Figs

1. Q: Why won't figs ripen on my fig tree?

A: It may be an environmental phenomenon or a problem with the variety. Often figs freeze to the ground in the winter. The regrowth is lush and vigorous and often the bush is growing too vegetatively to mature the fruit. Figs are also shallow rooted and easily stressed which can hinder ripening. Mulching and regular watering should help. Certain unadapted varieties will never mature the fruit regardless of the management program.

2. Q: Request for information on what to spray for rust on large fig tree. Client has a concern about children eating fruit from a tree that has been sprayed; also birds

A: Control with neutral copper spray; 1 or 2 applications in May or early June (in very wet seasons, 1 or 2 additional applications may be necessary.) Spray when the first leaves on the tree reach full size with second spray in 3 to 4 weeks. Be sure to get good leaf coverage with spray. Control is usulally not 100%.

3. Q. I am harvesting hundreds of figs but the birds are harvesting thousands! How can I beat the bird's pecking and the weevil's souring the fruit?

A. Those birds have keen eyes and know exactly when the figs are ripe. They don't wait until the fig has softened and you had better not either. Figs are ripe when they turn from green to brown. Granted, the fruit will get sweeter if allowed to hang on the tree longer but if the bird damage is too severe, you must harvest them as soon as possible. As fruit ripens, it will also spoil and be invaded by weevils. The best strategy is to get the fruit as soon as it is harvestable. Unfortunately, figs do not ripen further once harvested and will only keep a few days in the refrigerator.

The only surefire way to keep the birds off of the fruit is to cover the plants with bird netting which is available at various garden centers. Also, only plant closed-eye varieties such as Alma to preent wevils from getting in and souring the fruit.

4. Q. I don't have bugs in the fruit but I have figs that never ripen. The plant is large, has beautiful foliage and forms little figs in the axil of every leaf as it is supposed to but that's where the process stops--the fruit never ripens. What could be wrong? Have I got an unadapted variety?

A. Your fig is exhibiting signs of stress. A fig is sort of a mongrel fruit anyway. Being a parthenocarp (not requiring sexual fertilization) fruit, it is real sensitive to any and all environmental factors such as water stress (both too much and too little), root damage (nematodes or soil fungi) and weather. Persimmon trees are susceptible to the same type of situation but instead of holding green fruit on the tree, they abort all of their fruit. Since you can't do anything to relieve the sexual problems of the fig and persimmon, you will just have to make them "more comfortable" and fool them into producing and ripening a crop. Try mulching with leaves or grass clippings around the base of the trees. Keep the soil moist, not wet or dry, around the trees. I think that you will see that a little care will make your cantankerous trees more productive.

5. Q. My fig plant has small green figs which may not ripen before the first hard freeze. Is there anything I can do to hurry them along? The plant froze to the ground last winter.

A. Fresh figs are not tasty until soft and ripe. Therefore, pick them just as the fruit begins to soften. The fig varieties common to Texas usually ripen their fruit during July or August but because of winter freezes, fruit harvest can be delayed until new growth is forced out. An ancient but little known practice can provide a simple way to ripen figs 30 days or more before their normal ripening date. This practice, in use as early as the third century B.C., is known as "oleification" and consists of applying one of a variety of oils (mineral oil has worked as well as vegetable oils) to the eye of the fig fruit at a time when it will respond by ripening at a greatly accelerated rate. The treatment to induce early ripening is quite simple. Care should be taken to avoid applying the oil to other parts of the fruit. The use of a small cotton applicator makes the job easy. Timing the application is very important. Applying too early can cause the young figs to drop before ripening, and applications made too late are ineffective. The receptive stage seems to coincide with the time that the pulp of the fruit turns pink. By cutting open a few different size fruits, one can easily determine what size figs on the shoot are receptive. An application of oil to the selected figs will usually cause ripening within 5 days after treatment. Untreated figs of the same age may require more than 30 days longer to ripen.

6. Q. Last year I purchased a fig tree and having survived the winter I would like to assure some amount of a fig crop this year. Last year all the figs shriveled up and fell off, and about mid August the leaves began to turn yellow. Is this a mineral deficiency or a reaction to our extremely hot summer?

A: Figs are extremely shallow rooted and consequently very susceptible to stress. I think that is why the figs shriveled up and the leaves turned yellow. Mulch the plant heavily and if possible put a soaker or drip hose under the mulch. This way you can water it heavily and then the mulch will help conserve the moisture. Water is extremely important during the hot summer months.

7. Q. About three years ago my wife brought home a cutting from a Fig tree. We planted it first in a pot to take root and then last fall transplanted it to the ground. It is now about seven feet tall and has good healthy leaves. My problem is though I've noticed flowers it never produces fruit.

A: The fig is one of the most unusual fruits as it doesn't really have a flower bloom per se. The fig is actually an inside out fruit. In other words the flower is on the inside of the fruit. Hence, the reason that most figs are set parthenocarpicly, ie without pollenization of fertilization. There are some figs which require a specific wasp to pollinate the fruit.

So I doubt if you have seen a flower; if you saw a flower it was probably a small fruit. It is not uncommon for fig plants which are growing very fast to shed the fruit. So your plant may still be in too much of a vegetative state to fruit. Once the growth slows down, it should go ahead and set some fruit. The other thing is since the fruit is set without seed development (parthenocarpically), any type of stress will cause the fruit to abort.

Be sure to mulch the crown of the plant this winter to prevent cold damage and you will probably set several fruit. Hope this helps solve your problem.

8. Q: I own a little fig tree which somehow survives our winters near Montreal, Quebec. It is covered with earth during it's dormancy. Freed in late April to early May depending on the weather. This variety sets fruit early, all at once and ripens out in August, in contrast to another tree which sets fruit throughout the season.

My question is, how and when to prune to maintain a compact tree and still get good fruiting. I noticed a side shoot fuited better than the main tree. Also, does the tree want feeding (manure, compost or fertilyzer)?

A: Normally we prune figs very little in Texas because of potential cold damage, ie. we usually have to prune back to live wood. This past year our varieties went dormant extremely well. We had a lot of cool, mild days prior to very hard winter freezes. The figs went through this very well and most were in great shape. Then we warmed up in February and the plants lost some of their accliminated dormancy and bam, they froze to the ground in March. So our pruning is often dictated by the environmental conditions. Pruning also reduces the potential crop.

Let your trees dictate how much to prune them. The trees should make about one foot of new growth a year. If they are already making that then leave them alone. Use pruning to stimulate new growth, remove weak and/or dead limbs and to keep the plant in check. This pruning should be performed in early spring.

The plants should also be mulched heavily due to their shallow root system and it also aids in cold protection. If organic mulch or compost is used, the necessary nutrients will be supplied from these materials. We don't want the plants to be overly vigorous or they will not go dormant in the fall and cold damage will be imminent. Let plant growth dictate how much fertility the plants are given. If they are making a foot of growth, then leave them alone.

9. Q: How do figs set buds and do they fruit from new growth or from second year wood?

A: There are four types of figs: Caprifigs, Smyrna figs, San Pedro figs, and common figs. Of these, only the common fig is of significance to southern fruit growers. It is a seedless fruit which does not require pollination. The fruit is produced as a main crop on wood that has grown the same season. In other words the current season shoots will usually produce the main crop of figs if the bush is "mature", ie. not overly vegetative. Some common fig types like Texas Everbearing will produce a few figs on last years growth. This crop is known as the Breba crop. Figs should make about one foot of new growth every year to produce a crop the following year.

The other fig types are either pollinators (Caprifig) or require pollination (Smyrna and San Pedro). Hence, they are not commonly grown in the south.

10. Q: We live in Harris county around Houston, and we were wondering about the proper way to get a cutting off of a fig tree to produce another fig tree. We also have a minature apple tree that produces apples and all, but the tree had a wrapper around the trunk which stunted the growth of the trunk will the tree be alright and grow strong at the lower trunk or will it die?

A: Figs root relatively easy from dormant hardwood cuttings. Take some cuttings as soon as you can before the buds start to grow. If the buds have already started to grow it is too late for this year and you can try air layering.

The best cuttings are made from two or three year old wood or from the basal parts of vigorous one-year old shoots with a minimum of pith. In other words you want the cuttings to have a lot of wood and not much hollowness to them.

The cuttings should be 12 to 18 inches long. They can be placed in either a container with well-drained potting soil or they can be placed directly in the ground. It is best to place 3 or 4 cuttings in each pot. Leave one or two buds sticking out of the ground and bury the remaining buds. They should root in 6 to 8 weeks.

If the cuttings fail to root, you can try air layering. This is a technique whereby the plant is wounded and then media is placed around the wound which induces the plant to root at this point. This procedure is detailed at http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/propagation/propagtation.html.



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