Figs are a powerful little fruit packed with fiber and vitamins A and C. While dried figs are popular year-round, fig enthusiasts herald that nothing beats the sweet taste of a fresh fig, available in most of the United States from mid-summer to early fall. Figs first came to the United States via Spanish missionaries settling in South Carolina; however, the fig is an ancient fruit that can be traced back thousands of years. Although figs are widely grown, they are susceptible to problems, including splitting before ripening. There are several reasons why figs may break open before ripening.
Too Much Rain
Too much rain is the No. 1 reason why figs split open before they're ripened. Heightened rainfall is harmful to figs throughout much of the growing cycle, particularly in the development and ripening stages. Unfortunately, it's also the least controllable factor in protecting your figs from splitting. If your fig tree is established, and the fruit doesn't regularly split, you may chalk up the splitting to a year of especially heavy rainfall. By the time the fruit is splitting, it's already too late for that year's crop.
If your figs split regularly, there's a good chance your fig tree is the wrong variety for its area. Although figs are grown worldwide, there are certain types suited to more rain or hotter summers. For instance, Texas growers developed the Alma fig, a hybrid of the Allison and Hamma Caprifig varieties. It is drop-resistant and can withstand the Texas summer, but it also is susceptible to frost conditions and doesn't not perform well in more northern climates. If your fruit regularly splits, you likely will need to replant with a split-resistant variety that works in your area. Seek out advice from your local garden center or area garden clubs before picking a new variety. Also check with your local agriculture extension office, which likely has extensive information on the proper trees for your area.
Figs are a delicate fruit and, when ripened, have a very fine skin. Excessive handling can damage the fruit and cause it to split as it ripens. Avoid this by not touching the fruit unless absolutely necessary. Wear gloves -- which simultaneously protects your skin from irritants found on some fig varieties as they're ripening -- and use a very a gentle touch if handling the fruit.
Preventing splits in figs before they're ripened can be very difficult, mostly due to the uncontrollable weather factor. But you don't have to consider the year's entire crop a loss. If you're noticing splitting, begin picking the figs before they're fully ripened. While figs do not ripen once harvested, you can use figs for preserves. Or, if you know you had especially heavy rainfall, you can try to hurry the ripening process along by what's known as oleification. Use a cotton swab to apply a few drops of mineral or vegetable oil to the eye of the fig, the small circle on the bottom. This speeds up ripening and may allow your fruit to ripen before afflicted by splitting. Be careful to only apply the oil to the eye of the fruit.