Spring cleaning at Figgi Riggi

Spring Cleanup: A good time to tidy things up a bit

This late Spring, you may have noticed a bit of silence from my posts lately. That’s because I’ve been working away in the invisible background cleaning up affiliate site links and improving some of the old pages with more interesting content. I was making improvements to the site title image at the top of the page. After I created it, I noticed that the 4 dots look like little figs.

I created a Facebook page and made graphics for that too. Here’s one of those images.

An image made for the Facebook page.

 

 

 

 

 

At some point, I intend to edit all of the images on the site with interesting title watermarks like this Ants photo seen here.

Garden Ants
Garden Ants with interesting watermark.

Education and our curiosity to learn

Meanwhile, I am focusing on what my next major topic will become. One that will be educational to my curious readers. I was once a college instructor, so I do like to educate. With that in mind, I’d like to create an introductory tutorial on using a free open-source application called InkScape. It’s available for Linux, Windows and Apple OS’s. This will take time to create, so bare with me on this plan. This will be a side project while I write other interesting topics.

Money that makes the world go ’round

I’d also like to share some tidbits about income that I plan to receive from internet-related side jobs. It’s an interesting topic and one that my readers can utilize if they too want to gain some extra cash. So, this week I’ll create a budget and share my gains. Besides, every blog is rooted in money at some point.

Things that might get in the way of some progress this week is: a friend who’s struggling with cancer who I intend to visit sometime soon. I’ve also decided to get back in shape at the gym. The gym helps to keep my eyes healthy by being a healthy distraction from the computer screens.

Peeper

I will make short term goals and while using a sense of transparency, I’ll post them in here. Why would I do such a thing? Well, isn’t everyone a bit of a “peeping Tom” by instinct? If not, then I guess you’ll become one while following my blog posts. ūüôā

Something is eating my figs

Figs are a popular sweet treat in nature for both humans and the sneakiest creatures

 

Figs are¬†attacked by all sorts of critters and they do it ferociously as if the end of the world has come. They can drain the juices from the figs within a day or two. Although there is one thing that I noticed when hurricanes come to the region. The day afterward, the flies come. I don’t understand it, but the fruit begins to rot very quickly and this attracts the flies. Here are examples of the most common creatures that I’ve personally come across through observation.

Woodpeckers

Are probably the most damaging of all. They’ll just sit there pecking away, leaving holes in the figs. I’m not sure if they’re pecking at the insects or simply have a “sweet tooth”. I believe it’s the latter. If you have a woodpecker problem, I suggest you either run outside as fast as possible to get the ripe figs before the birds do, stand on guard with a BB gun, or simply surround your tree with a bird net. My choice would be the net.

White faced hornet

Sometimes known as the bald faced hornet. Workers arrive to eat the pulp inside the fig. They’ll stand their ground, so if you see a ripe fig next to their fig, it’s best to leave it alone until they leave. These hornets are peaceful creatures if you leave them alone. They’ll know you’re there if you’re watching them, but they won’t attack you like a wasp might. All they want to do is eat. If you disturb them, they’ll come and attack you with their nasty stinger leaving a most painful injection of venom.

Fig Wasps

These insects are not necessarily regarded as a pest, although their actions may cause the fig to ripen very quickly and the fig will lose its appeal. Before you know it, the fig will have dropped to the ground ready to germinate. Some figs require such a creature to pollinate the flowers deep inside.

Fruit flies

Fruit flies just appear out of nowhere and are always around. House flies seem to appear after a rain storm when some of the figs quickly begin to rot. Hurricanes are known to quickly rot your figs nearly overnight. The next day, the figs will be covered in flies. Occasionally, you might find a male mosquito drinking the nectar, while they pierce the skin of the fig. I’m not particularly excited about the fact that I’m feeding mosquitoes.

Some people claim that squirrels and raccoons eat the figs, but I have yet to see them actually attack the fig trees.

If you see a spiderweb on your tree, keep it there. You’ll be thankful that such a predator has found the perfect place to hang their trap. Ladybugs are also helpful to help control the pests.

Training Your Fig Tree

How To Train Your Dragon

movie poster
movie poster

Training your tree, not a dragon

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.

Natural approach

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.

Training your fig tree
Basic tree illustrations


Rust spots or dead brown areas on leaves

Rust spots on your leaves

Rust beginning to form on leaf
Rust beginning to form on leaf

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.

Solution

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.

Pests are eating the leaves

Pests are everywhere

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.

Solution:

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.

Stink Bug pests
Stink Bug walking on a leaf

Official Fig Facts

Here is an official list of fig facts from Purdue University. These facts show everything from home remedies to nutritional information.

http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/fig.html

Here is a more human version of the nutritional information:

http://caloriecount.about.com/calories-figs-dried-uncooked-i9094?size=2

Here’s another good resource on Fig Facts. It’s an Australian site with info about how figs are grown in California. I found it to be particularly informative.

http://www.foodforest.com.au/figFactSheet.htm

Lost Figs: Where are they?

Lost Figs, where are they?

Changes are that your figs are not in the lost and found at the police station. Knowing when the figs will grow and whether or not they’re being stolen or eaten by natures bugs and other critters is essential to being a backyard gardener.

  • Lost? Maybe the neighborhood kids or your landscapers are sneaking through your yard and eating your figs.
  • There’s no guarantee that you’ll see figs growing on your transplanted tree for the first 2-3 years.
    Lost figs transplanted tree
    Soil Filled Into Hole

    If you see figs, you’re either lucky or the person who supplied a fig tree to you did everything as right as possible to ensure fig production. But there can be margins of error. If you don’t see figs within the first 2-3 years, be patient and hope to see figs the next year. A friend said to me one day that when he doesn’t insulate his fig tree from the winter frost, he doesn’t have figs that year. I only follow this rule for the first year I plant the tree and leave it alone for the following Winter seasons if the tree is at least 5ft tall or the trunk is more than 3 yrs old. I like a thick trunk.

  • If you’ve had your fig trees for a while and you’re just not seeing figs growing, then here are steps to follow to force the tree to grow figs the next year. These steps will not guarantee fig propagation, but it’s a worthy experiment that has worked for me and other people.

Forcing Fig Growth

  • Follow the pruning procedures at item 6 in Outside Living.
  • When the tree begins to grow be sure to cut back any growth that wants to emerge from the base of the trunk.
  • While the new growth begins to emerge from the existing branches, only allow 6 leaves to grow from each branch. Beyond this point, pinch (clip) off the additional growth. This will force the tree to redirect energy from growing limbs to growing figs. Check on the limbs periodically because the tree may start to grow new branches at the base (armpit) of the leaf stems. If so, pinch these off. You’ll scratch your head thinking.. “But figgiriggi said not to prune during growing season.” For this situation, we’re not concerned about that. The pinched ends will dry quickly and then seal themselves off by the following day.
  • Check on the tree for new growth about once every 4 days.
  • Keep an eye out for rounded green bumps. Figs begin to emerge as small ball forms on very short stalks. Baby figs¬†can be confused for leaves, but carefully compare the bumps with how the leaves form. Leaves form almost immediately at the base (armpit) of the leaf stems. Figs also form at the same location. If you’re not sure if you see a fig or not, wait another 4 days and then you’ll know.
  • You’ll have to tend to this for the entire growing season. It gives you an excuse to observe your tree when the neighbors see you out in the yard, otherwise they might think you’ve lost your mind.

If you give up, hopefully you won’t. Go to a nursery and buy a new fig tree.

Outside Living

Growing outside is low maintenance

Fig tree on a mid-Summer morning
Fig tree on a mid-Summer morning

When you grow your fig tree outside, all you have to do is plant it and let it grow. Here are some suggestions to consider.

Watering

Watering trees outside as often as possible depends on your weather conditions. At least once every 3 days. If you have a lot of rain, your tree may grow at a rate of about 2-3 ft per season (without fertilizer). Mine grew 4 ft during the first year I planted it.

Training

Train your tree to grow outside with one base trunk (not like what you see in the photo above) by clipping off additional branches that grow from the base. See these Training tips. For pruning tips, scroll down to item number 6 on this page.

No Pesticides

I suggest that you not¬†add pesticides outside if you can help it. Once figs begin to grow in the middle of June, they stay on the tree throughout the entire growing season until they become plump and juicy. Pesticides are¬†poisonous because they’ll absorb into the figs and then bitten¬†revealing a terrible cocktail. Peeling the skin off does not provide protection against consuming the chemicals.

Winterizing

Studies suggest following this step when trees grow up to 3 years or less than 5ft tall.

When the Fall season approaches after the figs have a¬†harvest and all the leaves have fallen off, prepare the tree for Winterizing. To prepare, gardeners¬†can insulate by surrounding the tree outside with garden stakes and either wrapping that with chicken wire then fill the interior space with leaves from other trees, wrap Frost King SP57/11C Water Heater Blanket, 3in Thick x 48in Tall x 75in Long, R10¬†around the stakes and then encase that with a TopSoon Plastic Mattress Bag for King / Queen, Size 78″ x 96″.

Styrofoam box encasing a fig tree and held together with wire.
Styrofoam box encasing a fig tree and held together with wire.

 

You may encase the fig tree in sheets of thick DOW Craft Styrofoam Foam Sheets, 2 x 24 x 48, (2 sheets) and then covering with plastic.

 

Fig tree insulated with water heater insulation and clear mattress bag.
Fig tree insulated with water heater insulation and clear mattress bag.

 

Wrapping with water heater insulation: use duct tape to wrap the plastic tight. Do not let any of this plastic touch the branches. I like water heater insulation because it does an excellent job with warming the tree and the exterior plastic keeps the fiberglass from spoiling. Insulation¬†in good condition following the winter, reuse it next time. This insulation prevents the branches from freezing. You may also dig up the tree, lay it on its side on the ground, cover with burlap and dirt. But I don’t recommend it.¬†I know all too well what happens when no insulation covering around¬†the tree. Most of the time, the¬†tree dies back and essentially has to start all over again with its growth if it doesn’t die entirely.

 

Note:

I’ve found that if the branches are a minimum 1/2 inch thick on a 3 yr old thick trunk, those branches will survive the Winter frost when you do not winterize the tree.

Pruning

Pruning timetables are set from February thru March. Spring arrives by April, but if the temperatures return to freezing wrap it back up. Between March and May, green growth should appear and all insulation separating even if outside temperatures reach upper 30s to mid 40s. Why bother pruning it when it looks fine the way it is? Your other question might be, why prune in February or March? After all those harsh cold months, the sap has fallen deep into the tree. Pruning it at this point will give you a clean-cut without sweet sap oozing out. Pruning causes it to grow more branches and therefore more figs. Once the form of the tree has been reached after the initial years of pruning, then there is no need for heavy Winter pruning.

How do you prune it? Look at the branches and you’ll notice bumps where new branches emerge from. Now look at the entire tree. Picture the shape of the tree in your head and remove only 1/3 of the tree from the top. Cut just above those bumps on the branches. If you’re cutting back an entire branch, cut it back only to about 2 inches away from the main branch or trunk.

During growing season let the tree grow and don’t prune the branches. Pruning during the growing season causes the sweet white sap or latex to ooze out of the branch. Sap attracts insects and all sorts of fungus that may rot the tree.

Suggestion:

Clear away branches in the center to allow sunlight to reach the entire tree when it grows. OK, now it looks like you are killing¬†your tree. Don’t worry, it’s still alive.

Whitewashing

White wash on winter damaged wood
White wash on winter damaged wood. For pruning, just apply the white wash in the cut area. Wipe away excess with damp cloth.

Whitewashing is important for the cut the ends of the tree to prevent a hole from developing too soon at the center (branches have a soft center where the milky sap flows) of the branch, which can provide a haven for fungus and insects once dried. To white wash, mix 50/50 of water and Rust-Oleum 1990730 Painters Touch Latex, 1/2-Pint, Flat White paint and dab it on with these Plaid Foam Brushes, 44269 (3 Pack). I sometimes use white wash on wood that has the potential for winter weather damage or any other damage to the wood.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Fertilization

When To Apply Outside: Regular fertilizing usually applies to potted fig trees and when grown in sandy or clay soils. Readers usually purchase inexpensive soil pH testers without questioning on whether or not fig trees need fertilizer. Scientists say that the pH should read between 5.0 to 5.5 for potted trees and 6.0 to 6.5 for trees grown in the ground. I use a MoonCity 3-in-1 Soil Tester Kits, Soil Meter for Moisture, Light and pH / acidity Meter Plant Tester,Good for Gardener or Planter Both Indoor and Outdoors (No Battery needed). An example of this meter I like it because it comes with a convenient chart/guide on the back of the package.

Note:

Nitrogen fertilizers encourage foliage growth, but the fruit often ripens terribly, if at all. Fertilizer should only be used if the tree grew less than 1 foot the previous year. Application should be broken into 3-4 applications starting between March and May, then ending in July. To read more on this topic, see this Fig Fruit Facts website.

3-Way Soil Meter
3-Way Soil Meter

Natural Fertilizer

Depending on where people¬†live in the Northeastern climates, their¬†outside trees may begin to show leaves anywhere between April 1st to May 1st and then the cycle begins all over again. Gardeners¬†are suggested to not¬†add mulch to the tree at this point. Mulch can actually rot the base of your established fig tree after the first year of growth. Fig trees love water, but they also like well-drained soil otherwise they can rot.¬†Readers have chosen¬†The Dirty Gardener Dolomite Limestone – 2 Pounds chips when fertilizing. Some people claim that outside¬†fig trees LOVE limestone for it’s slow release properties.

Researchers have¬†no solid evidence that fig trees need excessive amounts of Ca or Mg. With that said, as mentioned above under the Fertilization topic, fig trees prefer a pH of 6.0-6.5 when planted in a mineral soil in your yard and 5.0-5.5 when in a pot. If your soil is very acidic, then you can buy the bag of dolomite lime mentioned above and sprinkle it around the base of the tree. Most of the time, there is no need to add limestone to the soil if it was from a potting mix or if you’ve added it when making a pine bark/peat based medium. Store purchased potting mixes are generally pre-limed with dolomite to a pH of 6.2. If you determined that your soil needs fertilizer, be sure to water the tree afterward to allow the nutrients to reach the roots.

Drought Conditions

During a dry spell or Summer drought conditions, water the tree outside everyday. If your town has restricted lawn watering use. Just use a Union Products 63065 Watering Can, 2 gal, Hunter Green and give the tree some water.

Potted Fig Trees

Potted Fig Tree
Potted Fig Tree

General Care For Potted Fig Trees

Potted fig trees need certain requirements in order to grow successfully. Consider the following tips.

Pot Type

Choose a pot with a manageable size with holes on the bottom. The one I provide is a nursery pot, which means it’s the black flimsy kind that has large holes on the bottom (the kind that comes with a new bush from the plant store) and it doesn’t allow much root growth. Include a tray to fit under your pot to collect excess water.

Soil Type

Use soil that doesn’t retain water for long periods, so regular potting soil is not good. Reason? if it remains moist for a long time, it can promote root rot.

Another name of the soil I use is¬†called grow medium. I used to get my soil from a hydroponics store in NJ that later went out of business, so I had to make my own grow medium. It is loose and allows the water to pass directly to the roots and then out the bottom. This grow medium is organic and contains pine bark, humus (organic compost)¬†as the main fertilizer, and perlite. You don’t have to use this type of soil. An alternative recommendation is¬†vermiculite mixed into it to loosen the soil. You can also buy¬†The Dirty Gardener Dolomite Limestone – 2 Pounds¬†and add it on top of the soil, especially if squirrels are digging around.

Fig trees LOVE limestone for it’s slow release properties. Readers¬†recommend that you use a soil pH tester like the one mentioned in item number 6 of Outside Living.

Growing Season

Let the potted tree grow and water often. Don’t prune it because the sap is sweet. It attracts flies, other insects and fungus. However, if branches grow up from the bottom of the trunk, clip them off. The objective is to train it to grow with one trunk. There is a substance that you can get for sealing off the wood when you prune during the growing season, but I’ve never used it before.

Winterizing

In the Fall, the leaves will naturally fall off. Once they have fallen, move the potted tree into a cool dark place to store over the winter. Following this step ensures a good fig harvest the next season. If you store the tree in a warm dark place, it might not grow figs next year. I used an attached garage because it remained cold, but not freezing.

Pruning

At the start of the month of March, prune the branches back to a manageable size. By this time, the sap has fallen to the base of the tree. Rule of thumb, only prune a maximum of 1/3 of the tree. Pruning will also allow the tree to grow even more figs the next season.

Winter Watering

During the winter, give the potted tree about a cup of water once a month to keep it alive.

Springtime

As soon as you see leaves begin to emerge from the branches, move it outside and then give it water (just enough until you see water run out the bottom). A great way to test it to see if it has enough moisture is to take a dry stick (I use a short wooden skewer) and slip it as deep as you can into the soil for a few minutes. Pull it out and if the stick is dry, add water. It’s sort of like checking the oil in your car engine with the dip stick. Your tree is like a fig producing engine.

Maintenance

Once every 2-3 years, prune the roots. If you use a humus-based medium, you will also need to change the soil otherwise the roots will use up all the space and nutrients in the pot. If you used the conifer bark-based grow medium mix that I’ve mentioned in this blog, then you can wait until the next time you prune the roots to change the soil. Apartment residents¬†can do this in the bathtub (or shower). Just line the inside of the tub with a plastic drop cloth. If the plastic keeps falling down at the sides, just tape it against the tiles.

City dwellers¬†can give the soil back to the Earth by discarding it in your nearby park or communal garden. Of course, you can send it to the trash as well. Then the soil goes to a landfill and doesn’t hurt the trash there. Click here for photographic instructions on pruning your roots.