Growing Edible Figs in Pots
Growing edible fig trees – it’s the ultimate challenge for many Northern gardeners. We’re not talking about the popular African fiddle leaf figs (Ficus lyrate) rather the Mediterranean ones (Ficus carica) that produce highly sought-after, tasty brown fruits. The problem is most fig trees are not hardy in our northern climate, so fig growers have to bury them or wrap them in burlap stuffed with leaves for the winter months. Now, thanks to the introduction of a new dwarf variety called ‘Fignomenal,’ fig growers have an easier option for growing and harvesting their own beloved fruits.
We recently chatted with our friend Lloyd Traven -- the man behind ‘Fignomenal.’ Jared has known Lloyd for years, even longer than he’s known Liz. Lloyd and his wife Candy own Peace Tree Farm, a wholesale greenhouse near Philadelphia where they grow many cool herbs and unusual edible plants that we love. We asked Lloyd all about his passion for fig trees especially ‘Fignomenal.’
GPR: How did you get started growing figs?
Lloyd: We’ve been in the business growing herbs and edible plants for 40 years. I love figs, so I started to grow them. I tried the hardiest – Black Mission, Brown Turkey and even Chicago Hardy. I eventually started selling them at the farmer’s market, and talked many Italian customers from South Philly into buying them. I continued to sell more and more – even 100s between the market and our wholesale customers.
GPR: How did ‘Fignomenal’ come about?
Lloyd: I started learning fig varieties and eliminating ones that weren’t remotely hardy like the wonderful, tropical ones that are so ridiculous to grow. I was working with a group of Chicago Hardy figs when I noticed a branch on one looked really different. It was dense, almost stunted -- like what we call a “witch’s broom” on pine trees and propagate as dwarf cultivars. Low and behold, this branch was covered with little figs. We propagated it and propagated it some more. And, it’s the dwarfest fig I’ve ever seen. At three years, it is covered in figs – dozens that ripen in the north. Still, it is only 28 inches tall and 30 inches across. By April, fruits started to appear, and by July, we were eating them. We knew it was really something special, so we named it ‘Fignomenal’ – a twist on our ‘Phenomenal’ lavender cultivar. In 2020, we unveiled it at Cultivate, the big industry trade show, and it won the Retail Choice Award.
GPR: Do you have any tips for growing ‘Fignomenal’ figs?
Lloyd: These figs are pretty easy. Plant them in potting soil in a 24” container (with a drainage hole). Keep the soil evenly moist but not bone dry. If extremely dry or soaked, they will drop leaves. They take full sun and like hot temperatures. Just morning sun is not enough. They should be fertilized but not crazy. Grow them outdoors until fall when all the leaves have dropped – often around Thanksgiving. Store them dormant in a garage or basement for the winter. They don’t need light and only need water once or twice. By mid-April, move them back outdoors and begin to water them. They will start to green up and sprout new leaves. If the temperatures drop, the tree is small enough you can it move to the garage or cover it for protection.
How do you know when the figs are ready to harvest?
Lloyd: Figs come in different colors – white, green, purple, maroon and ruby -- so it depends on the type of fig. Often the name, like ‘Little Ruby,’ gives it away. So first, watch for the figs to turn the desired color. Also, gently feel the fruit to see if it has some give then you know it’s close to being ready. Another sign is if the fruits start to slump as they hang on the tree. For Sicilian varieties, look at the bottom, and watch for a drop of honey dew to know it’s ripe. For ‘Fignomenal,’ the fruits first appear as green then turn brown as they ripen.
What are your favorite ways to enjoy figs?
Lloyd: For me, I cut them into quarters – the perfect size for a salad or to top a pizza. I also cut them in half and broil with some blue cheese and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. And of course, I love to just pick them off the tree and eat them fresh.
*Photos courtesy of Peace Tree Farm