Originally native to western Asia, eastern Mediterranean, Ficus carica is grown for edible fruit; for ornamental relatives, see Ficus. Grows fairly fast to 15–30 ft. tall; generally low branched, spreading at least as wide as high. Where hard freezes (below 10– to 15–F/–12– to –9–C) are common, fig wood freezes back severely and plants act like big shrubs. Can be held to 10 ft. in a large container; can also be trained as espalier along fence or wall.
Heavy, smooth, gray trunks are gnarled in really old trees, picturesque in silhouette. Rough bright green leaves with three to five lobes are 4–9 in. long and nearly as wide. Casts a dense shade. Winter framework, tropical-looking foliage, strong trunk and branch pattern make fig a top-notch ornamental tree, especially near patio where it can be illuminated from beneath. But fruit drop can be a problem immediately above a deck or paving; overripe fruit is messy, and draws yellow-jackets. Protect container plants in winter.
Not particular about soil. In the colder part of its range, trees planted near south walls or trained against them benefit from reflected heat. Cut back tops hard at planting. As tree grows, prune lightly each winter, cutting out dead wood, crossing branches, and low hanging branches that interfere with traffic. Pinch back runaway shoots in any season. Avoid deep cultivation (which may damage surface roots) and high-nitrogen fertilizers (which stimulate leafy growth at the expense of fruit). Gophers love fig roots; if they or other burrowing animals are a problem in your garden, plant fig trees in ample wire baskets. Ripe fruit may need protection from birds.
Home-garden figs do not need pollinating, and most varieties bear two crops a year. The first comes in early summer on last year–s wood; the second, more important one comes in late summer or early fall from the current year–s growth. When figs are ripe, they detach easily when lifted and bent back toward the branch. Keep fruit picked as it ripens; protect from birds if you can. In late fall, pick off any remaining ripe figs and clean up fallen fruit.
Varieties differ in climate adaptability. Most need prolonged high temperatures to bear good fruit, while some thrive in cooler conditions.