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Jun 26 2013

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Figs: A Texas heritage

Lately, I have received a few calls about fig trees and caring for them so I thought I would pass along a little information on the topic that I was able to gain along the way. Figs are one of the oldest cultivated fruit crops.

Indications are they were first cultivated about 11,000 years ago. They have been with us throughout our civilized history. They are believed to have originated in south-central Asia and spread to the Mediterranean basin to the Greeks and Romans and later to Spain. The Spanish fig was brought to California and Texas by the padres who set missions up along the way, and the Mission fig is still a significant variety today.

The fruit we call the fig is not a fruit in the true sense of the word. Figs are enlarged, fleshy and hollow stem bearing closely massed tiny flowers on their inner wall. The fig we eat is the container that holds the true fruit. The “seed” inside the fig are not seed, but are fruit that failed to develop.

Being a subtropical species, figs prefer a Mediterranean-like climate with hot, dry summers and mildly cool, wet winters. Many fig varieties are only cold tolerant to 15-20 degrees F. Hence, they should be planted where they have some protection from cold winter winds. When fully mature fig trees are about the same height as width, and can reach 15-20 feet high with the same spread. Usually they have 4 to 6 trunks branching off the main stem near or below the ground. These primary trunks can reach 6 inches each in large, older trees.

The best soil for figs is a well drained loam with plenty of organic matter, but they will grow well in less desirable soils. These soils can have a layer of organic mulch added to aid in developing a more desirable soil for figs to grow. They prefer a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.5, but will grow in a pH range of 5.5 to 8.0. Getting them established is the hardest part of growing figs.

Figs need plenty of sun. If planted next to a wall or solid fence, make sure they get at least 7 to 8 hours of full sun a day during the growing season.

Figs and water go together, but not too much water. Keep the soil moist, but not wet constantly. Check the soil at least 2 inches below the surface and irrigate as needed. Too much water can cause the fruit to split and spoil. Soil that is continuously wet can suffocate the fig trees roots causing it to die. Compost or well rotted manure is the best fertilizer for fig trees. The compost also helps prevent drying out too fast on windy days. If commercial fertilizer is used, it should be based on a soil analysis.

Two excellent sources of information on producing figs (and other horticultural crops) are: 1) Figs, by Jim Kamas, Monte Nesbitt and Larry Stein, Extension Fruit Specialists, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension; and 2) Figs: a Texas Heritage, by Richard Ashton, The Texas Gardener Magazine at http://www.texasgardener.com/

By Hugh Soape

Hugh Soape can be contacted at the Gregg County Extension Office by e-mail at hsoape@ag.tamu.edu or telephone at: 903-236-8429. Extension programs serve people of all ages regardless of socioeconomic level, race, color, sex, religion, disability, or national origin.

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