STATE OF FLORIDA
DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
NATHAN MAYO, Commissioner
FIG GROWING IN FLORIDA
Origin Of Figs
Botanically, figs are a species of Ficus Carica, belonging to
the Moraceae family.
Originally, figs prospered only in tropical and subtropical
climates. So far as is known, they were native to Western Asia
-from Syria to Caucasus and Kurdistan-and the records
show that they were an important part of man's diet in the
earliest inhabited countries. Subsequently, they accompanied
man whenever his wanderings or explorations lead to climate
in which they could be grown. In fact, they were widely used
as food long before the cereal grains were cultivated generally.
As further matter of general interest, we find that figs
are mentioned fourteen times in the Bible-first in Genesis 3:7
and last in Revelations 6:13. In Isaiah 38:21 a fig poultice is
recommended as a mighty good cure for a boil.
Be that as it may, figs were common in Greece during the
time of Plato-no doubt were grown there much earlier. There
is record of their growth and use in Italy, Spain and the Gaul
that Caesar said was to be divided into four parts.
Figs were introduced into England early in the thirteenth
century but it was soon found that, except for a few balmy
spots in the South, the climate was too rugged for them.
The exact date of the first appearance of figs in this
country is not a matter of record. No doubt, however, that
Christopher Columbus, Ponce de Leon, the Spanish missioners
and the evangelical Jesuits were all well acquainted with the
value of figs in diet-and that many of the religious were well
versed in their cultivation. Some credit the early spread of
fig orchards in America to the chains of missions and mission
farms that used to dot the South.
Today, California and Texas are the states that produce
the majority of our commercially grown figs. But, there seems
to be no good reason for every back yard and every farm in
Florida not boasting several trees that produce this luscious,
4 DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Fig Growing Territory in America
The best fig growing territory in the United States extends
south from Virginia to Florida, across the southern border
states-including Alabama, Tennessee, Louisana, Texas, New
Mexico, Arizona and into California, not forgetting Mississippi
on the way. Of these, California is the largest producer of figs.
In the last fifteen years, there has been a tremendous
growth in the production of figs in the states mentioned; but,
in spite of this fact, this country annually imports many,
many millions of pounds of figs-largely from Smyrna.
Varieties of Figs
The varieties of figs most common to Florida are the
Celeste, Brown Turkey, Magnolia, Blue Genoa, Green Sachia
and Brunswick. Mission figs, grown extensively in California,
also thrive in many parts of Florida. This latter type gives
two crops annually. San Pedro figs are grown, too, in all fig
Start With Good Nursery Stock
It is not the purpose of this pamphlet to recommend any
particular variety of figs. Several southern nurseries have
stock for sale and, generally speaking, if given a clear under-
standing of the location of the property and told the type of
soil, their recommendations should prove- satisfactory.: It is
suggested, however, that it may not be true economy to. start
with trees that are the lowest in price. Get good, healthy
Planting Fig Trees.
Fig trees will grow on a wide variety of soils; but appear
to excel themselves under backyard and garden conditions.
When planted in part shade near a chicken house or barn
where the roots are shaded and feed on the rich soil-and
where the tree is not pruned-there will be wonderful growth
and an excellent set of fruit.
When planting a fairly large number of trees as for an
orchard, whether large or small, it should be remembered that
fig trees require ample room. The root system of mature trees
reaches out farther, in feet, than the height of the tree itself.
Then, too, the limb spread of a tree that is carefully and prop-
erly developed may well exceed twenty feet in diameter. This
would indicate that it is good practice to plant fig trees in
orchard formation on 25-foot or 30-foot centers.
FIG GROWING IN FLORIDA
Trees in most of the orchards at present do not reach the
size to which we refer. But, with care, proper feeding, with
a minimum of pruning and with the sort of minimum cultiva-
tion recommended, trees of such size are entirely within the
possibilities of the grower.
Some fig growers favor planting new stock during the
early spring-finding that the young trees get a better set be-
fore the growing season and that, thus, the new growth gets
the best opportunity to harden-off before winter. Others find
that it is satisfactory to plant any time before the rainy sea-
son. Your nursery's recommendation should be helpful.
Conditioning the Soil
Figs require plenty of moisture, yet they will not grow
well on wet, soggy, seepy land. Sour soils should be limed.
It may be found, to help early growth, to place a bed of
good clay about eighteen inches below the lowest roots of the
nursery stock. If the soil is at all on the sandy side-as is
most of the soil in Florida-it would be of great assistance to
add about one hundred pounds of peat to the soil for each two
trees, mixing it in well before planting.
Make the hole for each tree of such size that the roots will
not be cramped when the trees are planted. Into each hole
pour an 8-quart or 10-quart bucket of water. Place each tree
carefully, holding it erect as the hole is filled-pressing the
filled-in soil carefully around each tree and firmly bedding
Use a Good Mulch
Place a good mulch-about four or six inches deep-
around each tree, extending it in a circle about two feet out
from the tree trunk. The mulch, then, will have a diameter of
about four feet.
Oak leaf mould, pine needles, good straw or, clean red-top
will prove to provide a satisfactory mulch.
The mulch serves several necessary purposes. It shades
the ground and, thus, has a desirable effect on nematode
control. It helps the soil retain moisture. It prevents the
growth of weeds.
Growing a Healthy Fig Tree
It requires from six to eight years to grow a mature fig
tree. During those years, the tree will need surprisingly little
attention. Some things, however, must be done.
DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Since fig trees need considerable moisture, they should be
watered during protracted dry spells. The condition of the
foliage will let the grower know whether or not water is
Fig tree roots do not go down deep. They are surface
feeders. Therefore, a mulch must be maintained to prevent
harm from the otherwise high temperature of soil surfaces.
The mulch, as already stated, also helps the soil to retain the
much-needed moisture. And, also as stated, helps control
Fig trees thrive best, also, when fertilized regularly.
Your suppliers of fertilizer can tell you how often your trees
should be fed-and how much. Any good, commercial fertil-
izer of proper analysis should prove satisfactory with the
added thought that, as regularly as fertilizer is used, the
addition of peat to the soil will be found beneficial.
In some localities, there are available fertilizers that use
an organic base to which certain soil organisms have been
added. This would seem to merit a trial by fig growers as
such fertilizers may also give further help in nematode control.
Minimum of Cultivation
Because fig trees are surface feeders-have shallow root
systems-such cultivation as is given them must be very
shallow. In most cases, it is actually harmful to disc-even
down the middles of a fig orchard. The mulch keeps down
the weeds close to the trees. And if the lower limbs of the
full grown tree prevent the use of a mower, it is better to
control the weeds in the middles by use of a hand scythe.
Contrary to the preceding recommendation, in the fig-
growing district of Texas they practice light discing in early
spring and summer.
Pruning Fig Trees
The wood of the fig tree is rather brittle-sensitive to
breaks and cuts. Very little pruning is advised. Heavy culling
and cutting of limbs will often result in killing the tree.
Nor will fig trees do well if pruned high in an effort to
attain symetrical appearance or get the lower branches suf-
ficiently high that one might walk under them. As a matter
of fact, to prune in this fashion robs the tree roots of the pro-
FIG GROWING IN FLORIDA
testing shade they must have in their battle against the
It is a pretty good idea to let fig trees grow as they will,
removing only such branches as become broken or die.
When pruning is either advisable or necessary, all cuts
should be made exactly at a joint. Fig wood is solid at the
joint but the stems are pithy between joints. When this pith
is cut, decay usually sets in and the wood dies back to the
As a rule, branches should be removed entirely, rather
than cut back. When branches are cut back, the operation re-
sults in the sprouting of several shoots that create a foliage
that is unnecessarily dense and heavy.
A very satisfactory way to control the growth of the tree
is what is called "Preventive Pruning"-pinching back buds
where limbs are not wanted.
Fig trees given the type of care outlined here will usually
reach a ripe, fruitful old age.
GETTING FIG CROPS FOR YEARS
Some young trees are offered with the claim that they
will bear fruit the second year. That isn't so very impor-
tant-as the crop would be a very small one per tree. What
the fig grower wants is to develop big, healthy trees that will
fruit heavily each year.
Already, a pretty good outline of care has been given in
this pamphlet. It may be advisable to repeat some of it.
Soil-and soil condition-is important. The fig tree can
get out of the soil only what its roots find in it. A primary
requisite is moisture. Therefore, if the soil is light and sandy,
it will serve better if conditioned with organic matter.
Nematodes, too, are one of the enemies of fig tree roots,
causing a condition called root knot. These minute worms that
attack the fibrous roots are more troublesome in light, sandy
soils and thrive best in soil that is exposed directly to the heat
of the sun.
Maintenance of a heavy mulch will shade the roots and
help a bit in nematode control-as far as the mulch may
reach. The addition of organic matter such as peat also helps
control nematodes-as well as adding to the ability of the
DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
soil to retain moisture. If fertilizer with an organic base and
with certain soil bacteria added is available and is used regu-
larly, it is possible that nematodes may become a minor ob-
stacle to getting a healthy, heavy-bearing fig tree.
It is worth while to take advantage of every available help.
Good fig trees can be grown. Remember, too, that the fig tree
is a voracious feeder. Fertilize regularly.
Because a heavy mulch for each tree is advisable, it is
common practice to distribute the fertilizer rather heavily-
letting its food value wash through the mulch to the top soil in
which the fig tree roots are waiting. Outside the mulched
area, a lighter application will suffice.
Where the fertilizer has an organic base and includes living
soil bacteria, it should be washed in as soon as applied. The
closeness to the surface of the roots makes it inadvisable to
disc-in any fertilizer.
Fig trees planted in proper soil and given just reasonably
intelligent care will deliver a nice crop in three or four years
-reaching maturity, as has been stated, in from six to eight
years. And for year after year they will repay you for your
Watch Ripening Figs
During the ripening season in most of Florida there are
frequent rains. In those seasons when the rainfall is excessive,
there may be some trouble with some ripened figs souring on
the tree. Birds also can be trouble makers-and petty thieves.
Bluejays are not the only ones of our feathered friends who
relish ripe figs. These thoughts are not offered to discourage
the growing of figs but just as warnings to watch the ripen-
ing fruit-and harvest it before it is lost to you.
Figs for human consumption should be picked only when
mature or ripe. Green figs contain an acid, milky juice that
is disagreeable in flavor and definitely unhealthful. You can-
not pick figs green and "let them ripen."
Harvesting Ripe Figs
Fig tree branches are brittle. Therefor, when the trees
become so large that the fruit can not be reached when one
stands on the ground, some sort of a ladder should be used
to reach it. Such a ladder, however, can not be thrown into
the tree as in the custom when picking citrus fruit. The ladder
should be spotted carefully against the trunk or against a
FIG GROWING IN FLORIDA
branch so strong that there is no danger or a break-off.
It is certainly unsafe to climb fig trees to gather their
Several types of fruit-picking devices are upon the market
-some of them quite practical for harvesting figs. A "fig
cutter" can be made at home rather easily-out of either a tin
cup or a regular can used for canned fruit or vegetables.
The top edge of such cup or can should be filed or honed to
a cutting edge. Then fasten the device rigidly to a pole of the
needed length-fastening it rigidly because the sharp upper
edge is used to cut the twig or stem, and the cutter must be
so held that the cut fruit will fall directly into the receptacle.
With such an outfit it is surprisingly easy to harvest a lot of
The Market For Figs
Florida ripe figs are too soft to ship well.
Because of the high percentage of moisture they contain
-a condition that makes them delicious food when tree ripe-
our figs can not be dried successfully. Dehydration processing
has not been successful.
Therefore fig growers, for their market, look to:
(1) A near-by market, if figs are to be shipped or
trucked without refrigeration.
(2) A market that can use refrigerated ripe figs im-
mediately upon their removal from cold-storage.
(3) A local clientel to the homes of which the grower
can deliver ripe figs direct.
(4) A market for the many kinds of fig preserves that
can be made so easily.
Those who grow figs for their own use and for the enjoy-
ment of their friends may be considered as in the third group.
GROWING FIGS COMMERCIALLY
Figs are grown to quite some extent in Florida; but there
are few commercial growers who boast extensive acreage.
One of the main obstacles to maintaining large acreage of
fig trees is the difficulty of supplying, at reasonable cost in
money or labor, the required mulch. The possibility of a
short-lived orchard-due to nematode infestation-has been
Proper soil-and soil conditioning as outlined elsewhere-
10 DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
will help with this latter difficulty. In addition, claims have
been made recently in behalf of certain soil fumigants as
eradicators of the nematode. Damage from nematodes CAN
be kept at a minimum.
It remains for the commercial grower, himself, to decide
the size of orchard he can supply with mulch-and that he can
service otherwise at cost within reason.
The growing market for processed figs is sufficiently prof-
itable to justify any reasonable cost of production and it would
seem to be axiomatic that the fig grower should also be the
fig processor and the marketer of the processed products.
Canning and Preserving Figs
Figs for canning and preserving should be gathered ma-
ture, but not dead ripe-still firm enough to hold their shape.
This refers, particularly, to whole canned, preserved or spiced
figs. Fig conserve, fig spread, spiced fig condiment or fig
confections can be made of broken and fully ripe figs.
Serve ripe, peeled or unpeeled figs, with or without cream.
No sugar is needed.
Select firm, sound, mature but not fully ripe figs.
1 pound figs 1 pound sugar 4 cups water
Sort over and weigh. Wash dust from figs by placing in
wire baskets, or colander, and dipping in and out of boiling
water. Add sugar in proportion of 1 pound to 1 pound of figs.
Four cups of water. Cook, without stirring, to 224 degrees.
Allow to stand, covered, over night to "plump." Pack figs in
sterilized jars. Fill to overflowing with sirup heated to
boiling point. Partially seal and simmer 15 minutes for pints.
Lemon sliced through the peel may be added just before
processing. Spices or ginger may be added but the real flavor
of the fig is pleasing.
FIG GROWING IN FLORIDA
Sweet Spiced Figs
5 pints figs 1 stick cinnamon
1 cup vinegar 1 teaspoon spice
1 pint sugar 1 teaspoon mace
1 pint water
Wash and dip figs as for preserving. Place in boiling
water for a few minutes and add sugar, vinegar and spices.
Cook to 2220 or 2240, or until the figs are clear. Let stand
over night. Pack and process 30 minutes at simmering tem-
perature or 15 minutes at boiling point.
To 1 quart of broken figs and the juice and pulp of 2
lemons add 2 cups sugar and cook until right consistency for
conserve. Add 2/3 cup pecan meats. Remove from heat.
Pack and process 15 minutes at simmering.
Note.-Grated lemon rind adds to the flavor.
This is made from the broken figs or over-ripe stock. Clip
off stems, run through a coarse food grinder. Measure.
Place in heavy aluminum kettle and cook until thickened.
Add 1/2 measure of sugar to one measure of fig pulp and cook
to 2210 F. Pack in hot jars, seal and process by boiling 5
Spiced Fig Condiment
Use broken figs or dead ripe fruit from which the stems
have been removed. Wash. Run through a food grinder,
2 quarts figs 11/2 cups vinegar
2 cups water 1/2 packet pickling spice
2 cups sugar
Wash the figs. Place in preserving kettle, bring to a boil
and boil briskly for fifteen minutes.
Add vinegar and sugar, stirring-in the sugar well. At the
same time add the spices that have been put in a double cheese-
cloth-or similar light fabric-bag. Boil until about the con-
sistency of chile sauce.
Tropical Candy Bar
(a) Use fully ripe or broken figs. Remove stems, wash.
12 DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
To each 4 cups of figs add one cup water.
Boil for ten minutes. Then add 11/2 cups of granulated
cane sugar. Boil until really thick. Let cool, at which time
the figs will have become a heavy, fig paste.
(b) Put one pound of dates-pits removed-through the
food grinder, using a medium cutter.
(c) Measure 1 cup of chopped pecan meats-chopped fine.
(d) Measure 2 cups of cocoa powder.
In mixing bowl, mix thoroughly the fig paste, ground dates,
nut meats and cocoa. Pass this mixture through the food
chopper, using the finest cutter. A smoother blend will result
from again stirring the mixture and passing through the
grinder a second time.
Place on marble slap or cookie sheet, using wax paper to
prevent sticking. Roll out into sheet about 3/4 inches thick.
Cut into pices 3/4 inch wide and 11/2 inches long. Let set in
cool place for several hours. Wrap each piece in waxed paper.
Store in cool place.
PROPAGATING FIG TREES
The fig is easily propagated by budding or grafting cut-
tings-cuttings being made from the ripened wood of the
previous season's growth. Best results are obtained when the
cuttings are taken in the winter-cuttings from the previous
season's growth. These cuttings should be taken from the
lower limbs as top cutting causes more damage to the tree.
Make the cuts at a joint-not between joints, as the pithy
fig wood will die back and become valueless as part of the
bud or graft wood. In fact, if decay sets in, it most often
spreads beyond the joint and destroys the whole cutting.
Cuttings taken in the dormant season can be buried until
the spring or growing season-handled just as one would
handle grape cuttings.
It is better when propagating figs in this manner to plant
the cuttings in the spots where the trees are to be grown.
This avoids the setback that usually accompanies trans-
Length of Cutting
If the soil is habitually moist-or can be kept moist regu-
larly-cuttings from six to ten inches in length are sufficient.
If the soil is habitually dry, cuttings should be long enough to
FIG GROWING IN FLORIDA 13
extend to moist dirt-even two or more feet in length. What-
ever the length of the cuttings may be, they should be inserted
into the ground until only a bare inch or so remains above
Figs are propagated, also, by allowing the limbs to reach
the ground and take root-which they do with little help
from the grower.
If fertile seed is desired, it is obtainable only through a
process known as Caprification. This consists of tying
branches of the wild Caprifig into the tops of the cultivated
trees-necessary because the Caprifig is the only fig that
bears the staminate flower.
Because the fig flower lives INSIDE the receptacle, pol-
lination cannot be accomplished by insects or wind. However,
a peculiar humenopterous insect called the Blastophago in-
habits the wild fig and also will visit its cultivated cousins.
It is to these peculiar insects that fig pollination is due. This
applies particularly to Smyrna and Caprifigs.
Numerous varieties of figs attain edible perfection without
the aid of pollen from the Caprifig. The two-crop-a-year
Mission fig, the San Pedro fig and most of the varieties com-
monly grown in Florida are of this type.
Get good nursery stock.
Plant in suitable soil.
If possible, use an organic soil conditioner to increase
Maintain a good mulch.
Keep pruning at a minimum.
Don't cultivate. Mow weeds and grass.
Watch for birds feeding on ripe figs.
Get a local market for figs not needed by your own home.
Plan to can, preserve, jam, pickle and otherwise process
the ripe crop-and sell the processed fruit yourself.