ripening figs on a tree
Updated: April 15, 2024

About figs

  • Figs (Ficus carica) make nice additions to Maryland landscapes. They can be pruned to a shrub or tree form, grown in containers or in-ground, are virtually pest-free, and can produce abundant crops when the proper cultivars are selected.
  • The common fig varieties grown in Maryland gardens are all seedless, producing their fruits parthenocarpically (without pollination or fertilization). The tiny pore, or “eye,” at the end of a fig that allows minuscule wasps to pollinate wild figs is not visited by pollinators in our region.
  • Sustained winter temperatures below 20℉ can injure or kill aboveground wood. Gardeners in warmer areas (Eastern Shore, Southern Maryland, and Baltimore City) have the least difficulty overwintering plants, while those in other areas should consider providing their plants with some winter protection.
  • Fruits form in the leaf axils (where leaves attach to the branch) on the current year’s wood. The fruits develop from the bottom up on a branch: first on the shoot base near the main stem and later towards the branch tip. Fig plants usually begin to bear fruit in the second or third year after planting.
Recommended Fig Cultivars 
Cultivar Comments
Brunswick Does well in containers. Ripens in July-Aug. Good for preserving.
Celeste Closed-eye (tiny opening that appears at the bottom of ripening fruits), pest- and disease-resistant. Heat-tolerant and cold-hardy. Well-flavored early-ripening cultivar.
Brown Turkey Widely adapted. Medium-size fruit with brown-purple skin and amber flesh.
Chicago Hardy Drought- and heat-tolerant. Excellent fruit; pulp resembles strawberry jam and is sweet and rich.
Marseilles White fig. Thomas Jefferson’s favorite. Fast-growing and cold-hardy.
Osborne Prolific Heavy yields. White to amber flesh, very sweet and fresh-tasting.

Planting and propagation

  • Figs need full sun (at least 8 hours of direct light in summer) and will grow well in a wide range of soil types. 
  • Space plants 8 feet apart in each direction. Plant size can be controlled through pruning.
  • Cut back the branch tips after planting to force lateral growth.

Although most nurseries usually take dormant cuttings from 1-3-year-old stems, new plants can also be propagated by gardeners.

  • In spring: Dig out root suckers (pieces of roots with new shoots attached) and transplant them to a new location. Or, bend and pin a pliable, low branch to the ground (known as “tip rooting” or “tip layering”). Roots and new top growth will form where the stem contacts the soil. The new plant (with roots) is then severed from the mother plant, dug out, and transplanted to its new location.
  • In mid- to late summer: Take 8 to 10-inch long stem cuttings from branch tips. Insert the bottom (basal) side into a container filled with a lightweight potting mix. Maintain high humidity by covering the cutting(s) with a plastic bag with slits for ventilation, water well, and keeping them indoors or outside in the shade. Tug gently on cuttings after 4 to 6 weeks to test for root establishment. Plant the new plants in the ground by mid-October, or leave them outside in their container in a protected area and plant them in the spring.


Fig Propagation | The Fig Boss

Tip Layering | NC State University

(Video) How to air layer a fig tree | Cornell University

Rooting Dormant Hardwood Fig Cuttings | One Green World Nursery

Growing figs in containers

Keeping figs in pots allows you to save garden space and to move the plants into a more sheltered location for the winter. The root restriction resulting from this type of culture may also improve yields and reduce the days to harvest.

  • The container should be a minimum of 15 gallons in volume. Larger containers will allow plants to grow larger and produce more fruit, but they are heavy and more difficult to move.
  • Fabric bags help control root growth by air pruning small roots that begin to grow through the bag. Plants grown in other types of containers need to be removed and root-pruned if roots are circling the container. 
  • Most cultivars will perform well in containers. ‘Petite Negri’ is a genetic dwarf that grows to 4-6 ft. in height making it particularly well-suited for containers.
  • Where possible, support containers a couple inches off the ground if they are placed on top of soil instead of a hard surface. Otherwise, roots can grow through the drainage holes into the ground, preventing containers from being moved.
  • Wheeled casters on the containers greatly increase convenience for moving pots into a garage or another cool but insulated location for the winter. Above-ground roots are more vulnerable to cold snaps and winter damage.
  • Fill the container with a 50:50 mix of compost and a soilless growing medium. Fertilize container-grown figs once per month in May, June, and July.
  • Keep fig containers in full sun and water regularly, especially after fruits start to form. The soil can become somewhat dry to the touch a few inches below the surface before watering will be needed. Do not keep the potting mix constantly wet.
  • After fig leaves drop in the fall, remove suckers, prune back long branches, and move containers to a protected area and surround them with insulating material like bags of leaves or mulch.

Plant care

Confining or pruning the root system can invigorate the plant and hasten the harvest. Do not cultivate the soil in the fig’s root zone because much of the extensive root system is directly beneath the soil surface.

Overwintering plants

Although our winters are generally getting warmer, we can still experience extended periods of severe cold. Unprotected fig plants, excluding root systems, are often injured by sustained temperatures below 20°F. When this occurs, new shoots will sprout from the roots, but are rarely capable of producing mature fruits that same season. If winter injury to the main stems is minimal to moderate, the plant will produce a modest crop the following summer. If injury is severe, the plant may require two growing seasons to return to normal production.

Multi-stem fig bushes are easier to protect than large, single-stem (tree-form) figs. Techniques  for winter protection include:

  • Cutting main stems back to a 4 to 5 foot height.
  • Pinning pliable branches to the ground and covering them with burlap, old blankets, or tarps.
  • Surrounding main stems with piles of bagged leaves to add insulation.
  • Encircling the plant with wire fencing and filling the enclosure in with leaves or straw. The main stems can be covered with a plastic tarp to shed rain, sleet, and snow.

Insulating materials around fig bushes can create attractive winter homes for voles. They feed on the tender bark, which could reduce plant vigor and fig production the following year.

Assessing winter injury

Take a razor blade or sharp knife and lightly shave off the bark on several stems to see if the plant tissue below is green. If so, you should get plenty of fruits that will be produced on shoots emerging from the stems that successfully overwintered. Winter-killed branches will have no green tissue under the bark and can be pruned off in early spring.


Fig plants have extensive, strong root systems. Transplant in the fall as soon as the leaves drop off. This will give the plant time to reestablish some roots before freezing weather. You only need a small part of the root system attached to a single stem to start a new plant.

Training and pruning

Gardeners tend to prefer a shrub form (multiple shoots growing from the roots) rather than a tree (single trunk) form. Mature plants usually have 3 to 8 main stems.

  • In March or April, prune out root suckers plus all dead, crowded, low-growing laterals, as well as weak wood.
  • Consider wearing gloves to avoid skin irritation from contact with the milky, latex plant sap.
  • Reduce the length of branches and pinch the terminal buds of first-year shoots in late spring to force laterals which will increase total fig production.
  • Prune to keep the center of the canopy open for maximum sunlight penetration and to maintain the desired plant size for the space available.

Root pruning 

Root growth can sometimes be excessive in fertile soils high in organic matter. These nutrient-rich conditions can delay and reduce fruiting because the plant directs these resources into leafy growth instead.

In situations where healthy fig plants are not fruiting heavily, the roots can be pruned to shock the plant into producing figs and ripening them earlier. In March or April, push a spade into the ground about 2 feet from the closest main stem. Remove the spade, move it over 1 foot, and repeat around the plant perimeter to create a dashed line of severed roots.


Figs may produce one or two crops per year. The main harvest on all cultivars typically ripens from August through the first frost and forms on the current year’s wood. Some cultivars also produce an earlier breba (“brayba”) crop that forms on last year’s wood. These figs are lower-quality, and the yield of the breba crop is dependent on the cultivar, pruning severity, and growing conditions.

  • Figs typically ripen from mid-August through frost in Maryland.
  • Unripe, green fruits will not ripen once picked. Fruits that have begun to color and soften will continue to soften and sweeten on the kitchen counter in response to ethylene produced by the figs.
  • Since figs are fragile and enjoyed by birds and squirrels, it's a good idea to pick fully-ripened and mostly-ripened fruits regularly.
  • A larger-than-normal breba crop in June-July reduces the plant’s ability to develop a good-quality main crop later that season. Removing these early figs as soon as they form (well before they ripen) will help ensure a larger main crop.
  • Figs should not be refrigerated but can be frozen.

Plant and pest problems


Fig plants have few insect pests and diseases. Birds and squirrels may need to be excluded with fine polyethylene netting that will not entangle birds and snakes like the larger holes in nylon netting.

  • Spotted lanternflies have been observed on fig plants, but they are either not feeding or are feeding so minimally that they do not cause any observable injury.
  • Brown spots and discolored areas on leaf surfaces at the end of the season are usually caused by the slow, natural death of leaves (senescence).

Harvest failures

Figs require patience, as it can take up to two months from the beginning of fruit formation to full ripeness. If figs don’t develop or ripen before the end of the season:

  • Main stems may have been killed by cold weather. Fruits produced on new shoots that emerged from roots in the spring won’t have time to ripen.
  • Some fig cultivars are not tolerant of our climate.
  • Growing conditions are stressing the plant, such as excessive fertilizer, extreme heat and drought, inadequate sunlight (less than 8 hours of full sun), a short growing season, and crowded branches.

Plant Disease Handbook: Fig | Texas A&M

Jon Traunfeld Interview About Growing Figs: GardenDC Podcast Episode 166

Author: Jon Traunfeld, Extension Specialist. Reviewed by Miri Talabac, Lead Horticulture Consultant. 4/2024

Still have a question? Contact us at Ask Extension.