Figs are fruits that are delicious, luscious fruits that are staples in Mediterranean cuisines like Italian, Greek, and Lebanese. However, you should be happy to hear that Fig trees can grow in many parts of the U.S.and aren’t just Mediterranean treats.
Of course, if you’re going to grow a Fig tree, it’s important to know when to harvest figs! If picked too early before they’ve ripened, they have a very bitter taste and dry texture that will teach you to never pick an unripe fig again (speaking from experience!)
On top of that, figs do not ripen off the tree, so picking an unripe fig is really a lost opportunity for a wonderful fruit. Knowing when to harvest figs will help you be confident that you’re picking these fruits at their maximum ripeness and tastiness.
Ripe and almost ripe figs growing on every branch of this fig tree.
About Fig Trees
First, I’ll give you a little introductory information about fig trees, so you can be as knowledgeable as possible.
Fig trees are deciduous trees that prefer warmer climates and a decent amount of humidity, so they grow well in USDA zones 7 and higher. Although, if you live in colder regions, it’s definitely possible to grow a fig tree in a container and move it indoors during the winter months.
When fully mature, Fig trees can grow to 50 feet tall, but this takes several decades! Most backyard trees grow to 10 feet in height, making harvesting much more feasible. While some mature garden trees can get up to 20 feet tall.
Fig trees will not produce fruit if only grown indoors, since they require a specific fig wasp for pollination and fruit production. Even if grown outdoors- as with all fruit trees- if its growing conditions aren’t optimal, the tree won’t fruit. See the complete care guide for fiddle leaf fig trees to be sure you’re giving your tree all that it needs!
Mature fig tree with tons of ripening figs. Self-shot.
What To Expect
It’s important to know what your fig tree is likely to produce so you know how much of a harvest you have ahead of you.
Of course, a major factor is age- if your tree is younger it will certainly produce less fruit versus an older tree. First off, fig trees often do not fruit for the first 3 years, sometimes 4. Since younger trees are smaller, it will be easier to see how much fruit there is and when they’re ready.
For more mature trees, they can produce over 50 lbs of fruit- a harvest that gives you a year’s worth of figs! However, this is for peak maturity, around 10 years old, and as the trees grow beyond 15 years they’ll become less productive and eventually stop producing fruits.
Leaves of a fig tree with several unripe figs.
If you’re growing a fig tree in a container, you’re likely to have about 5 lbs of fruit. Since the tree can’t fully extend its root system, it’s limited in how mature it becomes and therefore much fruit it can produce.
Lastly, fertilizing your tree helps to encourage fruit production by giving the tree all the nutrients it needs to create fruit. While fertilizing isn’t necessary for fig tree health, it’s super easy to make your own liquid fertilizer or organic compost.
It also helps to prune your fig tree so that the internal branches are exposed to sunlight to be able to grow figs and also so the tree can focus more on producing fruit and not on maintaining so many branches. However, you should not prune your tree in the summertime when the figs are ripe but rather in early spring, before the growing season.
Timing When to Harvest Figs
There’s a window of about one month where figs will be ready for harvest and this is during the end of the summer or beginning of fall. If you live in a warmer region, the figs will ripen sooner whereas in colder regions you’ll need to wait longer.
In general, August through September is when the figs become ripe enough to eat and will be getting juicier. Around this time is when the figs will be edible, however some people prefer to wait as long as possible to get the maximum amount of sugar and juice in the fruits.
In fact, in very warm climates, fig trees sometimes fruit twice in the summer! These trees need lots of sun and warmth to produce fruit, which is why they normally only fruit at the end of the summer, but if you live in the southern U.S., there’s a chance you might get fruit in mid and late summer.
There are also some types of fig trees that consistently fruit twice. Take the Madeleine des Deux Saisons for example, which is French for “Two Seasons of Madeleine”. This is one of the various reasons why it’s important to know which kind of fig tree you’re growing.
Upcoming rainstorms are something else to consider when getting ready to harvest your figs. As you’ll see in the next sections, figs become very soft when they’re fully ripe. This means that heavy rains or wind could knock many of the ripe fruits off the branches and onto the ground, where they’re exposed to insects.
If you think you have figs that are ready to be picked or will be ready in the coming days and you’re sure that a rainstorm is coming, it’s best to be proactive and collect those figs so you don’t risk damage from the storm.
Fig trees also produce embryo fruits during the summer that will be ready the following year. These look like tiny, pea-shaped fruits at the end of branch shoots. The embryo fruits should be left on the tree so they can over-winter and fully form the next summer.
Harvesting Based on Color
The changing coloration of figs is one of the clearest indicators of when to harvest figs. However, there’s often some confusion about the meaning of the color of figs and this is because the different varieties of fig trees produce different colored fruit.
There are a handful of trees whose ripe fruits are green or slightly golden, which can confuse people who are accustomed to seeing ripe figs as dark purple. Even more so because for most fig varieties, green figs mean they’re completely unripe.
Knowing what kind of fig tree you’re growing will be a huge help to you in determining what color the figs will be when they’re ripe. Some varieties of figs that produce greenish-golden figs are:
- Celestial fig
- Green garnsey
- St. John
- Adriatic (this variety is the most common that produces green figs.)
Example of a ripe green fig.
You may notice that even with the varieties that produce green figs, the figs have purple spots that look like bruises. These are actually called “sugar spots” and they indicate that the sugar content of the fruit is reaching its peak- which is a good sign!
Even though these fruits look bruised, it’s likely that they’ve reached the perfect point for ripeness and many people wait until this point to pick the figs.
For the majority of fig tree types, their ripe fruits are a dark purple or brown color. The change in color from green to purple is a strong indicator that the fruit is ripening.
If you’re growing a purple fig type, then you definitely need to wait until the fig is entirely this dark purple color. Green figs signify that the fruit is still immature and at this point doesn’t have any juice- these figs taste terrible and need to be left to ripen more.
However, a fully purple fig isn’t the only indicator that the figs are ready to harvest. Sometimes figs can be purple but not fully ripe yet, keep reading to learn the other factors for determining if a fig is completely ripe!
Size of a Ripe Fig
Thankfully, all figs mature into the same size and shape, regardless of the type. The one exception being Giant Figs, which can grow to be larger than the size of your hand! But, if you’re growing this type of fig tree, you’ll know it.
When figs first emerge on the branches, they are tiny and hardly visible. As they mature, they become larger balls, about the size of golfballs. However, as the fruit fills with juice, it will soften and lose this firm, ball shape.
Ripe figs are more oval-shaped, with a plump bottom that hangs. If the fig is purple but still holds a firm shape, it isn’t yet ripe enough to be picked.
Ripe figs with “stretch marks.”
Skin of a Ripe Fig
The change in the skin of a ripe fig is another strong signal as to whether the fig is ready for harvest. When figs are first forming, their skin is very rough and the fig will be very hard to break open. In contrast, when a fig is ripe for harvest, its skin will be very soft and stretchy.
The skin is the first thing to develop and as the fruit ripens, it expands and fills with juice- you may even see what looks like stretch marks on the fig! The skin becomes softer as the juice fills up and the sugar breaks down the tough barriers in the skin.
A ripe fig will be squishy and will compress when squeezed, and the fig will continue to soften like this up to the point of becoming very mushy if the fig isn’t harvested. For this reason, you shouldn’t wait to harvest too long after the fig is soft, because it will wilt and potentially split open.
When you go to harvest a fig, if it’s fully ripe you should be able to open it up with your hands. You want to try to catch the sweet spot where the fig is plump and has maximum juice, just before it falls off the tree and splatters!
Ripe figs are drooping off the branch.
Ripe Figs on the Branch
Another great indicator that your figs are ready to be harvested is their shape on the branch. When figs are ready for harvest, they’ll come off the branch very easily, to the point that overripe figs fall off on their own.
When figs begin forming they appear as tiny green buds along the branches, by the leaf stems. As they grow, these buds fill with juice and get larger, but they stay upright. It isn’t until the fig is completely ripe that it will start to droop and hang off the branch.
This is helpful because softening on the branch is often the final sign that the figs are ready for harvest! You’ll see that your figs are turning purple and might look ripe, but they’re still very firm and stick off the branch, a sign that they need some more time.
A completely ripe fig will dangle from the branch, as if it’s telling you it’s ready for harvest. Ripe figs will also sometimes drip with nectar from the stem, forming clear, strictly droplets on the fruit.
An unripe fig I plucked, which began to ooze its white sap, coming out of the stem.
However, the nectar shouldn’t be confused with the sap of the fig tree, which is actually a sign that the fruit isn’t ripe yet. The sap of the fig tree is milky white and sticky, and is known to cause skin irritation for many gardeners.
An underripe fig will still be tightly connected with the tree and be receiving sap, so if you pull it off the tree, this sap will come out of the top of the fruit. Sometimes there will still be some sap with ripe fruits, but there should only be a small amount.
It’s also important to know that fig fruits don’t ripen all at the same time, so if you see a few purple and soft fruits hanging but there’s still many tiny green fruits, don’t worry! Fig fruits ripen at the end of the summer, but the harvest will continue for another month or so.
Breba Crop Figs
There are many varieties of fig trees, like the Chicago Hardy or Brown Turkey, which overwinter some of their fruits, leading to two harvests in the summer. The fruits from last year’s buds are called the “breba crops” and the main crops are the fruit from this year’s buds.
For these varieties, they produce new fruit buds at the end of the summer that hardly grow and stay the size of a pea. In the spring, these buds begin to grow and form fruit before the new buds even form.
So, the breba crops will be ready earlier in the summer while the main crops for the summer are still forming and filling.
Branches with several green and firm figs that haven’t ripened yet.
How to Ripen Figs
It’s actually quite common for there to be full size yet unripe figs still on the branches in early to mid fall. It can be a bit nerve-wracking to see so many almost-ripe figs and knowing that the first frost will arrive soon, but there are ways to force your tree to ripen its figs just in time.
These practices are also helpful if you live in a cold region with a short summer or limited sunlight, as this means a much shorter growing season for you.
There are some cold hardy varieties of fig trees, but generally these trees don’t handle cold very well, and will lose all their leaves after the first frost. This means they’ll also stop producing fruit, and you’ll lose all the figs that never ripened.
Plus, if you leave unripe figs on the tree, they’ll eventually fall on their own and attract gnats or mold. It’s much nicer to get some extra, ripe figs than to clean up the mess from unripe figs!
You can see here there’s one ripe fig but still many that are not yet soft enough.
One thing you can do to stimulate fig production is to pinch off the tops of the branches, where there’s new growth. By stopping the growth at the end of the branches, you’re redirecting the plant’s energy and resources towards growing fruit, not branches.
Simply look for new growth at the tips of branches and clip it off with gardening shears or your hands. Don’t clip off more than a few inches and only do this for branches that have at least 5 leaves- you’re not pruning the tree and dramatic cuts will shock it.
You can also clip off the leaves on your tree, a method that makes more sense if you’re expecting a frost pretty soon. In that case, your tree will lose its leaves after frost anyways. Removing the leaves focuses nutrients on the figs but also gives the figs more direct sunlight, which can soften and ripen them.
Remember, these practices are only for when you have almost ripe figs at the end of the summer and as cold weather is approaching. You shouldn’t do anything like this at the beginning of the summer, with hopes to boost fig production, because you’ll only stunt growth.
Harvesting figs is very straightforward when done at the right time, and having an easy harvest is a sure sign that your figs are ripe. If they’re not ready yet, they’ll be difficult to pull off the tree, but fully ripe figs will come right off, the most obvious sign that they’re ready to go.
Make sure you wear gardening gloves when harvesting to protect yourself from the sap of the fig tree, which can cause dermatitis, especially when exposed to the sun. If you have an allergy to latex, you’ll likely have a reaction to fig sap and should cover your skin.
Figs grow right next to the leaf node, where the leaf stems from the main branch. When a fig is ready to be harvested, all you need to do is gently grab it and it will come off.
In fact, ripe figs come off the tree so easily, that you need to be a bit careful not to grab them too hard and bruise them. Of course, bruised figs are still good to be eaten, they just won’t store as long and should be eaten first.
If you’re collecting many figs at once, take care not to stack too many on top of each other, as the weight could crush the juicy figs, causing them to split open. Once open, a fig should be eaten right away or stored in the fridge to keep flies away.
You can also increase the storing time of figs by picking them with the stem intact, so the top of the fig is closed.
There are several different ways you can preserve figs, since they don’t last very long once picked. However, this works out fine considering that fig trees don’t ripen all at once, so you’ll only have a few fresh figs at a time.
Fresh figs don’t store for very long, about one week at room temperature and up to two weeks in the fridge. It’s important not to pile up too many so you don’t bruise them and if you’re storing them in the fridge, don’t place them next to vegetables, since this speeds up the rotting process.
You can freeze the figs in an airtight container and they will last indefinitely, but only about one year until they get freezer burn, which changes the texture quite a lot.
You can also make a jam with the fig jelly and store this either in the freezer or can the jams and store in your pantry.
Lastly, you can dry your figs, which will make them last up to one year. You can dry them in the oven, at the lowest temperature for about 6-8 hours, or in a dehydrator for about 2 hours. You can also opt for the traditional Mediterranean method and dry them in the sun for about 3 days, depending on the weather.
Let the Harvest Begin
As with all fruit trees, growing a fig tree and seeing it fruit is so exciting! The process from the tiny buds in spring to a tree full of plump figs in late summer is incredible to watch. For me, all summer long this builds up excitement leading to the day I can start harvesting.
Not only is it amazing to watch the growth on the tree, but fruit tree harvests are also so much easier than harvesting root vegetables. And especially with figs, it’s easy to know when to harvest figs, because they’ll show all the signs.
When a fig is ripe, it’s completely ready to go and makes harvest super easy! Enjoy your bounties of figs!
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.