Preparing your garden: Time to plant fig bushes
by Randy Drinkard County extension agent
Most people are fond of figs and rightfully so. They are very tasty and can be eaten fresh, preserved, or used for baking and making desserts like ice cream. Figs will do well in most parts of Georgia except the mountainous areas.
Figs will grow in many types of soils, but they need a site free of root-knot nematodes. For this reason, it is suggested that you not set fig plants in old vegetable garden sites where nematodes may be present.
To help protect against cold injury, the ideal planting site is on the south side of a building. Cold injury will be further reduced if the fig plant does not receive direct sunlight early in the morning or late in the evening during the winter months. The site should receive a minimum of eight hours of sunlight daily during the growing season.
Fig plants may be purchased from local nurseries and garden centers as bare-rooted or container-grown plants. Because considerable confusion exists about fig variety names, buy fig plants only from reputable nurseries.
Never purchase or attempt to grow the kinds of figs grown in California. They require pollination by a tiny wasp that cannot survive in Georgia’s climate. The types recommended in Georgia are the ones that produce only female flowers and set fruit without cross-pollination.
Soil preparation and planting
Soil preparation should always include a preplant soil test. If your soil pH is low, adjust the pH to 5.5 to 6.5 with dolomitic limestone. Spread the limestone evenly over the entire area where the figs will be planted, then till the soil. If possible, till at least a 6-foot by 6-foot area where each bush will be planted at least 8 inches deep.
Plant container-grown fig bushes in the fall or spring when temperatures are mild and rainfall is plentiful. Plant bare-rooted fig bushes in fall or early winter.
Before planting a bare-root tree, prune about one-third of its top, unless it was topped by the nursery. Container-grown plants can be transplanted without being pruned; just remove them from the container, spread their roots, and set them in the planting hole.
Set fig plants in planting holes at the same level they were growing in the containers. Fill the hole with soil; water heavily enough to settle the soil around the roots. Do not apply fertilizer in the hole at planting.
There are many varieties of figs available, but only a few are well adapted to Georgia. In the Troup County area, plant Celeste or Brown Turkey for best results
Care of fig plants
Although fig plants can be trained to either tree or bush form, the tree form is not practical for the Piedmont area of Georgia. The bush form is generally recommended as more of the fruit will be closer to ground level for easier picking.
Fig bushes grow satisfactorily in moderately fertile soils with limited fertilizer. But fertilizer is needed in soils of low fertility or where competition from other plants is heavy.
Although nitrogen is usually the only needed plant nutrient, other nutrients may be lacking in some areas. If your soil is not very fertile, follow these general guidelines:
Use a fertilizer with an analysis of 8-8-8 or 10-10-10. Apply fertilizer three times a year to bushes you are trying to bring into full production: early spring, mid-May, and mid-July. Mature bushes can be fertilized just once a year in the early spring.
Fertilize newly set bushes with about 1 and 1/2 ounces of fertilizer at each application. Spread the fertilizer evenly over a circle 18” in diameter with the bush in the center. On second-year bushes, increase the amount of fertilizer to 3 ounces at each application and the diameter of the circle to 24 inches.
On bushes three to five years old that you are trying to bring into full production, apply 1/3-pound per foot of bush height per application. If the fruit are not reaching maturity and ripening properly, excess fertilizer or drought may be the problem; fertilization should be reduced.
Mature bushes six years and older should be fertilized once a year in early spring. On bushes spaced 10 feet apart, apply 1/2-pound of fertilizer per foot of height, up to 5 pounds per year. On bushes spaced 20 feet apart, apply 1 pound of fertilizer per foot height, up to 10 pounds per year. Scatter the fertilizer evenly under and around the bush. A satisfactory amount of shoot growth for mature plants is about 1 foot per year.
For highest yields, figs need watering throughout the summer. The frequency and the amount of water depends to a large extent on the soil. As a rule of thumb, 1 to 1 and 1/2 inches of water per week from rain or irrigation is adequate. Yellowing and dropping of leaves may indicate drought.
Figs respond well to mulching with organic materials. Mulch helps the soil retain moisture during hot summer months and protects the roots from freeze damage during cold winter months.
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