Elegant and productive, fig trees bring lots of ornamental interest as well as produce to the garden. Cultivated for over 5,000 years, fig trees are mentioned in many major religions. In the bible, Adam and Eve famously used the leaves of the plant to cover themselves, while Buddha was said to have obtained his knowledge whilst sitting beneath a fig tree.
The distinctive, fragrant foliage of the Ficus genus.
Members of the Ficus genus, which is part of the Mulberry family, in the wild the plants can be found in the Mediterranean, South and West Asia and Africa. Drought hardy plants, many wild types favor sunny positions and dry or rocky conditions with fresh soil.
These are popular fruit trees that are suited to many different types of gardens. Most varieties, if growing in favorable conditions, set 2 crops during the year. The first emerges in the spring or early summer, setting on last year’s growth while the main harvest matures during late summer or early fall on new growth.
Further adding to the attraction, fig tree foliage is fragrant. Typically 4.5 to 10 inches long, the leaves are a great way to introduce natural shade to a garden. Most types of fig trees reach 15 to 30 ft in height. This means that they require regular pruning. Regular maintenance helps to control the height and spread of the plant. The height can be further restricted by planting in a container.
If you want to learn more about fig trees, this article is designed to highlight some of the most attractive and beneficial. We will also provide some general care tips, suitable for all types of fig trees.
1 Common Fig Trees
The first entry on our list of different types of fig trees, the Common Fig is, as the name suggests, commonly grown throughout the world. A particularly common sight in the United States, Common Fig Trees are reliable, easy to grow plants. They are also self pollinating, meaning that you don’t need to plant additional specimens to encourage fertilization.
The fruit of these types is pleasingly resilient, rarely falling victim to rotting or insect infestations. It is also seedless. Similar to San Pedro types of fig trees, Common cultivars often produce two crops during the year, particularly if they are growing in a warmer climate. Some varieties may drop the first crop, before developing a second. Because the Common cultivar does not require pollination it can also be grown as an unusual house plant.
There are many Common cultivars including Brown Turkey. This is a large cultivar, reaching 25 ft tall and spreading widely. The fruit, which develops and matures during late spring into the summer, of Brown Turkey is dark purple with a red flesh.
Many Common varieties do not require cross pollination to encourage fruit to set.
Celeste is a reliable Common ficus cultivar. Despite this, apart from in the southeast United States, where it is a popular cultivar, Celeste is not as commonly grown as other types of fig trees.
Celeste typically reaches 15 ft in height, if planted in well draining soil. A resilient cultivar, Celeste can survive in temperatures as low as 15 ℉. It is also tolerant of warm temperatures. The fruit of the Celeste is sometimes known as “sweet figs” due to its high sugar content. The skin of Celeste fruit can be light brown or violet in color. When cut open the color of the skin contrasts nicely with the bright red flesh.
The sweet fruit is a popular fresh snack.
Adriatic types of fig trees are native to the Mediterranean. Light green or yellow with a red-pink flesh, the fruit of the Adriatic is sweet with a high sugar content. This makes it ideal for use as a paste or turning into preserves.
A self-pollinating variety, Adriatic fruit is thinned skinned. Developing twice a year, in June the fruit ripens on old wood, while later, in August, it develops on fresh growth. The foliage typically has 3 to 5 lobes and can be between 4 and 10 inches long. This makes it a great way to introduce shade to an open garden. But be careful when deciding on your planting combinations. Sun loving plants may struggle if planted in the shadow of the Adriatic.
Preferring warm weather, Adriatic is resilient enough to survive difficult weather conditions. It is also tolerant of a wide range of soils. Planting in large Wire Baskets prevents gophers and other pests from targeting the fruit.
Fruits develop twice a year.
Our next inclusion on our list of different types of fig trees, the Kadota cultivar can reach 30 ft tall and spread just as wide. This makes it an ideal specimen plant. The yellow-green fruit, with contrasting purple flesh, is a popular choice for preserves. Further adding to the attraction, Kadota fruit is also seedless. When dried it takes on a golden hue. Resilient to cold weather, Kadota is one of the few types of fig tree to flourish in USDA Zones 5 and 6. An attractive ornamental plant, Kadota does best in sheltered positions.
While some varieties like open, sunny positions, others prefer a more sheltered setting.
5 Purple Genca
Purple Genca types of fig trees are one of the smaller specimens on this list. Typically displaying a medium growth habit, the plants rarely exceed 13 ft in height. The growth habit of Purple Genca is contained even further if planted in containers.
Despite being small, Purple Genca produces masses of fruit and foliage. The fruit, large and dark purple in color with a sweet, red flesh, is sometimes referred to as Black Spanish or Black Genoa figs. Another self-fertilizing cultivar, meaning that you only need to plant one specimen to get fruit, the fruit can be either dried and eaten fresh. You can also use it to make jam and preserves.
Dark fruit sits attractively against the plant’s green foliage.
Alma fruit ripens later in the year than the fruit of other types of fig trees. It is also not as attractive. Alma fruit is prone to developing dark patches that can suggest a bacterial infection. Despite this the fruit is rich in flavor and is considered by many to be one of the best tasting cultivars currently available. Alma fruit can be eaten fresh or canned.
Sensitive to snow and frost, Alma is a warm weather cultivar. One of the newest types of fig trees, Alma was developed during the 1970s at Texas A&M University. Thriving in well draining, sandy soil, Alma is tolerant of poorer soils but may require more frequent watering. If you don’t know the condition of your soil, use a soil test kit. This enables you to make any necessary amendments before planting.
A productive variety, Alma’s medium sized fruit is golden-brown with amber flesh. It has a sweet, delicate caramel flavor.
As fruit matures it can change color.
7 Black Mission
Depending on the growing conditions, Black Mission can reach between 10 and 30 ft tall. A long lasting variety, with the right care. Some types growing in coastal areas are known to be over 75 years old and are still healthy and productive.
Black Mission originates in California. Popular for its high quality fruit, Mission, as it is also known, produces fruit with dark purple skin. This turns black as it dries. Inside, the flesh of the fruit is pink. Like other types of fruit trees, the fruit forms twice a year.
This cultivar is known as Mission because the plants were introduced to the United States in 1768 by Franciscan missionaries who began to cultivate the plants in San Diego. Make sure you pick Mission fruit before it over-ripens. If left on the branch too long cracks can open up.
Fruit left on the plant for too long may crack open and spoil.
Unusually for this list of different types of fig trees, the Caprifigs plant does not produce edible fruit. Growing wild in southern Europe and parts of Southwest Asia, instead the attraction of this cultivar is the male flowers that the plant produces. These can be used to pollinate female types of fig trees.
The pollen is typically spread by the fig wasp, a fascinating insect that lives and breeds inside the flowers of the Caprifig. These insects do not breed in the flower of edible fruit. While other insects can also spread the pollen, no other insect can match the effectiveness of the fig wasp.
The fruit of the Caprifig, while not edible, is still ornamentally attractive. Shaped like a pear and with a thick skin, the small fruit produced by male flowers are semi-hollow and not as juicy as they appear. The fruit of the Caprifig can develop and mature up to 3 times a year depending on the growing conditions.
Not every variety produces edible fruit.
9 San Pedro
San Pedro is one of the many types of fig trees that produce 2 crops of fruit every year. The first crop sets on mature, leafless wood. Known as the Breba crop, this first batch of fruit doesn’t require pollination. The second crop develops later in the year, on new wood. This time the flowers must be pollinated for the fruit to develop and mature. While San Pedro fruit can develop without pollination it rarely ripens, instead falling from the tree.
Fruit forming on old wood doesn’t require pollination.
Like San Pedro, Smyrna types of fig trees require pollination from other trees, such as Caprifigs. This is because the Smyrna only produces female flowers.
In some locations Smyrna types of fig trees are referred to as Calimyrnas. The fruit of the Smyrna is soft and rich in flavor. It is also high in fiber. Fresh Smyrna fruit is green-yellow in color, turning golden when dry. Once dried the fruit can taste nutty. This flavor has helped to make them a popular, healthy snack.
Again, like San Pedro, if not properly pollinated the flowers of Smyrna still bear fruit but the fruit falls from the tree before ripening. In commercial situations baskets of Caprifigs, hosting fig wasps, are placed near or beneath Smyrnas to encourage pollination.
If not properly pollinated fruit may still form but drops from the tree before ripening.
General Care and Planting Tips
When planting, take into consideration your USDA Zones. In areas that experience extended cold periods you should plant in a container. Placing on a Bright Creations Metal Plant Caddy enables you to move the plant inside in the fall, where it is protected from the cold, before returning outside in the spring, once the last frost date has passed.
Most types of fig trees are hardy in USDA Zones 8 to 10. Cold hardy varieties can also tolerate conditions in zones 6 and 7. If planted outside in a cold area the plant will die back in cold spells. If hardwood is present the root system should survive. If temperatures threaten to become too cold, protect specimens with a REMIAWY Shrub Jacket. Alternatively, if you have the room, you could also try growing your fig trees in a greenhouse. This enables you to maintain an even temperature and favorable conditions all year round.
In colder areas, these plants are best grown in pots.
If you are planting in the ground, ensure that you are planting somewhere that enjoys lots of sun during the summer months. This encourages lots of healthy growth and fruit to form.
Before you begin to dig, take into account the surrounding area. Your saplings should be positioned at least 20 ft from any structures or other trees. You should also take into account overhead obstacles such as wires. Finally, take into account the fact that all types of fig trees develop deep roots. Check there are no underground cables or pipes near your chosen planting position.
These specimens are best planted or transplanted in early spring or late fall. During either of these periods the soil should be warm and workable and the plant still dormant. Planting or transplanting when the sapling is still dormant helps to reduce transplant stress.
Weed and prepare the soil before planting, working in any necessary amendments and nutrients. The ideal soil is loamy and well draining. If your soil is too heavy work in compost to improve drainage before planting. Many types of fig trees are also suitable for growing in pots. If you are planting the specimen in a pot, fill it with a soil based potting mix. Working in bark chips or sand helps to improve drainage.
To plant, dig a hole in the soil before removing the sapling from its container and cutting away any circling roots. The hole should be slightly wider and deeper than the root spread. Aim to plant 2 to 4 inches deeper than in the container.
Position the sapling in the hole as centrally as possible. Allow the roots to spread away from the trunk. When you are happy with the position of the plant, backfill the hole being careful not to sink the plant too much. Young saplings may benefit from the support that a Dewitt Tree Stake Kit provides. This encourages the plants to develop a healthy, upright growth habit.
Water young plants regularly until they are established and new growth is visible. In warmer or dry areas you may need to water at least once a week. During the winter, when the plant is sheltered and dormant, water only to keep the soil moist. A soil moisture sensor is a useful way to monitor the moisture content of your soil, helping to prevent plants from drying out and wilting.
In good soil, and if they are not in a container, fig trees rarely require fertilization. If growth is poor, on average the plants should grow around 12 inches a year, add half to a pound of nitrogen supplement in 3 or 4 doses starting at the end of summer. Alternatively, apply a balanced fertilizer a little and often throughout the growing season. Regular small doses are far more beneficial than one large dose of fertilizer.
Wait until the plants have entered their fall dormancy before pruning. Remove any weak or dead branches as well as any that are displaying signs of disease. When the plants are fully dormant, cut away any dead wood. This encourages new growth to emerge the following spring. You may need to use a pole saw to prune taller specimens.
For more on growing all types of fig trees, check out our detailed growing guide.
The dried fruit is rich in minerals and nutrients such as fiber, zinc and iron. Fresh or dried, the fruit is also a good source of B-complex vitamins. Making the fruit a regular part of your diet can help to ease constipation, lower cholesterol, control blood sugar levels and help to keep your liver healthy.
Full of benefits, the fruit is a popular, healthy snack.
One of the oldest cultivated plants, the many types of fig trees are rich in nutritional and ornamental benefits. They are also both easy to grow and cultivate. Self pollinating varieties are pleasingly low maintenance, making them an attractive addition to the garden.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.