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Get Figgy With It

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

(Left to right) Celeste, Brown Turkey, and Green Ischia figs all grow well in the Holy City. Photographs by (Celeste & Brown Turkey) Barbara Swell & (Green Ischia) Tina Nixon

April 23, 2014

Get Figgy With It
Want a tree that provides shade as well as a sweet summertime treat? This spring, plant a low-maintenance, high-yielding fig

WRITTEN BY Joan McDonald

Nothing beats the delicate flavor of a freshly harvested fig. Thankfully, these plump and juicy fruit are plucked from fast- and easy-to-grow trees (Ficus carica) that thrive in our climate. A bonus? Their large, deeply lobed leaves provide a respite from the summer sun.

Spring is the ideal time to plant fig trees. Be sure to select a common variety, as these do not require cross-pollination. When planted in the landscape, most grow in a large, shrub-like habit and can reach 15 to 30 feet in height with lateral branches extending equally as wide. For smaller gardens, consider training your fig as an espalier against a brick wall. Here are three favorite varieties—choose the one best suited to your needs.

Green Ischia or Verte Fig (Ficus carica ‘Ischia’)
Are birds beating you to the harvest? Plant this smaller variety that reaches 10 to 15 feet in height, as the skin of the fruit remains a bright yellowish-green at maturity and is less attractive to birds. Its red-fleshed fruit ripens in mid-summer and offers good flavor that’s great for preserves.

Brown Turkey Fig (Ficus carica ‘Brown Turkey’)
This classic Southern favorite grows from 10 to 30 feet in height and offers up large pear-shaped fruit with copper- to purple-hued skin that are good fresh and excellent for preserving. Expect a reliable late summer crop—as well as the “breba,” or early, crop in spring or early summer—from this cold-hardy tree.

Celeste or Sugar Fig (Ficus carica ‘Celeste’)

Also known as the “sugar fig” or “honey fig,” this variety thrives in the Lowcountry and sets the standard for sweetness. The tree can reach 15 to 20 feet and tolerate cooler temperatures. It produces pear-shaped fruit with bronze skin that are small to medium in size. Known for its rich flavor, this fig is excellent dried or in preserves.

For details on each variety’s hardiness as well as light, soil, and water needs, click here.

For three delicious recipes using figs, click here, here, and here.

For more gardening inspiration, check out our “Earthly Ideas” feature here.