The fig trees I like (or not)

Wake Forest, NC(Zone 7b)

I live in an area that some years has frozen my smaller fig trees to the ground. I now protect them with wrapping of some sort. They almost always rebound well. Better still they do not seem to be bothered by bugs or diseases here (take that, you Japanese beetles). Given these mostly positive attributes, I became a minor collector of varieties. As I am enjoying eating my figs a lot this year, I want to report on my personal opinions.

First, I LOVE Celeste. It has, to me, the best tasting fruit and is about the most cold hardy fig. This year it ripened here from late July through September(?) - It's still mid August and I (and my dog, Pepper) eat some every day. I actually have 2 Celeste trees from very different sources; a Celeste I bought from Lowes in Huntersville, NC in about 2003 which I just call Celeste. Another tree, I call LaCeleste, I rooted from a sprig I got from a friend in Louisiana. I was curious if they would be different - my judgement is that they aren't.

My second favorite in Black Mission, slightly less cold hardy, but delicious to eat. Just started ripening in mid August. I bought the Black Mission from Lowes in Huntersville, NC about 2001 and it grew well. I rooted a small one to transport to Wake Forest when we moved in 2007. I planted it on the S. side of our new house and the tree grew well, got up to about 10 feet. I cut out a small sprout from the root and planted it in another place in 2008. I have never seen the first fig form on the large tree by the house - although it looks healthy, something is wrong with the soil. The rootling this Summer has at least 25 figs on it and they are already ripening and taste great (as their "grandmother's" figs did in Huntersville). After I realised that result, I dug up the mother fig and will use to space to plant another blueberry bush. Moral, if your fig tree doesn't produce figs - MOVE it! That's my dog Pepper enjoying a black mission fig in Huntersville, NC about 2006.

I have a Hardy Chicago which is, as advertised, cold hardy here and the dark purple figs are very good when they fully ripen.

I quit brown turkey which gets a lot of press in the South but I think it doesn't have a wonderful taste - just alright in my book. Dug it up and threw it away.

I have LSU Purple - a smallish fig that I have in a pot on my deck. It seldom bears much fruit - almost certainly my container technique is at fault. I planted a rootling in the yard last Spring so I will see if it is worthy of my time next Summer.

I greedily read several good online nurseries' descriptions and bought an LSU Gold Fig tree 3 or 4 years ago. The tree grew well and is beautiful but this year, the first with a good crop, really disappointed me. The very large fruit is, to my taste, just mushy and sweet with no interesting other tastes. I had rooted one and planted it in a choice spot behind my garage - it also bore a lot of fruit this year - I am so disenchanted with LSU Gold that I dug up the rootling, with green figs still on the branches and threw it in the woods. By the way, LSU Gold is still under patent protection so I wrote to LSU attorney and received a limited permission to root "a small number" of copies for gifts or personal use only. I will now tell the two people to whom I gave a rooted copy that I thought the fruit is not worth my yard space. The foliage is beautiful (but so is Celeste foliage).

Finally, I have a Green Greek fig which a friend gave me a sprig of to root. It is doing well and its fruit looks very much like LSU Gold, just a little smaller on my tree. It has ripe figs which I can compare with the LSU Gold figs. The Green Greek figs have a much more interesting taste than LSU Gold and I enjoy eating them very much.

I don't know if anyone is interested in all this detail, perhaps someone will be. I will be happy to respond to questions or comments. I also would welcome your suggestions.

Paul

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Minneapolis, MN(Zone 4b)

I'm in zone 4 and have a" black mission" and a "Chicago hardy" fig(s) growing in containers. I'm wondering how best to overwinter them without having to battle spider mites and more for 6 mo. of overwintering. Also, all growing tips are appreciated as I can't seem to find all that much out there for info.

Wake Forest, NC(Zone 7b)

I've never had spider mites but I think there are solutions for them available, even some non commercial pesticide ones. Have you searched for spider mite control on Dave's?

Are you sure spider mites will bother your leafless fig trees?

Minneapolis, MN(Zone 4b)

The plant doesn't enter dormancy unless there's not enough light or it's cooler-that's not going to be the case if I'm overwintering a plant inside my house. So, yes spider mites are a factor as there are leaves on my plants & I usually use insecticidal soap.

Southern NJ, United States(Zone 7a)

What a helpful description of fig varieties! We have been struggling to keep our figs alive over the winter, and ended up building a stone wall behind them to protect them and hopefully to make it easier for us to start the season with branches that are big enough to set fruit. We have a young Celeste that died back a couple of years ago but is now recovering, although it doesn't have fruit this summer. We also have a Hardy Chicago, a Marseilles, a Madeleine des Deux Saisons and several slips from an unknown fig tree that grows well without protection just south of us. The unknowns are very large and those are the only ones that have figs that are ripening; the others did start figs but they fell off before they matured.

We also have a Violet de Bordeaux (Negronne) which also hasn't fruited yet.

Wake Forest, NC(Zone 7b)

My goodness, what an assortment! BTW, after I wrote my into above, I went to a friend's house to see his figs. He had a large Chicago Hardy with a lot of ripe figs and they were delicious, we picked only the fully ripe ones. I will nurse my Chicago Hardy this Winter to try to get a good harvest next year. This year I only get one ripe Chicago Hardy fig every 3 or 4 days. It is amazing how different the fig types taste from one to another.

I had thought I was going to be a "collector" until this year when I found I was so partial to Celeste that I can let several of them go if they freeze; probably LSU Gold and LSU Purple and maybe brown turkey.

One cold protection I found was the foam water pipe protectors from Lowes or HD (probably Ace Hwd also). They are split lengthwise (4' long) and have a strip of plastic that you pull off to expose the adhesive. I trimmed all the side branches off the smaller trees so I had just the main trunk and put the foam iinsulator over it and glued it shut. They cost less than $2 a piece. The main trunk then sprung forth the next Spring. No breba crop but the main crop was very good. This year, I will leave some short side branches and put foam insulators over them also. I fear that where you and I live we will have some winters that just will prevent any fruiting , but maybe not, once they are matured. Last Winter, we had an early freeze which hardened the fig trees and then no real cold long spells after that.

I have protected smaller fig trees with a 100 watt light bulb under just a sheet or bed spread. Use about 5 big safety pins to close the tent.

Paul

Southern NJ, United States(Zone 7a)

I'll have to show my DH your description of your foam insulators. Our trees have a lot of branches; they're almost more shrub-like, in fact, especially the unknowns which have been here the longest. But the foam might protect the small trees that haven't fruited yet. Thanks for the idea! Our winters are probably a little colder than yours; last winter we had a lot of snow.

We got several different types of figs because we were hoping to find at least one that would make it through our winters and give us some fruit. We like to visit friends in the south of France, and there are some huge fig trees in that area with lots of fruit that you can gorge on in late September and early October; we would love to be able to do that here!

Wake Forest, NC(Zone 7b)

I think that snow is probably a fig's friend - what you want is for the fig to go really dormant and not store up the moisture in the bark. Snow here tends to occur when the temp is 32 deg. The fig problems I had were three winters ago when it was down to 8 deg. one night and 10 to 12 several more. I think the ground froze and therefore the roots also. Fig roots are usually only several inches below surface. Lots of mulch, any kind, on top of the ground, all around the tree, and out to about 5' from the trunk is a real good idea. I rake leaves to near the tree and run my lawn mower over them with the bag on. Then I pour the chopped up leaves and grass on the ground around the fig tree.

I think Hardy Chicago is very good tasting if you wait until it has fully ripened (slight skin splits.) I hope your Celeste recovers and provides fruit for you. I am still getting Celeste fruit, got about 10 good figs this morning.

Southern NJ, United States(Zone 7a)

Last fall my DH piled leaves all around the fig trees, up to several feet high, with a temporary fence holding them in place. I think they helped the figs to overwinter without damage but it was very hard to remove all of those leaves in the spring - as bad as shoveling snow. We tackled it a bit at a time. This year we are just going to put two or three inches around the trees and hope that will do the trick; we may also use your pipe insulation trick which sounds like a great idea.

I wish I knew what variety my unknown figs are, but they are loaded with small figs and hopefully they will ripen for us rather than drying up and falling off. I envy you your figs! We love them in a salad with greens, goat cheese and toasted walnuts, and a friend has a fig jam recipe that I will ask for if we ever have enough to use that way.

Wake Forest, NC(Zone 7b)

Here is a recent pic of m Celeste figs. This tree is very happy with its roots under about 3" of leaf and hardwood chip mulch. Fig roots are shallow and out about 5' from my fairly small tree.

I just re-read your first post - do you happen to have a photo of the large fig tree in France? As a kid, I used to climb a neighbor's tree (Augusta, GA)to reach the ripe figs. I think I have posted several inquiries about large fig trees on DG and no one seemed to have seen one. I remember some that were huge, on the banks of a canal.

Thumbnail by pbyrley
Southern NJ, United States(Zone 7a)

This is all I could find; it's larger than it looks because the road is elevated and the tree is growing in a sort of ravine. There were several other very large fig trees growing right near that one. But there is a huge fig tree about fifteen miles south of us, from which we have taken cuttings. Again it's an unknown variety, but it grows against a barn and is maybe fifteen or twenty feet tall and very bushy. By the way, that's my husband with our granddaughter, who was ten at the time we took her to France with us.

I'd love to grab a few of those gorgeous-looking Celeste figs!

This message was edited Sep 5, 2011 10:04 AM

Thumbnail by greenhouse_gal
Wake Forest, NC(Zone 7b)

Thanks - I think the huge ones are like the ones I remember by the canal - about as big as I could barely reach my arms around.

Barberton, OH

My son said he saw a fig tree, I think in GA, that was 40 feet high. The fig I gave him is developing irregular shaped leaf spots about 1/4". Does anyone know if this is serious or just cosmetic. The tree is potted and he lives in FL. He planted it in the ground, but it didn't like his soil.
I keep my potted figs in a cool basement, watering once a month, with only intermittent light. More water in late March and outside in April unless frost threatens.
I brought my in-ground fig from NJ 18 years ago. Around mid Nov I cut it back, tie it up and wrap it with blankets and cover it with plastic. I would prefer to use tarpaper, but age and arthritis wont let me. Pic is from Aug.
Herman

Thumbnail by salix_man
Barberton, OH

Potted fig. Variety unknown, from Italian stock. Celest??

Thumbnail by salix_man
Wake Forest, NC(Zone 7b)

salix_man,
here is a link to Ray Givens' web site. He is one of the real fig experts and (last I looked) lived in Savannah. I didn't look too see if he discusses leaf spot. It is somewhat common in FL but, I think its not a fatal disease, just ugly on the leaves.

http://raysfiginfo.com/id-dark.html

Your potted fig could be Celeste - if it tastes pretty sweet when ripe I'd say it was a Celeste, but there's really no way for me to tell.

Paul

Wake Forest, NC(Zone 7b)

I looked at Ray Givens' write-up for Celeste he says:
Celeste
Small to medium fig with light brown to violet skin and straw- berry pulp. Pyriform with tapering neck. Small, closed eye. The eye remains green until the fig is almost ripe which allows it to be easily distinguished from Brown Turkey the eye of which turns red quite early. Leaf: typically small; base subcordate; 3-5 lobes; margins crenate. (The first image on the right is used by permission of Travis Callahan of Abbeville, LA; activate the second image by rolling your mouse cursor over Travis' photo.) Very cold hardy. [Condit and other experts write that Celeste will not bear on new wood in years in which it is frozen back. There are some strains, possibly the original, of which this is true, but J. Stewart Nagle has identified at least two strains which will bear on new wood. I also have one that bears on new wood after a freeze and is otherwise indistinguishable from the Celeste Condit describes.] Excellent fresh, dried or as preserves. Breaks up when stewed. Main crop only. Well-adapted in the Eastern United States, but usually unsatisfactory in California and the Southwest. Synonyms: Blue Celeste, Celestial, Conant, Honey Fig, Sugar Fig, Malta (after its supposed place of origin), and Tennessee Mountain Fig (which may be an even hardier bud sport).

Barberton, OH

Thanks for your input. Further analysis leads me to think that the leaf spots may be a cultural thing related to uneven at watering. They seem to occur only on the potted figs, not the tree in the ground. Some of the figs on the big tree have ripened without turning purple. The tree gets too much shade from a maple that is too big for me to handle and the fig is too big to move.
I did see a fig in NJ growing in an unkempt garden that produced sparsely on new wood. It would have been "mulched" since nothing had been done to the garden the previous year.

Wake Forest, NC(Zone 7b)

I'd advise playing with putting dolomite lime down when you fertilize in the Spring and maybe also some Epsom salts (supplies manganese or magnesium - I forgot which). I cured some pale yellow stripes on the leaves of one fig tree by doing both, so I don't know which worked (dumb of me). You can also play with some fertilizers that have lots of trace minerals. Figs are so tolerant, it's hard to remember to take care of them. When you scatter the fertilizer, lime or Epsom salt, remember the roots are very shallow and grow out away from the trunk, maybe 5 to 10 feet.
good luck,
Paul

Thumbnail by pbyrley
Barberton, OH

Thanks! Would Fall fertilization work as well? Do you know the preferred ph? I cut out some of the non-bearing branches to give more air and light. I was wondering it I cut the ends off the fruiting branches in It would hasten ripening?
Every time I learn something, I realize there is a lot more that I don't know. And where to find the answers.
Herman

Wake Forest, NC(Zone 7b)

Herman,
I think I read in a Ag Extension booklet - somewhere - that you should fertilize in Spring. I doubt it would make a lot of difference. I am pretty sure pH of 6 to 7 is fine. My yard is about 5 so I add dolomite lime. I don't know about hastening ripening - Givens told me to drop a drop of mineral oil in the eye (fig, not yours!) to hasten ripening, but I forgot to try it.

Paul

This message was edited Sep 26, 2011 12:20 PM

Southern NJ, United States(Zone 7a)

Paul, my figs just aren't ripening. Birds may be getting some of them, but the others are just staying small and green. I've been watching the little figs on my young Celeste, as well as on the more established plants, and I doubt that they will get big enough or ripe enough by frost at this point. Any idea why they seem to get stuck at this stage?

Wake Forest, NC(Zone 7b)

The previous Summer (2010) I had a lot of my Celeste figs stay small and freeze. I am in Zone 7B but (I'd GUESS) the main thing is probably how cold your very last cold snap was and when it occurred. Maybe try phoning your Agricultural Extension Service and ask to speak to someone familiar with figs. There may be someone there who knows a local fig lover. As an experiment, this winter try wrapping a part of your Celeste with an old towel or part of a blanket then cove it with plastic to keep it dry. Don't unwrap until you are SURE there will be no more frost/freeze. Just do one limb or two so you will know if it helped.

Some new little figs are forming on several of my trees, including the big Celeste tree. They will of course freeze and fall off before Spring.

I really don't expect to know what will happen to my figs next year - I was just happy this year (sorry you weren't)

My daughter lives in downtown D.C. and her Chicago Hardy fig did ok this year but she has it in a large pot which gets put in her basement in the Winter.

This is a pic of my biggest Celeste tree and Pepper taken today (Oct. 10, 2011)



This message was edited Oct 10, 2011 11:53 AM

Thumbnail by pbyrley
Southern NJ, United States(Zone 7a)

Paul, we covered our fig trees with a thick blanket of leaves last fall and they seemed to come through the winter rather well, so we were surprised that they took so long to bear fruit and that the fruit doesn't seem to be ripening. Oh well....

Barberton, OH

My fig bears on new wood of which there is a lot because I cut it back to about 5' before wrapping it for the winter. The tallest new growth is about 7' above the cuts from last fall. I have gotten a few figs from the base part. I had to bend it down to reach them. I picked 15 on Sep 26. Since then only a few at a time but there several almost ripe. Daytime temps in upper 70's help My oldest potted fig had fewer fruit than the other. It also had the least new growth. Still has 2 figs that are not ripe. I am going to cut it back hard this winter.
Herman

Alba, TX(Zone 8a)

I normally lurk on this site as I'm not really very experienced with my fruit trees (yet). I agree that Celeste is by best fig. The tree I have is still mostly a bush and we won't count the production from this past summer and into fall as we here in Texas had extra-ordinary heat and drought. But this fig tree must be putting out more than I can get too because we have a Southern Mockingbird who has camped out in my Celeste fig tree for two summer's in a row. Chasing off all inturders. I figure he must really like those Celeste figs! I was disapointed with my Brown Turkey fig tree, so I wish that mockingbird would adopt Brown Turkey instead of Celeste. I never did buy the Texas Brown Turkey that I really wanted. I think I might get that this spring and see if there is any difference.

pbyrley, I think you could enter that photo in the Dave's Country Fair or the Photo Contest. Such a lovely photo!

Wake Forest, NC(Zone 7b)

terri, thank you for the photo compliment. Actually, I like this close-up of nearly ripe Celeste figs (same tree) better.
My dog, Pepper - in front of the Celeste tree you commented on - appreciates the mocking birds because they peck some of the ripe figs and I give them to Pepper. She doesn't mind eating what the mocking bird left (I do). My two LaCeleste (discussed in the intro posting) trees are planted in the back yard and may have a decent crop next Summer, I hope so. I think we got enough frosty weather here without a killing hard freeze yet.

I think there is a fig named Alba, listed in the TAMU extension service fig bulletin. Maybe you should consider that. I don't remember anything about it - it may be an offshoot of brown turkey.

You may want to consider mulching all around your Celeste with either chopped up leaves or 2 bags of pine tree bark mulch from Lowe's or Home Depot. I pour it all around the tree out to about 3 or 4 feet. That will definitely help with your hot and dry Summers.

Good luck

Paul

Thumbnail by pbyrley
Alba, TX(Zone 8a)

Will do! =) Its been raining cats and dogs the past couple of weeks--not that I'm complaining!

SE/Gulf Coast Plains, AL(Zone 8b)

Last year I wrote an article on growing figs in the deep south, but in the process of doing research came across a site listing cultivars and selections that are reputedly well suited to more northerly climates. The readers of this thread might find that website of interest. It was a surprise to me how many figs there are that do well in the north.
http://www.treesofjoy.com/fig-varieties-collection
Few are available this time of year, of course, but it gives an idea of what is out there for more northerly fig fans. In the humid parts of the south we do best with varieties that have tightly closed eyes to prevent souring of the fruit. An application of copper spray in July can manage fig rust. The fungus is a common problem on figs in the humid south, but doesn’t affect fruiting if the tree is otherwise healthy. An application of organic fertilizer or a balance fertilizer in Feb., May and July is the norm in this region.
I think Brown Turkey has been selected for smaller trees in more recent years. The old Brown Turkey fig trees found in this area can be 30’+ in height and spread. When I was young, we children who were tall, slender and unafraid of heights and the inevitable bees made summer money picking figs. We were referred to as “fig monkeys.” :-) I like Brown Turkey, but believe it is a variety at its best only in the south.
The LSU Improved Celeste is the latest addition to my collection of figs. My favorite is a mystery variety our community garden was given that produces fruit well into Nov.

Alba, TX(Zone 8a)

"fig monkey". . . I love it! When he was fourteen, our younger son started earning his pocket money by working in our shop. He pulled, labelled and packed filter elements. Instead of using the pull ladder to get up into the pallet wracking he would just shimmy up the standards (we tried to discourage him from this practice, but that kid could climb anything). I filled out a form for his counsellor at school and stated his position at work was "shop monkey". We thought it was pretty funny, but the counsellor was not amused.

Wake Forest, NC(Zone 7b)

Amargia,
Since you seem to be up fig tree problems, I have one for you. Two of my trees have a part of the main trunk, just above ground, decaying away. It's on the LSU Gold (so I don't care) but is also on the Celeste in my front yard. I will take a couple of photos when I next have my camera outside. (It's raining today) I don't seem to have the fungus type leaf diseases that you mentioned or that occur in damp weather in FL & LA.

Paul

Prosperity, SC(Zone 7b)

I like Brown Turkey, and have had one at my previous address, and now one at my current address, Thought I was gonna lose it about 5 years ago when the drought and the lake was drained so far it just was so sad, lost all its leaves by July and I just knew my next job was going to be to dig out the dead stump.
It was about 4 feet tall at that time with about the same spread.
Since that time I have fertilized 1 year, with stakes. Now I have several pieces of PVC pipe that I fill with worm castings early in the spring. It is now about 9 feet tall and about 10 feet wide or more. You have to be quick to get at the figs before the wasps dig out the sides. But we do have enough for the bees and us as well I think.
I would like to add a new variety but have been reluctant beause I just do not know what variety would be best for my conditions.
I live in Z7 near a lake, so we have this kinda wierd climate pocket here.
I do love to cook and would like a fig large enough to stand up to a little stuffing or poaching. with a nice complex flavor for a fig:O) If there is such a thing

Wake Forest, NC(Zone 7b)

Buffy-
As I said in my original post, I like Celeste best. I had a Brown Turkey for 5 years when I lived in Charlotte, NC and I did like those figs but I didn't know how good Celeste was. You identified it for me when you said "with a nice complex flavor". I think that's why I like Celeste best of all, with maybe Black Mission and Hardy Chicago for good flavor but not as many figs. There's a close-up picture of several of my Celeste figs above.

I can't imagine there would be any problem growing the figs I mentioned at the top in SC. You can always run into a late cold spell but then the figs will come back with the main crop. My house in in a real low spot so I get the cold air dumped on me too.

When I lived in Augusta, the fig trees got huge - I've never seen any like those. We used to climb way up in one to pick the figs (until the lady came running out, yelling at us)

Prosperity, SC(Zone 7b)

Well I am on the search for the celeste fig, I am starting back to work at the Garden center I part time at so it shouldn't be a problem

So.App.Mtns., United States(Zone 5b)

Well, Pooh. I had great hopes for my potted figs this year, although they would need root pruning and a slightly larger container.

I took them out of the root cellar today, and there are NO plants in the containers! Apparently rodents have survived on the root mass and the stems over the winter. They also got 1 of my 3 blueberries and an herb, but left the rosemary untouched.

Southern NJ, United States(Zone 7a)

Oh, Darius, how awful! I'd be saying something a lot strong that pooh!

So.App.Mtns., United States(Zone 5b)

LOL, I certainly FELT a stronger reaction!

Alba, TX(Zone 8a)

darius, what a disappointing experience!

PS, I plant rosemary in my rose beds. The deer avoid it. It really is a good "guard" plant.

Prosperity, SC(Zone 7b)

Onions and chives work too...And in an old tyme book I have if you plant parsley near your roses that will be more fragrant...don't know how true that is but if not...Eat it...LOL

Carrollton, TX(Zone 8a)

darius
I have one fig three in an 18 gallon container and one in the ground, both Everbearing I believe, and the one in the container is doing much better that the one in the ground so far. It has been a couple of years since I got them both.

So.App.Mtns., United States(Zone 5b)

Good to know... I really have to do figs in containers here because it's too cold for them.

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