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Ultimate Guide to Growing Figs – in the backyard or indoors

Because figs don’t ship well, it’s hard to find fresh figs in the local grocery store. Fortunately, fig trees are easy to grow and care for, making them perfect for growing in the backyard orchard.

Image of ripe brown turkey figs on a fig tree

Fig trees ( Ficus carica) originated in Northwestern Asia and the Middle East. They were brought to the Americas by the Spanish in the sixteenth century.

I like knowing where plants originated from because it helps me understand what their growing conditions need to be. Figs will do best in USDA gardening zones 8-10 but can be grown in containers and colder climates and brought inside when it freezes.

Figs are fast growing fruit trees and are related to the mulberry tree. They require similar conditions to grow and both are very low maintenance trees.

image of green unripe figs on tree

Planting and Growing Figs

Fig trees are best planted in late winter or early spring – this is especially important if you have long hot summers. Planting early will give the trees time to develop some roots and de-stress from being planted before the summer heat sets in.

Since figs are self pollinating, you only need one fig tree to get fruit. This makes fig trees perfect for planting in urban and suburban gardens.

Fig trees can get quite large (20+ feet tall and just as wide) but their growth can be restricted by planting them in a pot or a “fig pit”. If you live where winters are cold (zones 7 and below) planting in a container is necessary. If you have limited space then consider planting them in a container to strict their growth. Don’t worry, you’ll get figs!

A fig pit is basically a concrete box that’s buried in the ground. The most common way to make on is to dig a large hole and line the sides with concrete garden pavers (16″X16″ or larger). In the bottom 8″ or so but rocks or broken garden pots for drainage.

A fig pit will restrict the root growth and keep the fig tree to a manageable size for a small yard.

Image of brown turkey figs on tree. Some are ripe and some figs are green

Unlike other fruit trees, fig trees can be planted a little below the container depth. I usually plant them about 3″ below the original container depth.

Figs trees can grow in part shade but they may not produce fruit or produce very little fruit. For best fruit production they need at least 8 hours of full sun a day.

Once the tree is planted, but it down by one-third to one-half. This will force the plant to focus on establishing roots instead of leaves. A few weeks after we planted our first fig tree, a rabbit ate it down to the ground. Of course, don’t cut it back that drastically but don’t be afraid of cutting it back when you plant it.

For the first year while the fig trees is being established but sure to water it regularly, especially during the hot summer. Once it’s established you’ll only need to water it if it didn’t rain that week. Figs will drop their fruit if they dry out too much.

While the fig tree likes heat, and is somewhat drought resistant, the roots are really shallow for the tree size. Figs don’t compete well with weeds and will benefit from being well mulched.

The type of mulch doesn’t really matter, you can use cardboard, hay, straw, wood chips, etc, the important thing is that it stays mulched to reduce the weeks and help conserve the soil moisture.

We add homemade compost to our fig trees in the early spring. Other than that, we don’t use any fertilizer on them. If you want to fertilize them you can water them weekly with a high-potash tomato fertilizer while the fruits are developing.

Image of ripe black mission figs on tree

Fig Varieties

There are four main types of figs – Common Fig, Caprifigs, Smyrna, and San Pedro. The Common Fig is recommended for the backyard orchard because the other three have somewhat complicated pollinating requirements.

The Common Fig varieties develop figs parthenocarpically (without pollination). They don’t have true seeds and the figs just seem to appear out of no where on current year wood. There will be no visible flowers, just fruit development.

Brown Turkey fig is a common variety in the South, producing two crops of figs – one in May and another in mid-summer. The first crop usually has large fruit while the second crop fruit is smaller.

Some say the Texas Everbearing fig is the same as the Brown Turkey fig – some say they aren’t the same. Regardless of who is correct, to the home gardener, the only real difference between these two fig varieties is the name.

Celeste or Malta fig is more cold hardy than the Brown Turkey fig. It only produces one crop and needs very little pruning. The fruit is tightly closed which deters the dried fruit beetle.

Black Mission figs produce two crops of large, dark purplish figs. While their harvest is large, Black Mission fig trees are not as cold tolerant as some other varieties and are recommended for zone 8 and up

Desert King fig is cold hardy to zone 6 and will produce figs without intense summer heat. This makes it a popular fig variety for growing in colder climates.

Kadota figs are grown commercially in California and is highly adaptable to other climates. This fig variety is cold hardy to zone 5 if it’s planted in a protected area. However, Kadota fig trees are more sensitive to drought and will produce rubbery fruit in drier climates (West Texas, for instance.)

image of fig branches in black gardening pot with soil for propagating figs

Buying Fig Trees

If figs will grow in you area, most local nurseries will carry varieties that do well in your climate. That is where I would start, if I were going to buy fig trees.

If you can’t find any local fig trees to buy, you can buy them from online nurseries, but you’ll need to know what variety to grow. If you’re not sure, ask the nursery.

Also, you probably will only need one tree to meet the fig needs of your family, once the tree is mature. So even if you have space don’t plant 10 trees unless you plan on selling the fruit.

Propagating Fig Trees

Fruit trees can be somewhat expensive, so I suggest getting a sucker or cutting from a fig growing friend and starting your own fig tree if you can.

During the growing season, fig trees will send out suckers that can be removed from the roots and planted to start another tree.

Fig trees can also be started by cuttings. Two of our fig trees were given to us from a friend who took cuttings from her tree (which was started as a cutting from her husband’s grandmother’s tree) and put them in a pot of soil. She watered the sticks and soil until they rooted and became trees.

You’ll want to plant a fig variety that is known to do well in your climate. Figs do need a certain number of chill hours, although it’s a very low number for all figs, so keep that in mind when you’re looking at varieties.

If you don’t really understand how your gardening zone, chill hours, and other gardening metrics affect your garden and growing season, I have a short ecourse that can help you out.

image of young girl and her father harvesting figs

Pest and Problems

Our fig trees have been relatively pest and problem free. If I don’t water them enough in the summer, the leaves will get brown and dry, and fall off the tree. Leaving a very scraggly looking tree.

If you’re growing figs indoors or in a greenhouse, you’ll want to keep a lookout for spider mites, although they can be on an outside tree too. The leaves will be speckled with pale yellow or bronze spots.

Velvet mites and some varieties of lady beetles feed on spider mites. So encouraging beneficial insects and limiting pesticide use (even organic pesticides) is a good first step at controlling spider mites.

Figs can also be bothered by mealybugs, scale, or root-feeding nematodes. Your best bet for controlling these is to attract beneficial insects to the garden or releasing them in the greenhouse if that’s where the figs are growing. If the infestation is severe you can use insecticidal soap or horticultural oil, just know that you’ll also kill the beneficial insects in doing so.

Pests such as the dried fruit beetle can bore into the end of the fruit (the eye) and cause the fruit to sour. If you notice a fig oozing syrupy liquid, the fruit is soured. You might also notice a fermented smell. There’s no real way to control this other than planting fig varieties that have tightly closed eyes, like Celeste.

The main pests you’ll probably have with growing figs are birds and squirrels. Some people will net the fig trees to protect them from the birds and squirrels but that can be hard as the tree grows.

Our harvest is adequate for our needs, so I just share with the wildlife and don’t worry about it.

Image of ripe brown turkey figs on burlap fabric

Harvesting Figs

It’s important to let figs get fully ripe before harvesting them as they won’t ripen anymore after being picked. To tell if a fig is ripe, it should be fully colored whatever color it’s supposed to be – purplish, brown, or even green.

Once you start noticing the color change, you’ll want to check the figs daily. Feel the fig, it should be soft and not hard. If it’s ripe, it will probably fall off the branch as you’re checking it. If not, gently tug it and it will.

If you notice any overripe figs or figs that birds have pecked into, remove them from the tree. The rotting fruit will attract pests.

Storing and Preserving Figs

Figs will only last a few days after being harvested, so make sure you have a plan for using or preserving them. If you find yourself with a bunch of figs that need to be dealt with and little time, they can be frozen whole. Just put them in a ziplock bag, label it, and toss it into the freezer.

These frozen figs can be used in cooking, canning, or even thawed and dehydrated. My favorite way to use frozen figs is to add them to smoothies – it helps keep our smoothie cost down.

For a shelf stable product, try southern preserved figs, our family loves them.

image of ripe and unripe figs on fig tree

Thanks for sharing with your friends!


Thursday 9th of February 2023

I have a brown turkey fig that I planted 2-3 yrs ago, it gets at least 5-6hrs full sun, but it doesnt seem to want to grow much more - poor little thing has only put out 2 figs! good though. what am or have I done wrong? I live in coastal NC. at this stage, can the fig be moved to more sun, is that whats needed? thought it was getting enough. but something isnt right....figured it should be much bigger if they are "fast growing" as you say. I thought they were a bit slow.

anyway, any suggestions or help would greatly be appreciated! I love figs, had a huge tree in our yard at folks house, got so many we had to freeze, can, bake, and still gave away! want my tree to survive and produce.


Angi Schneider

Friday 10th of February 2023

Yeah, it's probably not getting enough sun. You can move it. Just dig a wide circle around the tree to get the whole root ball. When you plant it, dig a similar size (including depth) hole to put it in. It should be planted at the same depth as it was in the original hole. This is probably the most important part of moving it. You can add some compost to the new hole which will also help.

I have one that's planted just a little too close to my house (about 6' from my big fig tree) and it's super small from not enough sun. I need to move it

Elaine H Jenkins

Sunday 4th of September 2022

Hello and thank you for such a great article! I live in west central Virginia, in the foothills of the Shenandoahs , Zone 6-7 depending. Last fall I bought a potted fig tree - variety unknown! :( - at the local Tractor Supply and planted it in a very sunny garden by the patio. It has grown to 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide this year and is blessing me with lots of small green figs! Can I harvest them this year? They are still very small and we are now in September. Can you please tell me the best time and way to prune this, I don’t want an enormous tree. I am part of the Rapidan River Master Gardeners and will be happy to share my joyous discoveries about Fig trees with my fellow gardeners, perhaps a short paper with photos. Thank you so much for your time and information. Elaine

Angi Schneider

Friday 9th of September 2022

You can absolutely harvest them this year. How exciting! Normally fig trees are pruned when they're dormant in the winter. You can actually put the pruned sticks into damp soil and propagate new fig trees.


Tuesday 9th of August 2022

My fig tree every year as the fruit starts they fall of and when I open them they have a worm inside what insect does that because I lose most my fruit.

Angi Schneider

Monday 15th of August 2022

It's probably the fig wasp. Every fig is pollinated by fig wasps and depending on when you harvest you can find a dead wasp or the babies. Here is more info for you,

Is this OK or should I cut it off this year? Thanks for any information you can give me. Theresa Giardino

Wednesday 11th of May 2022

I’m in new York State and have a fig tree that was given to me so I don’t know what kind it is but I bring it into my sunroom every fall and take it out in the spring time. What I just noticed was a green ball type growth protruding from the dirt. Should I do anything with it or let it be?

Last summer for some reason I lost the main stalk which was about an inch in diameter. But I have new stalks that have come out and sprouted beautifully with figs on them already during this winter. I had left the dead stalk on because I enjoyed watching the birds that I feed perching on them. Is this OK or should I cut it off this year? Thanks for any information you can give me.

Angi Schneider

Friday 3rd of June 2022

I would just leave it as it it's probably branching out.

Kirk Swinney

Sunday 18th of July 2021

Thanks for your insights. I am in zone 8, Austin area. I was given a fig tree of unknown variety that dies back to the ground each winter, even before 21 freeze. Should I try with Celest or Brown Turkey or conclude I'm in a frost pocket where I can't grow figs?

Angi Schneider

Monday 19th of July 2021

Our fig trees drop their leaves and go dormant every winter too. They still produce a crop in the summer. If your fig trees aren't bouncing back and producing figs in the summer you might try planting another variety. Figs should grow just fine in the Austin area.