A mediterranean favorite the fig tree is a versatile plant that happily grows indoors. With the right care you’ll be able to cultivate a healthy tree and enjoy lots of nutrient rich, home grown figs.
Growing indoors also means that you don’t have to worry about the climate or USDA zones. Your home is the perfect environment for a fig tree to thrive in. This guide will tell you everything you need to know about growing your own fig tree.
Indoor fig Tree Varieties
Obviously, if you’re growing a fig tree inside there are certain considerations you’ll need to take into account. Most importantly, you’ll need a location with enough space. When grown outside, fig trees can reach over 18 feet. Regular pruning restricts this growth habit as does growing the tree in a small or medium sized pot.
Varieties such as Negro Largo, Black Jack, Violet De Bordeaux, Osborn Pacific, and Petit Negri are all suitable for growing indoors. If space really is an issue, try a dwarf variety such as Little Ruby. Most small and dwarf fig trees are suitable for growing indoors.
Selecting a self-pollinating variety means that you don’t have to attempt manual pollination. It also means that you only need one tree not two.
Finally, if you want to harvest and eat the figs, remember to select a fruit-bearing variety, not an ornamental tree.
Starting Your fig Tree
There are a few ways to start cultivating your own fig tree. You can either grow from seed, take a cutting, or purchase a young tree.
Growing From Seed
While easy, this method has a number of disadvantages. The primary one being that you won’t know whether your tree is a male—which produces inedible fruit—or a female, until it’s fully grown. A fig tree can take between 2-6 years to mature and begin bearing fruit, so that’s a lot of time to invest in a “maybe”.
Before planting fig seeds, soak them in a bowl of water for 2 days. Viable seeds will sink to the bottom. Floating seeds are barren and should be discarded.
Place viable seeds in a small container, half filled with fresh soil. Sprinkle a thin layer of soil on top and water in well. With the lid loosely on, place the container in a warm, light spot. The seeds should sprout after about a month. When the roots are an inch long, transfer to a pot.
Growing a Tree From a Cutting
Taking a cutting from an already mature, female fig tree is a far safer option than growing from seed. You know that this will produce fruit when mature. However, like growing from seed, it takes a number of years for the tree to mature and bear fruit.
Place your cutting in a sealable plastic bag that is half filled with water. The bottom part of the twig should be covered. Place the bag in a warm location that receives lots of daylight. Don’t seal the bag completely: allow a corner to remain open so some air can get in. After 2 weeks roots will emerge. When the roots are half an inch long, transplant into a pot.
Purchasing Fig Trees
If you don’t have access to a fig tree, or don’t want to wait, you can buy a young sapling. These are often sold close to maturity, meaning that you won’t have to wait too long for fruit to emerge.
Caring for fig Trees
Fig trees are relatively easy to grow so long as you place them in the correct situation.
A 5 gallon pot, roughly 18 inches in diameter, is large enough for an indoor fig tree. This gives the tree room to establish itself. However there won’t be so much room that the plant wastes energy spreading its roots. Instead this energy is transferred to fruit production.
Before planting, make sure that there are drainage holes in the bottom of the container.
Organic potting mixes provide a healthy blend of nutrients that will suit a fig tree.
If you want to mix your own soil, aim for a loamy mix, rich in well-rotted manure. A mix that is 1 part sand, 1 part ground bark and 1 part peat moss will provide a rich and well draining home for your tree.
Once the tree is planted add a layer of compost to the top of the soil.
Fig trees like to receive 6 hours of indirect light every day. Placing the tree in a south facing window or conservatory is ideal. The more light your fig tree receives the more fruit it will produce.
If your tree doesn’t get enough light, the leaves may yellow or drop. In the darker winter months, use an artificial light to boost the light levels that the plant receives. You don’t need to purchase an expensive grow lamp: a normal standard lamp will do the job just fine.
Water and Fertilizer
How frequently you water a fig tree depends on how warm the climate is. In warmer areas you’ll need to water more often than in cooler places—possibly daily. Aim to keep the soil damp. If your tree doesn’t receive enough water, its leaves may turn yellow and fall. It also may not produce fruit.
Apply a slow-release granular, or liquid, organic fertilizer in the spring, just as new growth emerges. You can apply the fertilizer again in the middle of summer. Don’t apply much more than this. Overfeeding can cause excess leaf growth at the expense of fruit production.
Once the fruit is set, cease feeding and allow the figs to ripen.
The majority of fig trees thrive if the temperature doesn’t drop below 50-54F. Most household temperatures rarely fall below this, so fig trees are ideal for indoor cultivation. Unless your climate is humid, the tree will benefit from regular misting during the summer months.
Regularly prune your fig tree to ensure that it doesn’t overgrow its position. The best time to prune is during the fall or winter months when the plant has gone dormant.
Prune the fig tree by cutting the stem at the top down. This prevents the tree from trying to grow through your ceiling. You should also remove any old branches, as these produce less fruit than younger branches. Removing old branches also encourages more fresh growth.
Pruning away all but 3 or 4 branches may seem drastic, but come spring the fig tree will rapidly produce lots of fresh, healthy growth.
Finally, remove any suckers that are protruding from the soil.
The most common problem encountered when growing fig trees indoors is a failure to fruit. There are a couple of potential causes for this. Firstly, the tree may not be receiving enough water. During extremely hot periods you may need to water the tree twice a day.
Applying a fertilizer that is too high in nitrogen can also discourage fruit production. Instead the tree produces lots of lush, green growth. This can be countered by adding phosphorus to the soil.
As long as they are properly cared for, fig trees—especially those growing indoors—rarely suffer from pests and diseases. However there are a few potential issues you’ll need to be aware of.
This fungus first appears as brown spotting on the plant’s foliage. Left untreated, fig rust causes leaves to yellow and drop. It’s often caused by overly humid conditions. To prevent fig rust water only the soil, not the leaves of the tree. Should rust emerge, treat it with a copper sulfate and lime fungicide. Prune away any infected areas.
This disease afflicts both the fruit and foliage of the plant. Anthracnose first appears as small, sunken or discolored areas on the fruit. Eventually the fruit rots and falls. It can also turn leaves gray, or cause pink spores to appear.
Treat anthracnose by pruning away any infected parts as quickly as possible. Prompt action prevents the spread, and hopefully saves the rest of the tree.
A number of plants seem to benefit from being grown close to fig trees. The herb rue originates from the same area as fig trees, and they’ve grown together naturally for years. Rue deters pests such as fruit flies or aphids from attacking fig trees.
Comfrey, if planted in the same soil, releases many beneficial nutrients. It also attracts beneficial insects once it flowers.
Like comfrey, mint attracts beneficial insects such as ladybugs, and hoverflies. Mint also keeps more harmful insects away. Grow mint in a container, its invasive growth habit can make it difficult to control.
Alpine Strawberries lover the dappled shade that fig leaves provide. In return they provide ground cover, detering weeds and harmful bugs as well as helping the soil retain nutrients and water. They will also happily grow in containers.
Marigolds are a reliable companion plant, attracting beneficial insects while deterring pests and diseases.
Plants to Avoid
Figs will grow happily with most other plants, and some people recommend combining them with rhododendrons. However, in the UK the expansive growth habit of the rhododendron means that they are considered an invasive species. The chemicals the plants emit can also inhibit the growth of neighboring plants.
Harvesting fig Trees
Only harvest ripe figs. As figs ripen, they change in color from green to brown or purple. Fully ripe figs will hang invitingly down. If you are unsure, feel them. Unripe fruit is firm, while ripe figs are softer. To harvest, simply pluck them gently from the tree.
Storing Fresh Figs
Fresh figs may last only a couple of days if left in a bowl. To extend their lifespan, place them in a sealable plastic bag in your fridge. This will keep them fresh for a month.
Freezing allows you to store figs for an extended period. To freeze the fruit, dry them carefully with a paper towel, being careful not to damage them. Place the dried figs on a tray lined with baking paper, not touching. Freeze them for 2-4 hours. Once they’re fully frozen, place them in a sealable bag and store in the freezer.