These attractive trees have smooth, gray bark and large, lobed, tropical-looking leaves. Figs (Ficus carica) can take winter cold down to 15 degrees Fahrenheit, but freezing temperatures kill the upper branches and even the trunk of the tree. When this happens, the tree sprouts up from its roots and forms a shrub with several stems. Following such a freeze, the plants may not produce fruit in the following season, depending on the variety.
Figs grow best in subtropical climates with mild winters and long, hot summers to ripen their fruit. They need well-drained soil.
Figs make good container specimens for climates where they can't survive outdoors year-round. Move the containers into a cool, protected location where temperatures remain above freezing. Bring the plants into a warm, sunny location in early spring when the buds begin to swell.
Figs typically ripen two crops per year in warm climates. Leave the fruit on the trees to fully ripen before picking, but protect them from hungry birds. Prune to encourage new shoots, prevent branch crowding, and remove dead wood. Encourage the plant to form three to five main stems. If you prune when the trees are dormant, you'll decrease or eliminate the first crop but increase the second crop of the year.
Fig trees have no serious pests except for fruit flies and ants, which attack the fruit in some climates. In some areas, the trees are prone to fig rust. (See Chapter 9 for more on disease control.) Brown Turkey, Celeste, Magnolia, and Mission are common varieties.
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