSU Gold, Hardy Chicago, Kadota, and O’Rourke.

Figs are not like those “no pain-no gain plants.” In fact, it seems unfair to expend so little effort to reap so many tasty rewards. Because they demand so little from their caregivers, you should plant one or two in your garden, although only one is necessary since figs produce only female flowers and set fruit without cross-pollination. In fact, expect two crops from F. carica: a spring breba crop borne on last year’s wood and a midsummer crop produced on current season’s shoots.

Figs prefer a well-drained, full sun location. Depending on the variety, some are more cold hardy than others. For protection from winter winds and cold temperatures, marginally cold-hardy figs should be planted on the south-facing side of your home close to a heat-absorbing brick or stone wall. Figs have the potential for reaching heights of 15 to 30 feet or more, but they can easily be maintained at 6 feet, which keeps the fruit within reach. Use as a shade tree, espalier, large shrub, summertime screen, or in a container. They sucker quite easily, so you should pay attention to controlling or at least accommodating their rampant spread.

Visit your favorite garden center or nursery now when the figs are fruiting. Let your palette decide which variety deserves to be in your landscape.