Summer figs are worth the wait
By Urban Harvest
fig is a delicious fruit that is extraordinarily easy to grow in
backyards, and because it is fairly attractive, works well in
the front landscape. The fig’s fruit are extraordinarily
difficult to store or ship, so they are difficult for farmers
and agribusiness to market profitably. Accordingly, homegrown
fruit is much higher quality than in the stores, where it costs
a fortune and quickly spoils. Thus you need to grow figs or you
will miss one of Gulf Coast life’s summer pleasures.
The three-fig variety contains 25 percent of the
daily-recommended allowance of weight-reducing and
cancer-preventing fiber. Figs are also high in several minerals.
A serving of three fruit contain useful amounts of potassium,
calcium, magnesium and iron.
Figs are productive, tasty, require little care and are
long-lived. They are easy to plant, need moderate drainage and
after the first year rarely need watering. This is especially
true if they are mulched well with leaves or pulled weeds. South
of FM 1960, most kinds of figs are completely freeze-hardy.
Above FM 1960, all kinds are hardy in most years, with some that
are freeze hardy in all years. Even if frozen back, they recover
quickly from their roots and are certain to live a very long
life. Figs also have no significant pests other than birds. They
need no pruning unless they are spreading too much or are in the
way. After the first three years or so, figs produce a large
crop every year.
The late J. Stewart Nagle did research to show that figs being
marketed in the Greater Houston area are often mislabeled, so no
two “Celeste” figs purchased around town are necessarily the
same ones. Dr. Nagle did a meticulous botanical study of more
than 40 varieties of fig scattered at sites from Magnolia to
Pearland. The only sure way to get a good fig tree is to buy one
from a nursery that is known to carry fruit trees from
knowledgeable growers or grow your own tree from your cuttings
from a known good tasting fig tree.
Figs differ in color of skin and flesh, in size, in sweetness
and quality of after-taste, in frost resistance, in month of
bearing, in productivity month by month, and many botanical
characteristics such as the shape of the leaf indentation at the
stem or the shape of the fruit. Skin colors include red-purple,
bronze, yellow and green, with intermediates as well. Main flesh
colors include white/cream, amber/honey, and strawberry/rose.
It is possible to have figs over many months. Most figs bear
here in late June/early July or in August, but a few ripen
later. I have picked fair tasting figs both in November and in
February. There are lots of very tasty fig varieties, including
Dr. Nagle’s favorites: Galbun, and a couple other late ones like
Trojano and Genoa White, with other favorites being: Royal
Vineyard, BA-1, Deanna, Mission, Green Ischia, and Hardy
My top rated early fig is a greenish yellow fig with honey amber
interior named banana. My favorite late season fig is a green
skinned “mystery” fig with strawberry flesh that Dr. Nagle found
in a old orchard row and called myssteak. I prefer to call it
Nagle. I also rank as top tasting figs the following: Celeste
(Sugar Fig), LSU Purple, and Celeste Malta.
Many of these varieties will be offered at the Urban Harvest
Annual Fruit Tree Sale on Jan. 18, 2014
Figs will produce much faster if they are watered and fertilized
heavily until May of the first year and watered heavily all
summer. Probably no fruit responds better to heavy mulch, and
figs may even require it. Several inches of leaves every fall
help a lot. After the tree is of adequate size, it rarely needs
fertilizer. Unless the fig gets too tall to pick, or has broken
or dead branches, there is no need to prune. However, in time,
root suckers will come up and create a very wide plant with many
trunks that cannot be mowed around. This can lead to weed trees
growing between the trunks. Soon it will be difficult to pick
the figs, and the figs will be less plentiful. Thus, keep the
weeds down and keep the number of fig trunks to a handful.
Birds love figs, so grow lots of figs so you share some with the
birds. By harvesting early in the day, you can beat the birds.
You can also pin up some fiberglass window screening on your
more prized figs. Cut the screening into approximately 6 by 24
inch pieces and fold the 24 inches in half and then in half
again. Then staple the sides of the screening so as to make a 6
x 6 pocket 2 layers thick open at one end. Put this over the fig
before it turns and the birds get it.
This column is produced by Urban Harvest, Inc. Learn about
farmers markets, community gardens and gardening classes for
youth and adults at
www.urbanharvest.org or phone
713-880-5540. The article was written by Bob Randall, Ph.D.,
former Executive Director of Urban Harvest. He is the author of
Year Round Vegetables, Fruits and Flowers for Metro-Houston. You
may contact him at