Photo: Oxmoor House
SEASON: Summer and fall. Some figs will have two crops a year in warm climates.
CHOOSING: Figs don’t ripen once picked, so buy them when they’re soft and sweet. That also means that they don’t ship well, so stick with local figs for the best flavor. The ideal fig is one that has a bend at the stem, showing that it curled downward on the tree from its own weight. It may even have a split or two, but no mold.
STORING: Figs are highly perishable, so eat them soon after you purchase or pick. To store them, place ripe figs in a produce bag in your vegetable bin. They will remain in good condition for two to five days, depending on the variety—the darker figs will last longer than the green ones.
GROWING: Figs are the ideal home-garden fruit. The plant, which grows into a large shrub or small tree that drops its leaves in winter, loves mild winters and warm summers. Black Mission figs are a California favorite but won’t work as well elsewhere. Instead, try Alma, Brown Turkey, Celeste, Conadria, Green Ischia, Petite Negri, or White Marseille. In areas where temperatures dip into the single digits, Celeste, Conadria, and Chicago Hardy are good options.
When planting, choose a location on the south or west side of a building that will be sheltered from cold and not exposed to morning sun, which can be damaging when the plant is frozen. Even if the tree is killed to the ground in a hard winter, it will usually grow back from the roots. Cover it with a blanket of mulch to provide some protection.
Like most fruiting plants, figs need full sun, well-drained soil, regular water, and fertilizer. Pruning can help make tall plants more manageable and make the fruit easier to pick. Figs are also popular as espalier forms, graceful structures against a garden wall. The fruit ripens over several weeks, so make daily pickings part of your routine in season. Figs will soften as they ripen and begin to droop on the plant. Gently lift each ripe fruit, and it will separate from the stem without tearing.