“Fig season?” you say. “You can grow figs in Kansas City?”
Yes, and now, in spite of the 100 degree temperatures, is the time we fig lovers have been waiting for. Once you taste a fresh fig, you’ll never go back. Fig Newtons don’t even begin to resemble the sweet, soft flesh of a ripe fig. In fact, you may have to do as I did, run out and get a tree of your own.
I have been growing a fig tree in a pot for about 10 years. The tree makes a great focal point for your garden with its hand-sized, bright green, 5-lobed leaf. Smooth gray bark covers rather gnarly, spreading branches giving it, in my mind, an old world look.
Three years ago the tree really started to bear fruit in abundance, so much in fact, that from one tree I can have a small bag of dried ones to stash for winter. The variety that I have is known as Italian Honey fig or Peter’s Honey fig. When ripe, the fruit is a lovely yellow-green with a luscious, honey-like flavor. Yum!
The honey fig prefers zones 7 – 11 and can get up to 15 feet tall and wide but my potted tree is about 6 feet tall. It tends to get root bound and needs root pruning every 2-3 years. Because of this tendency, the tree requires lots of water in the summer. Organic “Fish and Poop” is my current favorite fertilizer for all edible plants. I fertilize starting in March, with monthly doses during the growing season until September.
In the fall the leaves drop just like any other deciduous tree so I roll the pot in an unheated garage where it goes dormant until March.
About two years ago I decided to try another smaller fig. This time “Petite Negra,’ which has a dark fruit with rosy interior. Another advantage is that PN starts setting fruit at 1 foot tall even though it will grow to 2 – 3 feet tall. This year, it has lots of little figgies so I’m eager for the taste experience to come.
In case you are wondering what a fig flower looks like, so am I. The flower is inside the fruit so what you see are fully formed wee figs sprouting from the tree. The fruit will be upright as in the photo but when it is ripe, the fruit becomes soft and the stem will bend until it droops. This is a good clue if your figs are the green type.
In our climate, zone 5 or 6, many varieties of figs will grow directly in the ground. If you leave the plant to fend on it’s own the branches may die to the ground every year. But, if you want to keep previous year’s growth, many people put a large wire cage around the plant, fill it with leaves and wrap it. Some figs recommended for zones 5 or 6 are Brown Turkey, Desert King, Osborn Prolific, Hardy Chicago, Honey fig and Bornholm’s Diamond.
If anyone out there in the mid-west is growing figs, I would love to know what works for you and what varieties you like.