Plant Common Name
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The edible fig is a small deciduous tree to large shrub native to the Middle East and Mediterranean and long cultivated for its teardrop-shaped, sweet, edible fruit. This truly ancient fruit was one of the earliest in cultivation, along with olives, pomegranates and dates. Wild figs grow in along streams and lakesides in these regions but tend to have smaller, fruits. Figs are popular crops in California and Texas but have escaped cultivation and are considered invasive.
Ficus carica is dioecious, meaning shrubs have either male or female flowers. But some plants set fruit parthenocarpically, which means “without a pollinator”. That said, there are four primary fruiting and flowering forms in cultivation. The three key fruiting forms are Common, Smyrna and San Pedro figs, and caprifigs are the chief pollinating types. The self-fruitful common figs set fruit parthenocarpically, so they are the most popular in cultivation.
The large, rich green, deeply lobed leaves and smooth gray bark are highly ornamental. Common fig often bears two crops per year with the second usually producing more and tastier fruit. There are many cultivars, differing in their characteristics and adaptability.
Common figs prefer full sun to partial shade in the hottest climates and well-drained, acid to alkaline soil. Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers which favor leafy growth over fruit production and mulch well to protect the roots from cold and suppress nematodes. Most figs prefer dry summers and mild winters. Hard freezes can kill them to the ground, but if the roots are protected, they will re-grow much like woody perennials.
Common fig works well as a specimen, culinary plant or in large containers. Plant it where its falling fruits won't be a nuisance. This easy-to-grow shrub offers a tropical look to temperate regions and makes a perfect edible addition to large garden spaces.
Some refer to figs as the "lazy man's fruit' because they tend to produce well as long as their basic cultural requirements are met, though very old plants can become unproductive. Pruning is most often done to remove dead wood and keep plants more compact. Figs can withstand hard-pruning, but most opt to simply remove the oldest, largest stems in spring every other year or so. Those planted in their coldest hardiness zones often die to the ground with new branches arising from the living roots in the spring. Remove dead wood before new shoots emerge.