How To Grow A Fig Tree: Your Complete Guide

A closeup of the fruits of Ficus carica or the common fig tree.
© simona pavan/

Written by Em Casalena

Updated: September 25, 2023

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Fresh figs are delectable sweet snacks that truly capture the flavor of warm climates. Figs are very rewarding to grow at home, and their lovely, fragrant foliage is a wonderful addition to any yard or landscaping project. They might take a bit of patience and ongoing maintenance to grow on your own, but in the long-term figs can be very good garden trees.

The exotic look and sweet, rich flavor of figs give them the illusion that they should be much more challenging to produce than they actually are. Common fig trees actually thrive in all except the harshest climates, and even then, they can be grown in pots and protected from the elements during the winter. These quickly growing deciduous shrubs or trees are beloved for their decorative appeal even if you don’t wind up gathering the fruit. They spread widely and have lovely lobed leaves. The small blossoms of fig trees develop into juicy fruit that is initially green and then becomes purple when mature.

In this guide, we’ll explore the background of fig trees and break down, step by step, how to care for fig trees on your own.

The Botanical Name And History Of Fig Trees

The common fig tree is classified as Ficus carica. They are members of the Moraceae family and are close relatives of various plants, such as breadfruit, mulberry trees, jackfruit, and more.

Figs are indigenous to western and southern Asia, as well as the Mediterranean region. From ancient times, fig trees have been planted for their fruit and as attractive plants, and they are now extensively farmed across the world.

The common fig tree has been domesticated since ancient times, and it also grows wild in rocky areas that are dry, sunny, and elevated up to 1,700 meters above sea level. One of the first plants that mankind cultivated was actually the edible fig. Early Neolithic fig fossils from around 9200 BC have been discovered. The discovery could be the earliest known example of agriculture because it came before the domestication of wheat and legumes. Figs were widely grown in ancient Greece, and Aristotle wrote about how to cultivate them. Ancient Romans also consumed figs as a dietary source. It was cultivated beginning in the 15th century in Northern Europe and the New World. Today, figs are commercially grown in most Mediterranean countries and throughout the world. Countries like Turkey, Egypt, and Morocco are the leading producers of figs.

In addition to choosing a tough, cold-tolerant cultivar when purchasing an edible fig tree, it’s crucial to get the right cultivar. All-female blooms are produced by Ficus carica, which also self-pollinates and yields delectable fruit. A few varieties of this species include the San Pedro fig, the Smyrna fig, the Caprifig, the Brown Turkey fig, and the Celeste fig.

fig bonsai tree with fruit

Fig trees (pictured) can also be kept small as bonsai trees.


Climate And Hardiness Zone Requirements For Fig Trees

Figs can grow between USDA hardiness zones five through 10, though most varieties do best in zones six through nine. This plant prefers warm Mediterranean climates. In fact, when grown in warmer climates, it can grow as tall as 30 feet.

When To Grow Fig Trees

It is best to grow fig trees outside in the early months of spring or in the late months of fall when the tree becomes dormant. When grown in pots indoors, you can virtually plant figs whenever you want, provided you keep up their ideal temperature range and sunlight needs.

Choose a pot that is at least 18 inches broad and one foot deep if you are growing your figs in containers. If at all feasible, allow four inches between the top of the soil and the lip of the pot while filling it with high-quality organic potting soil. This will give you lots of room to topdress your fig each spring with compost as needed. To prevent your fig from becoming soggy and the potential for root rot, whatever pot you select should have sufficient drainage, preferably several holes.

For ease of harvesting and to shield the branches from the weather while growing figs in the ground, you can train them up against a wall or fence. Apart from removing dead branches, you don’t really need to trim figs that are growing in the ground. Don’t prune during the first year if you’re growing your fig in a container. You can cut back each branch by roughly half starting in the second year to keep the plant under control and to your aesthetic preferences. To promote lateral development and fruit production, make sure your cuts are made above a node.

Starting Fig Trees From Seed vs. Buying Adult Plants

Depending on where you reside, juvenile fig trees might be hard to come by. It is easy to grow fig trees from seed, but the offspring won’t be faithful to the variety you might want. Cutting-based propagation is the best means to produce an identical duplicate of the original tree variety.

Figs are easy to grow from seed. Get a fresh fig, split it in half, scoop out the pulp and seeds, and then soak the pulp for a day or two to harvest the fig seeds. In the container, viable seeds will settle to the bottom. The remainder can be thrown away. The healthy seed has already absorbed moisture and is prepared to break open and immediately germinate after this process.

On a tray, mix equal parts peat, perlite, and fine volcanic rock to create a planting medium suitable for your fig seeds. Mix the seed with the horticultural mix you’ve made after moistening the substrate. Spread the sand-seed mixture over the tray’s surface. Put the tray somewhere warm and sunny for at least six hours each day. Eventually, you’ll get some sprouts that are ready to be transplanted.

Rooting fig tree cuttings outside is one common method of cutting-based fig tree propagation. Take fig cuttings from young, two-to-three-year-old small branches late in the dormant season, after the threat of frost has passed. They should be between eight and 12 inches long, approximately the breadth of your finger, and about three-quarters of an inch thick. The tip should be cut on a slant and the bottom end should be flat. Apply a sealant to the disease-prone slanted end and rooting hormone to the disease-resistant flat end.

It’s preferable to use six to eight shoots when learning how to start a fig tree using this approach to account for some failures. Place the flat end of the rooting fig in a hole that is six inches deep, six inches wide, and roughly a foot apart from other plants. Water thoroughly but not excessively. Your fig cuttings have a one-year growth potential of three to four feet. During the next dormant season, the new trees will be ready for transfer.

Halved and a whole fig isolated on a white background

Fig fruits (pictured) can be grown on trees from seed or propagated cuttings.


How to Grow Fig Trees

In many regions of the United States that provide conditions that are either too rainy, too cold, too hot, or too dry, growing the common fig for fruit production requires a lot more work. You will have an abundance of juicy figs to enjoy if you are fortunate enough to reside in the proper regions with the ideal environment for fig tree growth. The work is worthwhile for individuals who reside in unsuitable regions, and you can even try growing them indoors in simulated environments that are close to the Mediterranean.

Soil and Fertilizer Requirements for Fig Trees

If there is sufficient drainage, the common fig tree can thrive in a variety of soil mixtures, including light sands, densely organic loams, and heavy clays. Extremely acidic soils should not be used for figs. The pH value should be around 6.5 or less. Figs can tolerate some mild saline, which makes them appropriate for coastal planting but not for shorefront landscaping. To keep your trees healthy and to produce copious amounts of fruit, you must feed them a decent fertilizer. At least twice a year, or more often if you observe yellowing or a lack of vitality in the leaves, fertilizing treatments are recommended. Typically, late winter, early spring, and again in late summer when the fruit is maturing are ideal times to feed the tree.

Water Requirements for Fig Trees

Give your fig tree consistent water throughout the growing season. Reduce how much you water your tree in the fall. For plants that are planted in the ground outside, the right amount of water will typically be at least an inch every week, and as necessary for plants that are put in containers.

Temperature and Humidity Requirements for Fig Trees

The variety of your fig trees, which are well known for withstanding a broad range of temperatures, can have an influence on how cold-hardy they are. Consider choosing one of the more cold-hardy cultivars if you live in a colder area and would prefer not to overwinter the tree indoors. Figs typically only thrive in temperatures consistently above 10 and 20 degrees F and are not particularly resilient in extreme temperatures.

Sunlight Requirements for Fig Trees

For figs to flourish, they need full sun. Fewer figs will be produced when your fig tree receives less than six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day, which is probably the least desirable result for anyone raising a fig tree.

How Long Do Fig Trees Take to be Ready for Harvest?

Figs are ready for harvest when the neck area, or the little part where the fruit joins to the plant, begins to wilt a little, and the fruits droop on the vines. They are not very ripe if you see a milky liquid pouring from the stem when plucking them. Wait a few more days before harvesting any more figs to ensure they are ripe. During harvesting, always wear gloves to prevent sap from getting on your hands. The sap of fig trees can cause gastric upset if ingested.

Fig Tree Companion Plants

Comfrey is a great borage plant to place near your figs, as they attract beneficial pollinators. Likewise, marigolds, mint, and rue repel pests that could damage your fig plants.

Fig trees might be a bit high maintenance and require quite a bit of patience, but the payoff is well worth it. If you live in the right climate and have some time to spare caring for them, fig trees are absolutely worth the work.

How Long Does it Take for a Fig Tree to Bear Fruit?

Figs on a branch, grown in Croatia

The majority of fig trees will take between three to five years to bear fruit.

©Silverije, CC BY-SA 4.0 – Original / License

There are over 700 varieties of fig trees, of which there are four different varieties. There is only one variety that is most often used by home gardeners, and it is known as the ‘common fig’. This variety is best because it not only does not need the assistance of other trees in order to bear fruit, but they are less susceptible to diseases.

The majority of fig trees will take between three to five years to bear fruit. Fruit may be seen starting to form on branches before this, but they most likely will not ripen just yet. Fig trees planted in the ground may take longer to fruit than fig trees planted in pots. If you harvest the fruit too early, they won’t be sweet and will have a grainy texture.

Should your tree not yield any fruit, it could be the result of an excess of fertilizer, extreme weather conditions, or branches that are too crowded together.

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About the Author

Em Casalena is a writer at A-Z Animals where their primary focus is on plants, gardening, and sustainability. Em has been writing and researching about plants for nearly a decade and is a proud Southwest Institute of Healing Arts graduate and certified Urban Farming instructor. Em is a resident of Arizona and enjoys learning about eco-conscious living, thrifting at local shops, and caring for their Siamese cat Vladimir.

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