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Climatic Requirements


» Figs originate from hot,dry areas with low humidity where the summers are sunny and long and the winters short and cool.

» Areas similar to that in South Africa is the Klein-Karoo district of the Western Cape. The majority of South Africa's commercial fig farmers are thus found here but many other areas of South Africa, together with the right cultivar, show promise.

» The good news for the average gardener is that figs will produce good crops in most areas of South Africa provided the correct variety is chosen and the right care is given. Unfortunately some areas of the Lowveld and Kwazulu Natal might be just too humid or wet to ensure good crops. Most of South Africa, however, is blessed with abundant sunshine and long hot summers (but this can also change sporadically from season to season!).

» The other constricting factor of course is frost. Most figs can tolerate moderate frost (around -5°C) but heavy to severe frost (-10°C or below) may cause major damage especially to younger plants (please see an indepth discussion about this in the Problems section).

Position



» With figs the hotter and sunnier the better! A full sun position is best. They are perfect for those hot, dry spots in the garden where nothing else wants to grow (just remember to water and feed them well in those areas when they are young). It is a good idea to plant them close to a north facing wall that recieves sun all day long.

» Good air circulation is very important especially to prevent souring of figs during humid, wet weather conditions.

» Another thing to remember is that fig trees have very strong surface spreading roots. Do not plant them in areas where damage can be done to wall and building foundations, drains and paving.

» When planting fig trees close to boundary walls, make sure that no damage can occur to your neighbour's garden as a fig tree's roots can spread over a wide area.

» Smaller growing varieties are recommended for small gardens as their roots will be less invasive.

» If space or possible root damage is a problem why not plant them into pots? Figs in pots will still bear a good
crop and can be kept small.

» Another advantage is that figs can be planted in areas where there is little soil available or where their roots are restricted.

Soil


» Figs will grow in all types of soil (clay, sand , rocky or loam) as long as it is well drained or adequate moisture is provided.

» Well drained soil is crucial for successful fig production.

» The best soil for fig production is a sandy-loam mixture. They will do the worst on poorly drained clay soils.

» They tolerate a soil ph from 6,0 to 7,8 . Figs tolerate alkaline soils better than acidic types. It is advisable to apply agricultural lime annually at a rate of 100grams per square meter if your soil is too acidic, especially on clay and sandy soils.

» Also keep in mind that figs will grow slower in clay and other poorly drained soils.

» Remember that figs have strong, shallow, surface spreading roots.

» When planting figs in pots, use good quality bark based potting soil and provide adequate draining at the bottom of the pot with a layer of stones or pebbles.

Planting of New Figs


» Established fig trees available in bags or pots can be planted out right troughout the year in most regions. In areas where severe frost is expected it is best to plant trees out during the early spring months.

» Open ground or bare rooted trees can only be transplanted during the dormant time(during July). If you want to move or transplant existing established trees this is also the best time to do this.


» If you are going to plant more than one fig tree a rough guide is to space the trees about 4-5m apart.

» Try to give each tree as much sun and air circiulation as possible.


» Choose your postion carefully as previously discussed.

» Make the planting hole twice the size of the bag or at least 50cm x 50cm x 50cm (deep and wide).

» Fill the hole with water to the top and wait for all the water to drain away.

» Mix 500 grams of bonemeal(or 250grams of superphosphate), 500grams of Bioganic fertilizer and half a bag of compost(15dm) with the soil that was removed out of the hole.

» Throw some of this mixture back into the hole until it is filled enough so that the new fig plant can be planted level to the surrounding soil. Fill the gaps with the rest of the mixed soil and compact firmly.

» Make a basin around the tree with the rest of the soil.

» It is very important to flood the basin with water so that the soil and new tree can settle and also to remove airpockets.


» It takes about 3 months for your tree to settle before it will start to grow strongly.

» Water your tree very well for the first month! At least every second day.

» Do not use any chemical fertilizer or strong manure when planting new plants. You can apply these later when the plant's roots have become established(usually 3 months after planting)

» It is very important to ensure that weeding is done regularly around the stem. A thick mulch will keep weeds in check and the roots moist.

» Fig trees should have a bed around them at all times. Do not allow your lawn to grow right up against the main trunk. The roots of the grass will compete with your fig tree's roots.

» Furthermore, a bed around your tree will ensure that the bark will not be damaged by lawnmowers and edge cutters. This is called ringbarking and many trees die annually because this is not done.

» The use of concrete tree rings are highly recommended and works very well for protecting the stems.

Watering


» Fig trees are very tough and drought resistant once established, however, fig production is sacrificed if they are not properly cared for.

» The most important factor when growing figs is correct watering. It is crucial to water figs well during the early part of the season. Small figs will drop off if exposed to severe drought during their early development (from September to December). A rough guide is to water your fig trees very well twice a week (similar to about 20mm of rain).

» Too much water during ripening of the figs can cause them to split. Instead gradually start reducing watering from late summer (end January) onwards but be careful to avoid severe drought. Water well about once a week to every forthnight. Figs will taste watery if they are watered too much during ripening. Please note that this is a rough guide only as weather conditions (like very hot or very wet) can influence your schedule considerably.

» The most crucial thing is to water consistently. Choose a fig watering day and keep to that day. Avoid sporadic watering as this can cause splitting of the figs. It will also help reduce splitting during rainy weather. Avoid letting the soil become bone dry before watering as this will also cause major splitting. It is best to keep the soil moist at all times but not constantly wet.

» It is also very important to water figs at root level only. Avoid sprinklers that wet the leaves and fruit. Figs will take up water directly through their skin and worsen splitting and souring.

» Ensure that the ground is soaked deeply. Avoid light waterings that only wet the surface! Drip irrigation systems are highly recommended. These systems soak the soil properly and deeply and also saves a lot of water. It is the future of modern agriculture and fruit gardening.

» Young fig trees (3 years or less) should however be watered more frequently to ensure that they establish and grow faster.

» Figs grown in pots will need more watering and feeding than their counterparts grown in soil. Remember pots dry out quickly especially during hot, dry weather and sometimes daily watering will be required. Figs in pots should never be allowed to dry out completely!

giving trees watering image

Feeding


» Figs do not need as much feeding as most other fruit producing crops and overfeeding can actually cause poor fig production.

» Figs planted into sandy or rocky soil will, of course, need more feeding than ones planted into clay and loamy soils. Further intensive fig farming will also require more but specialized feeding.

» Today there is a vast range of fertilizers available and each brand claim they are the best. There is not really a right or wrong kind of fertilizer or brand and I suppose it is all up to your personal preferance and experience. I am going to recommend my own personal choices to you but remember there are many other feeding programmes and products that others swear by that also provide great results.


» For young trees I recommend using Wonder 7.1.3 carbon based fertilizer every month. For a 1m tall tree 2 level tablespoons at least 30cm away from the tree is recommended. You can increase the dosage as the tree becomes bigger but remember when it comes to chemical fertilizers LESS IS ALWAYS BETTER THAN TOO MUCH!

» To keep the soil healthy, 250 grams of Bioganic Fertilizer can also be sprinkeld around the tree 2 weeks after the 7.1.3 fertilizer was applied. Feeding should be stopped in February to start hardening the tree off before winter. I found that Wonder 7.1.3 fertilizer is very "soft" on the soil and very economically concentrated. ALWAYS water your plants well after using fertilizer!


» For established trees (3 years or older) feeding is different.

» Once a year before spring(around July) a good mulch of compost mixed with bonemeal is recommended. In September Wonder 7.1.3. fertilizer at a rate of 50grams per square meter should be applied as figs need a lot of nitrogen in spring when new leaves are formed.

» Further, 1kg of Bioganic fertilizer should be applied around the base of the tree at least 30cm away from the stem. You can also use well rotted kraal manure instead.

» For the rest of the season a monthly application of bioganic fertilizer (100grams per square meter) and Wonder 2.3.4 fertilizer (50grams per square meter) is recommended.

» The last feeding should be done in February to start hardening off your tree before winter arrives.

» It is important to note that overfeeding your fig tree (especially with high nitrogen fertilizers) will result in luxuriant growth at the expense of the fruit. If this happens feeding should be stopped immediately and the tree must be starved to force it to start producing more figs again.

Pruning


Luckily, pruning of fig trees (for the home gardener anyway) is much simpler than most fruit bearing crops.There is, however, a few things that you are going to have to keep in mind.

Some important tips:

» Main pruning should be done during the dormant period when all leaves have fallen off. The best time will be around end of July or just before spring.

» When removing secondary branches from the main trunk always leave a short shoulder. Do not cut back right against the main trunk.

» Always use sharp pruning equipment. Clean cuts heal quickly.

» Avoid tearing and cracking stems when pruning.

» Always seal thicker cuts with pruning sealent (butimen) to keep out fungal diseases and boring insects.

» It is a good idea to spray the whole tree with Lime sulphur after pruning as this will eliminate any pests and diseases that might still be present on the tree.

» Ensure that thicker branches and the main trunk will have enough leave cover left to protect the bark from sunburn.

» Sun exposed bare trunks can be painted with white PVA paint to lessen sun damage.

» Try to cut with a slight angle just above the internodes (eyes) of the stems.

» Slower growing and dwarf varieties should only be lightly pruned.

» Figs in pots should also be only ligthly pruned.

» Severe pruning can cause poor fig production.

» The majority of the figs are produced on the current season's growth. So it is important to prune fig trees so that they are stimulated to produce new fruit producing branches.


» It is important to prune young trees to the correct shape that you want as this is difficult to correct when the trees are older.

» There are many different styles available to suit your specific needs. For small gardens the standard look or pyramid shape will be the best and figs also make great espalier subjects. For larger gardens the old fashioned open V-shaped look to allow lots of sun and air circulation in will be the best.

» Fig trees can easily be espaliered (trained onto a fixed frame) and this is particularly useful in small spaces and gardens.

» Try to keep your trees as low as possible as this makes picking and management much easier. Fig trees can also be kept much smaller with more severe pruning.

» Young trees normally produce strong growing upright branches the first few years that should be cut back carefully to ensure that more side branches form.

» Choose a few branches that can form your main frame. Cut these branches back to about 1m above the ground.

» In the future these main frame branches are seldom pruned again and only the lateral or side branches that form on these are pruned annually.


» Firstly, most fig trees bear two crops of figs. The first crop called a "Breba" is normally small and born on last year's wood.

» The main crop, which is normally bigger, is born on the new growth of the current season. The good news is that no matter how badly you pruned your fig tree it should still produce figs during later summer. The tricky part comes when you want a good breba crop and here I suggest you do some further reading.


» For good breba producing figs I suggest you roughly leave some half of the branches unpruned to produce early figs and the other half of the branches should be cut back to ensure a good main crop of figs. The following year the branches should be switched so that old wood doesn't build up.

» Some people prune breba producing figs only every second to third year.

» Alternatively, you can wait until breba figs are ripe and picked and then immediately prune some of these branches back to ensure new growth and enough old wood for next year's breba crop. This is only recommended in areas with very long, hot summers.

» Keep in mind that the breba figs are born on the tips of terminal branches.

» Good breba producing figs are: White Genoa, Deanna and Noire de Caromb.


» For main crop producing varieties pruning is relatively easy.

» Weak and thin branches are removed first.

» Secondly, all new growth of the past season should be cut back to about 3-5 internodes.

» The main frame of the tree should not be pruned or cut back if it is not absolutely necessary.

» All branches that cross each other should be removed. The whole idea is to allow as many branches as possible to receive enough sun and air circulation.

» All suckers at the base of the tree should be removed.

» Very strong growing upward growing shoots should also be cut back.

» Thin, weak, diseased and damaged branches must be removed and cut back into healthy wood.

» Allow enough space inbetween main branches by thinning out overgrowth. Try leaving the stronger growing branches.

» Severity of pruning will differ according to growing conditions, climate and the specific variety. For instance, in frost-prone areas pruning should be light and warmer areas harder. Some varieties grow stronger than others and will need more pruning. Figs grown in poorly drained or clay soils must only be lightly pruned.

» Fig trees should preferably be kept as short and low spreading as possible to make harvesting easier.

» Younger trees will need less pruning than older trees.

» Older trees tend to build up too much old wood at the expense of fig production.

» The aim of pruning fig trees is to ensure a constant development of new fruit producing branches.


» Very old neglected trees can still produce a fair crop of figs but rejuvenated pruning can improve the yield considerably.

» Older trees tend to produce figs only on the furtherest outer branches leaving vast inner areas with no figs at all.
There is two ways in dealing with this:

» The first way is severely cutting back the whole tree at once by removing at least two thirds of all branches and cutting them back to the basic frame work. This will force the tree to produce lots of new productive growth. Unfortunately you will not have a decent crop for about 2 years. It is very important to seal the cuts properly with tree sealant as this type of pruning leaves very big cuts.

» The second gentler way is to cut back only a third to half of the branches leaving the rest untouched. These branches are then only cut back the following year as the severely cut branches had a chance to grow back. With this method you will still have figs to harvest within the same season.

» Another option is to cut back about a third of the whole tree and repeating this process every year until all old wood is removed.

Harvesting



» Figs are very fertile and some will produce a few figs from their first year! However, most varieties will produce good crops from 3 years onwards. Remember, figs grown in pots will produce less figs than ones planted into the ground.

» With many varieties of figs the taste also improves as the tree ages.

» Harvesting figs of course is the best chore of all! Figs will not ripen further if removed from the tree so it is important to harvest them as closely to fully ripe as possible.

» For green fig jams, young unripened figs can be harvested. Export varieties and varieties used for preserves are also normally harvested just before they are fully ripe. Figs used for sweet jams and eating are harvested as ripe as possible.

» Knowing when a fig is fully ripe will take some practice and experience. Normally ripe figs will start to swell rapidly and small skin cracks appear on some varieties. Fully ripe figs will feel very soft to touch and some varieties will ooze a drop of nectar at the base or opening of the fig. Most ripe figs typically start to droop.

» Figs that ripened during very hot, sunny periods will have a superior taste to figs harvested during cloudy, rainy periods.

» Figs will ripen faster during hot, sunny weather and also spoil quicker.

» Figs should be cut off with secateurs and not pulled of the tree.

» It is important to remember that figs normally don't ripen all at once but over the course of many weeks. The older figs further away from the growing tips normally ripens first.

» Fig trees contain fig milk in all their parts and it can irritate some people's skin. It is best to wear gloves and long sleeved shirts when harvesting a lot of figs. Fully ripe figs have little or no milk in their stems and skins.

» It is very important to keep on harvesting ripe figs. Leaving overripe figs on trees too long will attract vinegar flies that help to spread fungus that causes the souring of figs, especially during wet periods.

» Keep good hygiene in your orchard by removing spoiled and fallen figs regularly.

» If figs are slow to ripen, a drop of olive oil can be placed on the opening (ostiole) of the fig to speed up things a little bit.