Many gardeners consider the sweet, delicious fig an exotic fruit that can only be grown in the warmest climates. Figs actually do well in temperate regions of North America. An understanding of how figs grow will help you achieve success in growing this sticky, sugary delicacy.
Figs grow best in warm, sunny, dry sites similar to their Mediterranean origins. They will do just as well in humid regions if they are given room for air to circulate through their branches. Figs grow well in the warmer regions of U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 and up.
If your soil is poor and rocky, half the work is done for you. Amend heavy clay soil with organic matter and sand or gravel to improve drainage. Figs tolerate a wide range of pH, but do best in soils with pH about 6.0 to 6.5, according to the North American Fruit Explorer's website. Alkaline soils above 8.0 should be amended with organic matter and iron sulfate to lower pH.
The poor, rocky soils of the Mediterranean are an indication that figs should not be over-fertilized. Fertilize fig trees only when they shows signs of malnutrition--yellowing leaves and poor fruit production. Fertilize with a fruit tree fertilizer low in nitrogen. Too much nitrogen produces green growth at the expense of fruit, according to the California Rare Fruit Growers.
Fig trees in zones 5 and 6 grow more like shrubs than small trees. Cold winter temperatures often kill the branches to the ground. They will grow back in spring and bear figs in summer. 'Brown Turkey' is a reliably hardy variety, notes Rutgers University Extension, with 'Celeste' sited as slightly more tolerant of cold.
Each spring, cut back winter-damaged, diseased or crowded branches. Irrigate only during severe drought, avoiding overhead watering, which encourages mildew. Mulch lightly for water-retention in hot, Southern climates.
It can take several years after planting for fig trees to bear. Once they starting bearing, however, they produce figs reliably year after year. When fruit production slows down, it is often because of excessive leaf production caused by nitrogen-rich fertilizer. If this is the case, fertilize with a low- or no-nitrogen fertilizer to boost fruit production.