The cultivation of the fig

The fig is a typical Mediterranean plant, which is found spontaneously in hot and arid areas, thanks to its remarkable ability to adapt. It even manages to exploit the little land between the cracks in the dry stone walls, where it is often seen developing to challenge the stones with its invasive and tenacious roots. This can make us understand that in the right climatic conditions it is a fruit tree that is easy to manage.

The fig is a fruit that ripens from summer to early autumn depending on the variety and usually has a very sweet flavor. It does not keep as it is for long, but fortunately, it is very suitable for drying and also transformed into excellent jams to be enjoyed all year round. Figs should be eaten in moderation because they are very sugary and a little laxative, but in the right doses they are particularly healthy because they contain vitamins and mineral salts such as potassium, iron, and calcium.

The fig belongs to the Moraceae family like the mulberry and therefore is not related to the other common fruit trees of the Rosaceae family. This plant, which can become very expanded, is easily cultivated with the organic method, because it is a rustic and very adaptable species that require little fertilization and little care, rarely getting sick.

Suitable climate and terrain

Climate. The fig is a typical species of the warm environments of the south, which it produces throughout the year if the temperature remains constantly above 15 ° C. However, it is found everywhere even in central and northern Italy, but in these environments during the winter it loses the leaves and receptacles from which the figs develop, remaining inert until spring. However, the plant is able to withstand even intense winter colds, especially if the wood is well lignified. This condition is obtained by avoiding nitrogen excesses in fertilization, limiting it to the reintegration of the organic substance with natural amendments such as compost or well-ripe manure. In cases of extreme colds, such as to kill the plant, new shoots can then be generated from the base which will later reconstitute it. The fig is also a typical species of coastal environments and resists saline winds very well.

Ideal terrain. The fig is a very adaptable species also towards different types of soil, as long as they are sufficiently drained, as it does not tolerate water stagnation.

How to plant a fig

The suitable period for fig transplantation is from autumn to the end of winter, excluding particularly cold days when the earth freezes. For each plant, a voluminous hole must be dug, approximately 60-70 cm deep, and of the same length and width. Basic fertilization is carried out by adding manure or ripe compost to the surface layers of earth, i.e. those included in the first 30 cm maximum depth.

The transplant. The plant is inserted straight into the hole, with the collar out of the soil surface. The loose earth is gently pressed and finally watered to encourage rooting. If the seedlings have bare roots before transplanting, it is possible to practice harnessing, or soaking the root system for at least a quarter of an hour in an aqueous solution containing manure, sand, and earth. This practice favors engraftment.

Cutting and rootstock. Unlike other fruit species, the fig is rarely grafted, usually when it is intended to change the variety. The plants to be transplanted are in fact generally reproduced by cuttings, a vegetative method that allows obtaining individuals with the same genetic characteristics of the mother plant from which the branch to be rooted was taken.

Pollination. The pollination of the fig is entomophilic, that is, it occurs thanks to the help of specific pollinating insects. However, the species is capable of producing fruits also by parthenocarpy, that is, without fertilization.

Planting layouts. Due to its ability to expand a lot in width and height, it is advisable to keep at least 6 meters between the individual fig plants, and the same distance in the mixed orchard must be respected between the fig plant and other species. The fig is also an excellent tree to insert in the garden, in this case, you must always keep the criterion of keeping 5/6 meters from the walls. trees or hedges.

Cultivation in detail

Irrigation. The fig, being an arid-resistant species, does not need much irrigation water. However, for small plants, in the first years after planting, it is advisable to provide emergency irrigation, especially during particularly dry summers. For adult plants in production, however, it would be good if it did not rain in abundance in the two weeks preceding the ripening of the fruits, this is to the advantage of their flavor and quality. In fact, a lot of water at this stage could cause them to rot.

Mulch. Even if it is a drought-resistant species, in the first years after planting the young fig seedlings could be affected by the water competition of spontaneous grass, so good mulching is always advantageous. It is, therefore, possible to distribute a circular layer of straw or mowed and withered grass around each plant or alternatively use plastic black sheets or biodegradable ones. These solutions are valid for stopping the growth of weeds and for keeping the soil moist longer.

Grow fig in pots

The fig, even if it has a root system that wants to expand as much as possible, is also grown in pots or in large planters. The size that the plant can reach in these conditions obviously depends on the land at its disposal, and therefore on the volume of the container. Of course, if it is grown in pots, it needs regular irrigation and greater amounts of compost or manure, but always without exceeding.

How and when to prune the fig

Plant shape. The most recommended form of cultivation for the fig is the vase with relatively low scaffolding (from about 50 to 80 cm from the ground), such as to allow a good lateral expansion of the plant and therefore collection from the ground without the need for stairs.

Pruning. The fig is an extremely simple tree to prune. In adult plants, such as pruning, we can limit ourselves to removing dry branches and thinning out the foliage if it is too thick. Over the years, the cuts may also have the purpose of limiting the development of the plant in height, but the important thing is to eliminate the branches entirely. In fact, shortening them makes no sense because the figs are produced at the apex of the branches, which must therefore be intact.

Diseases of the plant

The fig is a rather rustic species, it is hardly affected by fungal diseases, this makes it ideal as a plant to put in the garden when you are not very experienced and it is also an interesting fruit for the organic orchard. However, if the plant were to get sick we could help it to react by treating it with horsetail or dandelion macerates, both with a strengthening action. The use of copper green is allowed in organic farming but must be carefully evaluated based on the severity of the damage. It is in fact a metal that tends to accumulate in the soil and in the case of the fig which is quite resistant its use may be superfluous.

Rust of the fig tree. It is a fungal pathology recognizable by the yellow spots on the upper side of the leaves and the brown formations on the underside. The affected leaves fall early and the defoliated plant can produce little and with a certain delay.

Botrytis. The botrytis fungus attacks various plant species and during very humid springs it does not spare even the fig tree, causing a greyish patina on the leaves or young branches of this species.

Insects and parasites

The fig is traditionally not targeted by particular parasites, only occasionally by wasps, hornets, and scale insects. In recent years, however, among the various insects of distant origin that accidentally arrive by airplanes and ships and settle in our ranges, there is the black weevil that affects not only some ornamental species but also the fig.

The black awl. It is a new harmful species native to Southeast Asia and widespread above all in central and southern Italy, for now. The insect, black in color as the name suggests, has a rostrum, which is a stinging organ with which it is able to penetrate the wood at the collar of the plant and deposit its eggs. From the eggs hatch larvae that damage the bark and internal wood, eroding the internal lymphatic system. In severe cases, the weevil can cause the plant to wither. As if that were not enough, the larvae can also eat the fruits by emptying them completely and causing them to rot. Unfortunately, it is not easy to eradicate this insect, it is necessary that targeted research identifies the best natural enemies with which to set up biological control programs. In the meantime, when the first holes appear at the base of the plant, it is possible to disinfect with the Bordeaux mixture, based on copper and lime. The use of the entomopathogenic mushroom Beauveria Bassiana has provided encouraging results on some tests conducted in some research centers and in the organic orchard, it is, therefore, possible to try to use these products in view of an ecological phytosanitary defense.

Wasps and hornets. Wasps and hornets are attracted to the sugar content of figs and attack them near ripening. Tap Trap type traps are effective for mass trapping of these insects and also for catching the fruit fly, another polyphagous insect that can affect the fig tree.

Mealybugs. The mealybugs are recognized because they are small insects with a rigid and flat shield, which attach themselves to the twigs and leaves of the plant. The specific fig cochineal is white in color and usually appears in May. The scale insects can be removed by spraying the branches with fern macerates, which in that period is easily found in the undergrowth, or they can be killed with mineral oils allowed in organic farming, or bypassing the twigs with cotton soaked in alcohol.

Birds. In addition to insects, figs are naturally eaten by blackbirds, which are very fond of them. You can try to keep the birds away by means of strips of foil fixed so that they flutter in the branches.

Fruit picking

What we eat from the fig is actually a false fruit, since the real fruits are the achenes contained within the pulp, with the appearance of small seeds. Figs are distinguished in fioroni, those that ripen in early summer from the first flowers, and figs supplied, ripening late in summer. In fact, the fig is a remontant species, with varieties that produce only supplied figs, others that produce only fioroni and others that produce both.

From transplanting you have to wait 4 or 5 years to see the first figs, but then the plants can also produce for 40-50 years with productions ranging from 40 up to 100 kg per plant.

Variety of figs

In the various places of Italy, there are historical varieties typical of the cultivation environments, which should be sought for their adaptability to those local pedoclimatic situations. However, in the organic mixed orchard it is advisable to plant more varieties of figs, also chosen according to the different ripening periods, ranging from July to October.

Some varieties that adapt to environments throughout Italy are the Dottato, with a small fruit, green or black skin and late-ripening (September-October), and Verdeccio, always ripening in September; in central and southern Italy it is also possible to cultivate the Brogiotto Nero, with bluish skin and ripening between August and September, the San Pietro, always with a purplish skin. A fig with a slightly curious appearance and a very good flavor is the Panascè, because it is two-colored, with yellow and green striped skin. Ripens in late August. Finally, for northern Italy, we mention the Brianzolo fig, small, green-skinned, and ripe in September.

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