Your figs have been growing for a couple of months now, it’s August or September with the sweet fig smell in the air and they’re beginning to change color, some being eaten by birds, ants or surrounded by fruit flies. You ask yourself, “Are they ripe?”. Sometimes they’re ready once they’ve reached their ideal color for your fig variety. The best time for harvesting your figs regardless of the color is when you begin to see tiny white cracks in the skin.
This is the optimal time when the fig has reached the best flavor of sweetness. You can eat it right off the tree. Although some people like to rinse them first, or cut off areas that some bug affected. Mom likes to peel the skin off because it irritates her mouth. Other people bring them in to add to their favorite recipe. Whatever you do, keep in mind that they won’t last for more than maybe 2 days after the harvest. Since they have a lot of natural sugars and moisture, fungi is eager to grow on them. Your figs might not all be ripe at the same time, so it’s best to check on them regularly to find the ripe ones before nature sends in the critters.
How to pick
I had a young nephew ask me one day how to pick them off of the tree. I never thought someone would ask this question, but perhaps one of my readers has the same question even when in my mind it seems like common sense to know. In case if you haven’t figured it out, just grab the branch with one hand and carefully wiggle-pull the fig stem from the tree with the other hand and it will easily break off somewhere at or near the base of the stem. Try not to leave pieces of the fig on the tree to help avoid attacks from fungus or insects.
When you’re picking your figs be sure the mouth of the fig is nearly closed. I found one fig where it had a gaping wide mouth. Usually this indicates attack from an insect or perhaps a fig wasp. The best fig is one that has no large holes in it, you never know what’s inside when they look like this. Some people have named the mouth of the fig, an eye.
Training your fig tree, not training your dragons. Here are some basic examples on fig tree shapes. There are two common forms that a fig tree can be trained into: Single trunk [D], open vase type and the multi-trunk system [C]. Northeastern fig trees can be trained to grow from a single trunk when planted in a 200-hour chilling zone. You can control the trees through pruning. A winter frost that kills most of the branches, shows when a single trunk system should be used. To maintain the single trunk, be sure to cut away new growth that may appear at the base of the tree. Use a wooden stake, if necessary, to keep the trunk growing straight.
I am currently experimenting with the multi-trunk system. After my single-trunk trees died off due to weather and animal assaults, I let the trees grow back naturally and they grew as multi-trunks, I could not control this with one tree since multi-trunks grew from the sides of a single base trunk. My tree in Connecticut has a single trunk, but the branches are hugging the ground allowing additional roots to feed into the ground. The tree naturally formed this shape and it seemed like a defense mechanism from the very cold winter climates.
There are fungi that can attack your fig tree leaves. If you find large brown areas, or with a mold growing – immediately cut off the affected leaves and discard them so that the fungus will not spread throughout. Take note that there is a very dangerous common leaf mold pathogen called Rust. It mainly affects potted plants and can spread to your house plants. It will begin with small brown spots and gradually spread through the leaf. When you discover this type of infection, cut the leaf off and burn it.
This fungus generally appears following long rainy days without a chance for the leaves to dry under the sunshine. If you touch an infected leaf, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly before handling other plants. Sometimes if you see sporadic brown spots, on a few leaves don’t be alarmed. Rust will not kill your tree and you don’t have to remove all of the leaves. It’s best to monitor the brown spots carefully to assess the situation before of jumping to conclusions. Sometimes small brown spots can indicate that the plant suffered from lack of water following a yellowing of the leaves.
There are anti-fungal products available, though the most effective means of stopping the spread of this infection is by burning the leaf. I use a small propane torch with the leaf on a non-flammable surface while the leaf is still green.
Fig trees in this area of the Northeast don’t have many pests. Once in a while, you’ll come across leaves being eaten. Most of the time you’ll find that nothing is eating the leaves or branches most probably because the sap (latex) is sticky and can be irritating (even to human skin). Other times, the problem might not be a pest, but a rust fungi infection.
One thing you can try is to stir up a mix of soapy water and then spray it onto the leaves. You can use mild dish detergent. Dish detergent is generally a petroleum product, if this concerns you then use a biodegradable soap. You can find biodegradable soap in camping stores and it’s much better for the environment. If it rains, reapply this soapy water. This is a common method of general plant care when it comes to pest control. Always resort to this method first before you consider other options. Another solution is to release ladybugs onto your tree and hope that they will eat the creatures that you can’t see.
There is a common pest called a Stink Bug. These bugs will lay a cluster of their eggs on fig tree leaves and the larvae will eat the leaves. If you have an infestation, you may need to cut the effected leaves off of your tree and then burn them along with the larvae. Stink bugs are very difficult to eradicate and are currently spreading throughout the Northeastern states.
These bugs were a problem in my neighborhood in 2010, but I haven’t seen any Stink Bugs for a long time. Maybe it was just a wave of a migration through the area.
Yellow, wilting or curling leaves. This is a sign that your tree is dehydrated and needs water ASAP.
If the tree has been growing in the ground, place a garden hose directly at the base of the tree and let the water trickle over it for at least 1-2 hours. Watering a tree can be a daunting experience sometimes, so I recommend that you buy this Drip Irrigation Water Rock Sandstone. It might look ugly, but you can apply latex paint to it to change the color. In the meantime, it will have a continuous water drip into the roots of your tree. If it’s a young freshly planted tree, continue to water it on a regular basis about once every 3 days (skipping on rainy days) until the growing season has ended.
Here’s a basic illustration on fig identities. It just shows how to identify figs through the leaf silhouette. However, the variety on this blog is not listed here. The fig tree shown in this blog is the Brown Turkey fig.
Go to your existing fig tree and look for a fresh straight bark branch about 6 inches long. It should be about the thickness of a pencil. If you don’t include this, you will notice that the green end will rot. Be sure to remove the leaves.
Wrap the cut ends with damp paper towels, seal in a plastic bag (I use ziploc bags) and place in the refrigerator for 2 weeks. This will put the cutting into a normal dormant mode, making it behave as if it’s Winter.
Place plug tray into the lower water collection tray and add a small amount of water without flooding it into the lower tray. Cover this with the large hot house dome.
Place the entire hot house container onto an insulated table (preferably wood). To maintain the grow medium temperature at 70F, insert the seeding heat mat under between the terrarium and the table and plug it into an outlet. Check the temperature periodically. If it goes over 70F, unplug it. Move this entire unit into a shaded area, in a greenhouse or near a window in your home. If it’s inside a greenhouse, you might not need the seeding heat mat.
Dryness is not your friend. Let’s add moisture.
Lift up one end of the large dome and using your spray bottle, mist a spray of water inside to get it super steamy inside. You will need to do this everyday. Check on this daily.
The tree above that is featured in this section in the orange pot succeeded as one out of 18 cuttings that I tried this out on.
Please tell me your results in this process in the comments section. Did you have success? Did you need to modify these instructions to reach a better outcome?
Everyone seems to have their own favorite method of rooting, especially when rooting from Winter cuttings. The steps below describe one method that some people like because they can stick the cuttings into the grow medium and then set it aside until the cutting leafs out. Other people like to add another step that they think is more reliable. That other step is to first collect a few 6-8 inch cuttings, bunch them together and wrap a damp paper towel around them. Insert them into a ziploc bag, seal it and then set it outside under the shade. Once the roots form, insert each cutting into it’s own pot with grow medium. This method leaves out the need to use rooting hormone.
When you are pruning your tree during the end of the Winter season, gather a select number of cuttings that are pencil thick, as straight as possible and about 6-12 inches in length. Tip: The best cuttings are the ones that have some green colored tips like in this image.
Get a small 5-6 inch tall nursery pot such as the homemade one below and then pack it with grow medium. Add water and let the medium soak for 1-2 hrs or overnight. These pots have holes cut into the bottom to allow water to drain out when watering.
Grab a pencil and insert it into the soil to preset a hole for your cutting.
Using your finger, spread the rooting compound (hormone) onto the cut end of the cutting. Don’t worry, roots will not grow from your finger.
You may also apply it onto the first knotted point in from the cut end.
Apply the root hormone
Insert the cutting into the soil and then press down onto the soil firmly to hold the cutting into place.
Add water and then move the cutting into a shaded area. In about 6-8 weeks, leaves should begin to form. I like using the lower end of a clear 2-liter plastic bottle with holes cut on the bottom because it allows me to see the roots pressing against the plastic. Once the roots have fully formed throughout the pot, you may transfer it to a larger pot. By the following growing season you may plant it into the ground. See the Winterizing instructions here for potted plants. Tip: This method isn’t 100% successful, so I recommend that you do this with more than one cutting in case if one doesn’t grow.
If for some reason, your cutting remains green at the tip for more than 5-6 weeks without leafing out, carefully check the cutting to see if roots formed. If no roots, make a clean cut above the area where you added the rooting hormone. Look for wood that is still fresh and not rotted, follow this instruction:
Wrap the cut end with a damp paper towel, seal in a plastic bag (I use ziploc bags) and place in the refrigerator for 2 weeks. This will put the cutting into a normal dormant mode, making it behave as if it’s Winter.