Growing Figs in Maryland: Tips and Tricks from the Experts

Fig trees (Ficus carica) make lovely additions to Maryland landscapes. Whether you prefer them in shrub or tree form, in containers or in the ground, these versatile trees are virtually pest-free and can produce abundant crops if you select the right cultivars and manage them carefully. In Maryland, gardeners in warmer areas, such as the Eastern Shore, Southern Maryland, and Baltimore City, tend to have the least difficulty over-wintering plants and harvesting figs before the first frost.

The Best Cultivars for Maryland

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Some of the most winter-hardy fig cultivars that perform well in Maryland include Celeste, Brown Turkey, Hardy Chicago, Brunswick, Marseilles, and Osborne. These cultivars are all seedless, producing their fruits parthenocarpically, which means they don’t require pollination or fertilization. To ensure the quality of your figs, it’s best to purchase plants from a reputable nursery or propagate them from spring divisions or summer cuttings from mature plants. You can also pull root suckers from established trees or peg pliable branches to the ground for tip rooting or layering. Once the new plant has rooted, sever it from the mother plant and transplant it into a container or the ground.

Site Selection and Planting Tips

Selecting the right site for planting your fig tree is crucial. Choose a sunny and protected location, ideally next to a south-facing wall. Figs thrive in full sun and are adaptable to a wide range of soils. Aim for a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.5. While spring is the typical planting time after the danger of frost has passed, you can also plant figs in early fall. Space each plant 6-8 feet apart and cut back the top to encourage lateral growth.

To give your figs the best start, incorporate compost or well-rotted manure into the soil before planting. Confining or pruning the root system can invigorate the plant and hasten the harvest. Avoid cultivating the soil beneath your plant, as the extensive root system is mainly located directly beneath the soil surface. Fruits form in the leaf axils of the current year’s wood, starting from the shoot base towards the tip. Typically, fig plants begin to bear fruit in their second or third year after planting.

Overwintering Ground-Grown Plants

Unprotected fig plants can suffer damage from extremely cold weather. Temperatures below 10° to 15°F can kill above-ground wood. While new shoots may sprout from the roots, they rarely produce mature fruits. To protect your fig plants during winter, consider the following suggestions:

  • Multi-stem fig bushes are easier to protect than large, single-stem fig trees.
  • Cut the main stems to a height of 4-5 feet.
  • Pin pliable branches to the ground and cover them with burlap, old blankets, or tarps.
  • Create a circle pattern of bags filled with leaves around the main stems.
  • Encircle your fig plant with chicken wire and fill in with insulating leaves or straw. You can also cover the main stems with a plastic tarp to shed rain, sleet, and snow.
  • Remove the winter protection when all danger of frost has passed in the spring.

Please note that while insulating materials can protect your fig bushes, they can also attract voles during winter. These pests feed on the tender bark, which may reduce plant vigor and fig production in the following year. Therefore, it’s important to remove any insulating materials promptly in the spring and prune out ground suckers and dead or weak wood.

Growing Figs in Containers

If you have limited space, growing figs in containers can be a great option. Half whiskey barrels or other suitable containers of approximately 30-gallon size can provide satisfactory production. Using containers with casters offers additional convenience, as you can easily move your figs into a protected area like a garage during winter. The root restriction resulting from container culture may even improve yields and reduce the time to harvest. Most fig cultivars perform well in containers, but anecdotal reports suggest that ‘Petite Negri’ may be particularly well-suited.

Potting into a Container

When potting your fig tree into a container, make sure to use a loamy and well-drained growing mix enriched with plenty of compost or well-rotted manure. If your soil is heavy, you can lighten it by incorporating a soil-less growing mixture containing peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite. Place the container in a sunny spot and water the fig regularly. Once fruits begin to form, apply 2 to 3 gallons of water each day.

After Fig Leaves Drop in the Fall

Once the fig leaves drop in the fall, you can shape your plant by removing suckers and cutting back long branches. To protect it during the winter, move the container to a protected area such as a garage.

Harvesting Figs: Beat the Animals to the Feast

Figs are not only adored by people but also by many animals. To ensure that you get to enjoy your crop before the creatures do, consider netting your fig bush. Figs ripen from mid-September through frost, but unripe green fruits will not ripen once picked. If you pick partially ripened fruits, they will continue to ripen off the plant. Due to the fragility of figs and their attractiveness to birds and squirrels, it’s a good idea to pick fully ripened and partially ripened fruits during each visit to your fig bush or tree.

For more expert tips on tree planting and gardening, visit Tips Tree Planting. Happy fig growing!

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