What Happened to the Figs?

“My fig tree didn’t produce any fruit this year. What’s up?”

We’ve been so focused on weather-related issues, a recent question regarding figs (Ficus carica) diverted attention to this old, honorable and valuable addition to our edible landscapes.

Native to Middle Eastern lands, the history and use of figs goes back to biblical times, where according to some historians, its use as clothing to cover Adam and Eve was suggested.

Brought by Spanish missionaries around 1520 as an edible and ornamental shrub, it has naturalized in parts of North America.


Figs (photo courtesy of ebay.co.uk)

We in this area often learn about figs by climbing the shrubs growing above the roofline in our grandparent’s side yard. Happy in the ground or in a large container, the fig bush/shrub or tree needs sufficient space to root in and find water. In a container, regular watering is needed to sustain the plant, but in the ground, its roots seek water in ravines or cracks in the rock. Considering the plant’s origins, that characteristic has contributed to the survival of many fig plants this summer and fall.

What if your fig didn’t produce figs this year? The answer can in part be attributed to our current weather pattern, but other factors may be involved.

Figs “stress out” just like some people do. If the fig bush is stressed due to lack of water, especially when temperatures are high, the plant slows down and even stops ripening its fruit in an attempt to survive stressful conditions. If the plant is in ground, it should get about 2 inches of water a week. Water the entire root system, not the base of the shrub. If the fig is in a large pot or container, daily watering will probably be necessary to prevent figs from dropping before they ripen.

Lack of pollination is another factor when figs won’t produce fruit or the fruit fall off while it’s still very small and green. Although more common with container grown figs, in ground plants can be affected if grown in isolation from pollinating insects.

These are not the only conditions affecting a fig plant’s ability to produce fruit, but are among the most common reasons fruit falls off or doesn’t grow once it has set. Contact your county Extension office for more information on growing this tasty, traditional southern fruit.

By Sallie Lee, Urban Regional Extension Agent, Alabama Cooperative Extension System.  Contact Sallie at leesall@aces.edu.

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) operates as the primary outreach organization for the land-grant functions of Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities. ACES is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity and the diversity of its workforce.  Educational programs of ACES serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or national origin.

Alabama Extension

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System operates as the primary outreach organization for the land-grant functions of Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities and answers home-gardeners' questions each week on Birmingham Gardening Today.

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