This is one of my favorite times of the year. Not because of the heat and humidity, but because my favorite fruit to eat is in season: the fig.
I have always liked figs, and I could stay around the fig bush eating them all day long. I have a daughter who will stay under the fig bush just stuffing herself full, because she loves to eat them as much as I do.
Figs make great preserves, as well. When we have fig preserves in the house, no other jellies, jams or preserves get eaten. I get numerous calls about how to care for figs and problems that we have with them, so let's take a look at how to grow figs.
The first and most important aspect to producing good figs is to select the proper site for the fig. Figs will grow in most parts of Georgia, but the mountain areas can get too cold for them. In our area, figs are usually not damaged by cold. But there are years when cold does damage and kill figs. In this case, the figs will sprout from the roots and survive.
If you have figs that are burned back or killed by cold, you need to plant the fig bush on the south side of a building. This is the warmest side of a building in the winter. Also, cold injury will be reduced if the fig doesn't get direct sunlight early in the morning or late in the afternoon during winter months. During the summer, the fig bush needs eight hours of direct sunlight daily to produce the most figs.
Figs will grow in all soil types. They like sandy or clay soils, so we can grow them anywhere in Columbia County. There are a couple of limiting factors that reduce the growth and vigor of fig bushes: nematodes and soil pH. I am going to skip nematodes. Fig bushes like a pH of 5.5 to 6.5. The best way to determine your pH level is to have your soil tested. You can have your soil tested through my office.
To prepare the soil for planting, you can add organic matter such as compost and lime if it is needed. Add this to an area six-foot square and till in eight inches deep. The fig bush needs to be planted up to four inches deeper than it was in the container. This causes the bush to produce lower branches for easier picking. When you plant a fig grown in a container, you don't need to prune it. If you plant a bare root plant, you need to prune about one-third of its top, unless it was topped by the nursery.
Also, you don't need to add fertilizer in the planting hole. You will fertilize when new growth starts in the spring or a month after planting. If you had your soil tested, we will make fertilizer recommendations on the soil sample results.
There are some very good varieties of figs that do well in Georgia. When you are looking for fig bushes, make sure that you get the figs from reputable nurseries in the Southeast. You don't want to purchase or attempt to grow the kinds of figs grown in California, which require cross-pollination. A tiny wasp does this pollination, and this wasp doesn't exist nor can it survive in Georgia. The figs that we grow here produce only female flowers and don't require cross-pollination. Don't look for the flowers, because they are on the inside of the fruit.
We have both brown and green figs that do well in our area. The brown or bronze figs are Brown Turkey, Celeste, Hunt or Magnolia. The Brown Turkey is an old variety and is one of my favorites. Celeste is the most cold-hardy variety that we have. Both of these varieties are excellent for fresh eating and for preserves. The green varieties that we recommend are Green Ischia and Kadota. The Green Ischia is good for eating fresh, but the seeds make it less desirable for preserves. The Kadota is better for preserves than eating fresh. If you have had problems with cold killing your figs, you need to try Celeste, Hardy Chicago or Conadria.
I get calls every year about figs not producing or dropping their fruit. There are a number of reasons that figs don't produce. The first is that the plant is too young to produce or the plant was over-fertilized. The second reason is dry, hot conditions. This can be corrected by mulching the plants and giving them supplemental water. The third reason is having the wrong variety or nematode problems. These can only be fixed with new bushes in new areas.
Fig plants have very few problems and are very easy to take care of. In fact, they usually take care of themselves. All they need is a little fertilizer and water to produce a good crop.
Columbia County Extension Agent Charles Phillips can be reached at (706) 868-3413 or by e-mail at email@example.com. The Extension Web address is www.ugaextension.com/columbia.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.