Americus Times-Recorder, Americus, Georgia

Local Columnists

February 18, 2013

Bill Starr: Don’t go wasting figs

AMERICUS — When I was kid one of the kids in my neighborhood had an “old school” go-cart. We had a track set up in his back yard and there weren’t many days we didn’t ride that go-cart.

On the edge of that track there was a fig tree, and at that time I really didn’t care for figs that much, but all of us kids did find a use for those figs. We would pick those figs and put them in buckets and would strategically place those buckets around the track. Anybody that wasn’t driving the go-cart at the time would grab a handful of figs and throw them at the driver. The object was not to get hit with the figs while driving around the track. Anybody that drove would be a sticky mess by the end of the day (it was great!).

Fast forward a couple of years, and looking back now I realized we wasted one of nature’s special treats. I think most people are fond of figs and rightfully so. They are very tasty and can be eaten fresh, preserve, or used for baking and making desserts like ice cream.

For the most part figs seem to do very well in our area as some of you have fig trees that are quite large. Figs will grow in many types of soils, but they need a site free of root-knot nematodes. Contact your county agent for information about testing your soil for nematodes.

Cold injury will be further reduced if the fig does not receive direct sunlight early in the morning or late in the evening during the winter months. However, the site should receive a minimum of eight hours of sunlight daily during the growing season.

Soil preparation should always include a pre-plant soil test. If your soil pH is low, adjust the pH to 5.5 to 6.5 with dolomitic limestone. Spread the limestone evenly over the entire area where the figs will be planted, then till the soil. If possible, till at least a 6-foot by 6-foot area where each bush will be planted at least 8 inches deep. Plant fig trees while they are dormant; spring is the best time. In warm areas, bare-root trees can be set out in fall or early winter, but where late spring frosts are common, it is best to set them out in spring after the danger of hard winter freezes has passed (usually around March 15 for us). Container-grown plants should always be planted in the spring.

There are several varieties of figs that will do well in our part of the state. Some of the more popular varieties include: Celeste, (the variety Celeste will often drop fruit prematurely in hot weather, regardless of the quality of plant care. However, it is still one of the best varieties), Conandria, Brown Turkey and Alma are a just a few of the varieties that do well in our area. Be cautious when buying fig plants; make sure they are well adapted to Georgia because there are varieties that do well in California. They require pollination by a tiny wasp that cannot survive under Georgia’s climatic conditions, so they will not likely be very productive in our area.

For the best fruit production, water your figs regularly during the growing season unless rainfall is adequate. As a rule of thumb, 1 to 1-1/2 inches of water per week from rain or irrigation is adequate. Yellowing and dropping of leaves may indicate drought.

I get asked the question every year of why fig trees don’t bloom and the answer is: If you look for blossoms on your fig tree, you probably won’t find them; they are inside the fruit.

I have grown to like figs once I realized the error of my ways from my youth, but I will have to admit I still prefer figs in preserves versus a fresh fig. Probably my most favorite way to enjoy figs is fig Newtons, but I have yet to discover on what variety of tree they grow those things. Oh well, at least I am not throwing them at my friends anymore.

If you happen to have some figs that turn sour on the tree before you harvest them, just go buy a go-cart and invite your friends over for a fig throwing party. I’ll bet you will have them lining up.

Bill Starr is Sumter County Extension coordinator/University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. Contact him at 924-4476.

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