When it comes to growing fruits in the tropics, mangoes, bananas, papayas tend to come to mind. But what about Figs? Did you know that they are native throughout the tropics into temperate zones?
Successfully growing figs in the tropics largely depends on climatic conditions and the variety of fig that you plant. Some form of pest control is also essential in tropical areas due to the many insect pests and birds that want to attack the fruit.
Let’s dive deeper into what it takes to grow figs in the tropics and find out if you have what it takes to grow this delicious fruit!
Where Do Fig Trees Like to Grow in the Tropics?
Being that there are varieties of figs native throughout the tropics and into temperate zones, it’s little wonder that figs can grow almost anywhere. They do like a few factors to be in their favor in order to thrive though.
If there was an optimal zone for figs, it would be in the higher elevations on the leeward sides of the islands. Here the weather tends to be dry with periodic rainfall. It is really important for the soil to get a chance to dry out between waterings in order for a fig to thrive.
That doesn’t mean that a fig tree can’t be grown on the windward side of the islands too. I know of many growers in East Hawai’i where we get 100”+ of rain per year that is successfully growing figs, albeit with a little more care than I feel figs are worth. But Hey! If you love figs, why not?
I haven’t been too impressed by the taste of the figs that were grown in the wetter parts of our island, but ones that have come from the dry side have tasted amazing! And I am not a fig lover.
Best Variety of Fig Tree for the Tropics
Figs have coevolved with a species of wasp, known as the fig wasp, which is typically specialized to a particular species of fig. While 60 varieties of figs have been imported to Hawai’i only four species of fig wasp have been introduced.
It would be important for you to do your homework on the best local variety of fig for your area. Make sure you choose the right one. For our purpose, we will cover the best species of fig for Hawai’i.
BROWN TURKEY (Ficus carica ‘Brown Turkey”) – Sweet fruits with purple skin and pink flesh, Brown Turkey Figs grow best in zones 7-11. These figs can grow almost anywhere in Hawai’i except for the wettest of conditions. Many growers can get two harvests per year out of their figs, one in the spring and one in the fall.
KADOTA (Ficus carica ‘Kadota’) – A reliable fall harvest produce sweet greenish yellow fruit with pink middle. These figs do well all over Hawai’i, even the wet side. Be sure to wait long enough to let the fruit ripen to get the full experience of these tasty figs, just don’t let the birds get to them first.
EXCEL (Ficus carica ‘Excel’) – Sweet, large yellow/greenish fig with high sugar content. This fig is very sweet. The Excel Fig is self fruiting and ripens well on the tree with minimal cracking. Does best on the leeward side of the islands from 500’ to 4000’.
How to Propagate Fig Trees
Lucky for us, Fig trees are super easy to propagate. You can choose to propagate figs by seed, but you run the risk of the fig being a male plant, which produces little to no fruit. It’s the females we want, so unless you are looking to breed them, its best to go ahead and propagate figs by cutting.
After fruit has set in the fall, you can take a 6” long hardwood cutting and stick it into a well draining pot or directly in the ground. Make sure it is kept in the shade and watered regularly until roots develop (3-6 months), then cut back the water and slowly bring the cutting into the sun.
You can also accomplish this by taking softwood cuttings in the spring. Softwood is younger green wood that requires constant moisture in order to succeed. Most growers propagate softwood cuttings in a humid, greenhouse-like environment with automatic misting. Roots should begin to develop within 3-4 weeks.
How To Deal With Pests on Fig Trees
Pests are known to plague figs but keep in mind, not all insects found on figs are pests. The fig has a symbiotic relationship with fig wasps. Without them, you get no fruit. Be sure not to kill them in your attempt to keep your fig free from other insect pests.
Fruit flies are known to love figs. Many growers choose to protect their fruit by bagging the figs, cutting off access to fruit flies. One grower told me they use Organza Bags to cover their figs, which is a pretty good deal and very effective.
By bagging your figs as opposed to growing the trees in a fully protected environment, you can still allow for the fig wasp to pollinate the flowers of the fig tree.
Another issue seems to be root nematodes. Many growers choose to grow figs in pots to avoid this problem. You can have your soil tested to see if root nematodes are present. If you do have root nematodes, find a different spot, plant in a pot, or you can fumigate the soil.
I’d prefer to just grow something else in that spot so I wouldn’t have to worry about it. Figs will lose almost every time to root nematodes.
One last pest that you really must be on the lookout for is birds. They are the worst. One day your fruit is just about ready to harvest. The next day they are all gone. Many growers prevent this by wrapping their trees in bird netting. The bags used to protect from fruit flies can also keep birds away.
What is the Best Fertilizer for Fig Trees?
I am a firm believer that a healthy plant starts with healthy soil. A regular addition of compost and mulch can go a long way, but sometimes you need added fertility. Once you begin to see leaves start to yellow is when you would want to consider adding some fertility, as long as it’s not going yellow because it is going dormant.
Fertilize the trees in the spring as new growth begins to emerge and continue to apply a light fertilizer once a month until fruit set. At this point, a little addition of a fertilizer high in potassium can help increase sweetness in the fig.
When using fertilzers, granular fertilizers work best in the wetter zones, liquid fertilizer in the dry zones. Even better would be the addition of IMO’s, which are made popular within Korean Natural Farming.
How to Prune Figs for Optimum Fruit Growth
Fruit tends to set on first-year wood, so it is healthy for a fig’s fruit production to experience regular pruning. Keeping the tree well pruned allows for easier harvested fruit as well as less likelihood of damage by birds because they do not like getting too low when feeding off a fig tree.
Once a branch has produced a fig, it is best to prune that branch to encourage more fruit production for next time.
Some people grow figs as a single trunk tree, others as a low growing, branchy shrub. The choice is up to you.
Time to Get Growing
Are you excited to try out growing figs in Hawai’i? Many people will try and talk you out of it, but they just don’t know the truth yet. Figs do grow well in the tropics, almost anywhere in fact.
Choose the right variety, give your plants some care and you should be enjoying that rich, syrupy nectar in no time.
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