Fig trees (Ficus carica) are native to the Mediterranean region through Western Asia. They grow relatively easily, and are easy to bring to fruit in warmer, slightly dry climates in the southern and coastal United States. When protected from the worst ravages of wind and cold, they will bear small fruits ranging in color from green to browns to purple. The fresh fruit can be eaten out of hand, while the dried fruit is prized for its nutty sweetness.
Figs are native to Mediterranean weather: very warm summers and mild winters. Hardy types of fig trees can survive temperatures down to 12 or 15 degrees F, as long as they are fully dormant at the time. Grow them near a south-facing wall to benefit from the heat radiation during cool springs and fall. Too much rain during the fruiting seasons will split the fruit, while excessive droughts will cause the fruit to drop.
Fig trees need full sun to ripen fruit properly. The branches and trunk, however, are sensitive to sunburn when the large-leaf canopy doesn’t cover them well enough. Exposed branches and the trunk may be whitewashed to prevent sunburn. Areas that have been burned are susceptible to fig canker, which starts on damaged trunk areas.
In the Mediterranean, fig trees grow in rocky, well-drained soil with moderate to poor fertility. Don’t over-indulge in fertilizer or soil amendments, because this will encourage fig trees to grow vegetation at the expense of fruits. However, you should ensure that the area drains well. Wet roots during a frost can damage a fig tree.
Heavy mulching will help prevent fluctuations in soil moisture that lead to unripened fruit drop. It also helps to protect the roots during freezes. A fig may die back during a hard freeze, but can grow from protected roots. For an extra layer of root protection, old carpet can be laid in the root zone. Keep in mind that the roots often extend beyond the canopy of the tree, though some loss of outlying roots won’t destroy the tree.
Rue planted near the outer edge of the canopy makes a good deterrent for dogs and cats, as well as other insects. However, rue needs more sun than the little that filters through a fig tree’s dense canopy. Plant mints or ferns under the canopy, if you live in an area with high annual precipitation, to soak up some of the excess water and help protect the roots of the fig tree from cold damage.