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Natural Awakenings Philadelphia

Figs are a Surprising Home Garden Treat

Apr 03, 2017 06:35PM ● By Kelly A. Montgomery

Indigenous to Asia and popular in the Mediterranean, the common fig (Ficus carica) is not what generally comes to mind when planting a garden in Philadelphia. However, this adaptable exotic plant is perfect for our area, according to Robyn Mello, orchard director for the nonprofit Philadelphia Orchard Project, (POP), which plants and supports community orchards in the city. “You can prune it to any size you want,” says Mello, who planted a fig tree in her North Philadelphia yard.

Because it is native to a hot dry climate, the fig tree is drought-tolerant once established. All common figs are female, so they self-pollinate. Mello recommends planting the Chicago Hardy variety, because it grows well in colder climates. Other varieties that are adaptable are Celeste and Brown Turkey.

Fig trees thrive in full-sun exposure, so choose a sunny spot. Plant against a wall—preferably south-facing—to keep the plant warm during cold weather and to protect it against winter winds, advises Mello.

Water young trees weekly to get them established. “Most fruit trees don’t like to be overwatered,” says Mello. “They could get root rot if the ground is too soggy.”

The National Gardening Association recommends applying a layer of mulch around the tree to keep heat and moisture in, and to prevent weeds. In late fall, tie the branches upward. Stuff straw around the tree and wrap burlap around it. Finally, wrap a tarp around the tree to protect it from frost and other wintery conditions. Unwrap the tree in the spring after the last hard frost. Remove dead, diseased, and weak branches to encourage growth.

Depending on the fig variety, fruit will grow on first-year wood, but often it’s two- or three-year old wood, notes Mello. “That’s why it’s so important to have it covered over the winter—to protect its above-ground wood.”

Harvest time is usually late fall. Pick the fruits when they are fully ripe. Unlike other fruit trees, figs will not ripen if they are picked too soon.

Kelly A. Montgomery is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer and editor.

Fig trees grow in well-drained soil with lots of organic material, and a neutral to partially alkaline soil. After choosing a spot, follow these instructions:

Step 1: Dig a hole that is two to four inches deep.

Step 2: Remove the plant from its pot and rest the root ball on its side. Use shears to cut through the encircling roots. “Make sure roots don’t spiral in, because they will rot and strangle the tree,” says Mello.

Step 3: Place the plant in a hole and cover it with soil.


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