My figs are in. They started earlier this year, around June 20 instead of the usual first week of July, and that’s because of the relentless sun we’ve had since April. Presently, I am harvesting the Celeste fig, which is the most popular Southern fig. It is small and round and very sweet, and very easy to grow, being cold-hardy, drought-hardy, insect-hardy, and disease-hardy. I also have a late fig called the Green Ischia, which is from the island of Ischia in the Bay of Naples off the coast of Italy, where my maternal grandparents were born and raised. The Green Ischia stays green on the outside even when ripe, but inside, they are a beautiful strawberry red, and even the flavor reminds me of strawberry.
If you are living in zone 8 or lower, meaning as far north as Oklahoma, Arkansas, and in a line across to North Carolina, but much further north in California, you really should plant a fig tree. They are easy to grow and do not require good, rich soil. I live on the fringe of the Texas Hill Country where the soil is very shallow. It goes down about 2 inches, and then you get to this hard, white, caliche rock. And from that point on, it’s more like mining in a quarry than digging in the dirt. Yet, the figs will grow in it.
The fig tree is really an amazing tree. It can freeze all the way down to the ground in the winter, but then come out again from the root in the spring and replace itself within two seasons. The resilience of the fig tree is unbelievable. Here in Austin, Texas, a lot of people will plant a fig tree, but in many cases, that is the last time they do anything for it. They don’t water it, feed it, prune it, shape it, or protect it in anyway. Despite that, the tree will often deliver some fruit. But, a fig tree responds well to any help you give it, and when you give them as much help as I give mine, they really take off. My fig trees are 25 feet tall, which is too tall for me to harvest the higher fruit, but I don’t mind sharing with the birds and squirrels.
Nutritionally, figs are not particularly high in vitamins, but they are very high in minerals, including calcium, magnesium, and iron. And, that may be why they thrive in Central Texas because our calcium-based, caliche soils have an inexhaustible supply of calcium and other minerals.
There was an old saying in the South, “I don’t give a fig,” an expression of disregard and contempt, and what it was based on was the profusion of figs during the summer that were so plentiful and abundant that they were considered free for the taking. I know the feeling. I invite friends and family to come over and pick figs, and I wouldn’t dream of charging anybody. I’m just glad to see the fruit not go to waste.
So, if you have a sunny yard, front or back, by all means plant a fig tree. It is a life force you will definitely enjoy having in your living space.