Yes Figs Grow Around Fort Smith!


Work closely with the River Valley Master Gardeners on a five-to-ten year Fig growing trial to determine what varieties are suitable for our climate gardening zone. We are seeking information on local Fig trees which have survived multiple years either with or without winter protection.

Document and show as many growing Fig trees in our area as possible so people will know what varieties to choose from when they search about Figs and possibly want to grow them, in and around Fort Smith.

Most people think about California or perhaps farther South and into Florida when growing Figs comes to mind but in truth, we can grow just about any variety of Fig as can be grown anywhere, depending on how much effort we want to put into it, to ensure survival of the tree(s).

There are many varieties of Fig, some considered more "cold hardy" than others and so, more suitable to growing here if we simply want to plant them out in the yard as we might any other fruit tree suitable for our climate, while others will require protection of some sort during our cold winters that will kill most fig varieties.

Ok Charlie, what Fig varieties can I grow in and around Fort Smith? If it is listed in the right column blog archive below, then it is a good variety choice. More will be continually added as they are found locally or resulting from the Learning Fields at Chaffee Crossing Fig Trial.

We can grow even the pickiest of Fig if we want to have them in containers we can move into a garage or other suitable enclosure during the winter to protect them from killing temperatures and others may suffice in a greenhouse but these are not really the ones we want to focus on in this blog. Most people simply want to plant a tree and not go to a whole lot of effort.

It is advised that any Fig variety grown here be given some protection during Winter while young and until they are well established with woody bark. Even then there are no guarantees they will survive. Our purpose here is to help you decide which are the best choices according to known survivors in our area.

Variety topics are always in the Blog Archive.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Pruning Fig Trees Around Fort Smith

Rather than re-invent the wheel, so to speak and make a long, repetitive post on how one should prune Fig trees, we would rather refer you to Google and the numerous photo's and pruning tutorials by simply typing "Prune Fig Tree" into the search bar.

What we will do is make some local observations of Fig trees in and around Fort Smith and write why we think you should prune your Fig tree(s) and add to it some degree of Winter protection.

I see them all the time.  Short, stubby Fig bushes that undoubtedly die back to the ground every year and end up with numerous unripe figs at the end of the year.  If the owners do get any ripe figs from them, they are probably of much lesser sweetness and quality than those figs which ripen at the proper time, in the heat of the Summer and early Fall.

To quote a local Fig tree owner when asked if he got to try any ripe figs this year; 

"These aren't very sweet.  I didn't care for them at all"

That was the new owner of the Unknown Lake Spur Fig we have written about previously.  The old mother tree was burned to the ground and re-grew as a bush form from the roots and put on late figs that ripened too late to be any good.  Others have compared this same variety with Ischia Green and JH Adriatic, far as flavor and it ranked right up there with them.

So what's wrong with bush form figs?  Nothing really, providing they are pruned and Winter protected.  Pruning to five or six main trunks on a bush form is much better than say twelve or more trunks that crowd each other out.

Adding Winter protection of some sort to ensure at the very least, the main trunk(s) survive, makes it so the tree does not have to start over from the ground every year, which leads to late forming and late ripening figs, if they ripen at all. 

Pruning will open up space between the limbs, providing aeration and sunlight to the figs, making for a much better fruit quality, taste and size.  Also makes it easier to bind up the limbs come Winter time for wrapping or making a wire cage to fill with leaves or wood chips for insulation.

Getting a Fig tree should be a rewarding experience, yet I know there are countless, disappointed people who think they just can't get a fig tree to make figs!  Prune that bush!  Protect it over Winter and it will reward you in due season.

Now for tree form figs.  These are those which have been pruned early on and/or trained properly to have a main trunk or a few mains.  They usually come up a few feet and branch off to a few main branches which are then pruned back to every year so that new, fruit bearing limbs grow long and healthy, providing bumper crops of figs every season and usually within reach of the owner to easily pick without a very high stepladder.  Nothing particularly wrong with huge fig trees, we're just saying they would produce more, better figs and be easier to harvest and maintain with pruning.

Here is a photo of the Hardy Chicago Fig, owned by the owners of The Squash Blossom Store in Dora, after it's yearly pruning.

This tree is 15 - 20 years old and is considered too tall for some but lets look in detail at the pruning concept behind it.  This year, it has been pruned back to leaving two nodes on limbs of this year's growth.  Next year there will be multiple new limbs grow from every one of those "stubs" as well as random limbs from elsewhere on the tree and they will all put on figs.  It's clear to see it has not been done in this manner all of it's life but has some good main supporting limbs coming off a stout main trunk, nearly the diameter of a five gallon pail.

Some varieties of Fig make two crops each year.  The first, early crop is known as "Breba".  Breba figs form on last year's wood and ripen in early Summer.  The later crop is known as "Main Crop" and will be forming new figlets as the Breba crop is ripening. Main Crop figs usually begin to ripen in the Fort Smith area in August and some varieties continue to ripen Main Crop well into lat Fall, until it gets so cold the figs are of much less sweetness and quality. 

If your particular fig variety is such that makes Breba figs then some year old wood may be desirable if it is a good Breba producer.  Some do not care for Breba figs and prune for new limb production to maximize Main Crop figs.

The Fig forums listed in the right column links contain a lot of information on fig types and pruning techniques, plus a lot of friendly helpful folks who love to answer questions or will gladly guide you to pertinent information.

As for us, we offer free fig tree pruning in and around Fort Smith.  We get the limbs in return and may return some of them back to the owner of the mother tree as rooted cuttings if that is their desire.  Use the contact form in the right column to send us a message if you wish to acquire this service. 

Starting a Fig Orchard

Since the Southwest Times Record article, we have been blessed beyond expectation in new fig friends and their trees.  Today begins a new chapter of Figs Fort Smith.  We're going to plant a fig orchard!  

So, John at the Squash Blossom Store in Dora has this huge Hardy Chicago Fig tree we wrote about previously and agreed to let us have all the limbs. We agreed to return a portion of them back to him as rooted cuttings to do with as he will.

Hardy Chicago is a beautiful, cold hardy fig variety and delicious.  It's listed among those figs in the "Berry" category and is a favorite of ours and many other fig enthusiasts.  See how it's just dripping full with fig nectar! 

The tree during early Fall, 2015.

After pruning.  We pruned every limb from two nodes above the previous main limbs.  The five gallon pail gives good size reference to the tree's trunk.  It is situated on the East side of this home so is shaded after noon and has still done fairly well.  Figs usually do best when given full sun.

One hour's worth of pruning, limbs loaded in car and headed home for the real fun of cleaning, cutting and wax sealing the ends and side cuts.

We use a fry daddy, loaded with food grade cheese wax and temperature set at 225 - 250 F.  All the ends are dipped and side cuts are daubed with the handy wax dauber that hangs on the edge of the pot.  Wax and wax daubers are commonly used to seal mushroom log ends and we got both at Field & Forest Products.

Five hours later, we have three, 5 gallon pails of cuttings, sealed and sorted by sizes, small, medium and large.

Our personal "best growing" figs this past year were Unknown Lake Spur that cuttings were buried horizontally under a few inches of wood chips/leaf compost last Winter and sprouted in Spring.  We left them to nature and they showed us what nature can do, other than helping them along with a generous piling on of composted rabbit and sheep manure.

That is somewhat the same plan we have for these and other fig varieties as they are acquired.  Some will be buried horizontally and some will go into Root Pouch grow bags filled with the same compost as last year and then completely covered with it until Spring, when we will update this post as the green shoots appear. :)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Garage Protecting Delicate Fig Varieties In Winter

As stated in previous posts, it is necessary to protect most all fig varieties in our area in Winter, until they harden and develop a thick, woody bark.  Even then, some varieties may die to the ground or die completely during extreme cold.

We have shown a method of winterizing fig trees outdoors by surrounding with a wire cylinder, filling it with dry material such as wood chips, leaves, straw, etc., and covering the top to keep it dry.

In the blog header, I wrote it was not the main purpose of this blog to focus on other varieties that would not normally be planted in our area.  The ones requiring drastic measures to ensure their survival. Well, here is a post about them.  Many are so tasty and if one is bitten by the Fig collector variety bug as I am, at times to my sorrow, one just can't get enough and will go to extremes to at least try and ensure their survival.

Last night was our first major cold snap of the season.  The bank clock in town showed the morning temperature to be 21 F.  I'm not sure it was really that cold but not far off.  So yesterday it was a mad dash to get all the figs into the garage.  A task I was not looking forward to and had been putting off getting ready for too long.

Here's the last photo's of the Fig trees before cold weather set in.

Here they are now, some of the seventy-five Fig trees of various sizes and varieties and four cold hardy Pomegranates, all placed into the garage for winter.

All the ones in the styrofoam cups are successful air layers done back in August and will be either traded, gifted or re-potted very soon so they won't dry out too quickly.  The rest are either second year varieties we started with in 2014 or those that survived from rooting indoors last Winter and set out in the Spring. 

Their pots were buried into the wood chip compost to keep the early Summer sun from overheating the black, one-gallon pots and they all sent out roots through the drain holes in the pots and anchored themselves into the ground.  Good for the Fig trees, bad for me to have to uproot them and move them in!

Sore muscles today but glad it's finished.  The point of this post, winter protection of delicate Fig varieties inside a building or attached, unheated garage.  Most all the trees we moved in that are in five-gallon pails survived last winter in this garage and we had some temperatures in the lower teens some nights.

Our area is notorious for fluctuating temperatures during Winter.  We don't particularly like the cold but for Winter storage of dormant Fig trees, it is best for them to remain cold during this time.  What we don't want is to have a couple or few weeks of mild weather that could cause them to break dormancy and try to bud out, then for it to turn frigid.  If all goes well, it will now stay cold until Spring and that can't come soon enough for me!

This is known as the Fig Shuffle among Fig collectors of delicate varieties.  We move them in and we take them out.  We try to size the pot to fit the tree and try to use lightweight media to make it easier.  Much can be written about growing media so perhaps we will do that in a different post.

We want whatever indoor structure where our Figs will spend the winter to not freeze and not get too warm.  Somewhere in the 40's F is good.  A garage or unheated building attached to a home is usually said to be ideal.  I keep jugs of water in the garage and have never noticed any of them frozen.  

We want there to be good air circulation so there is a minimized chance of mold.  One of the worst things I ever did was try to keep a few plants in a big styrofoam box set inside the garage last winter.  I lost probably half of them to mold in just a couple of weeks before I checked on them.

Figs need a little bit of water during the Winter storage.  We don't want to even come close to the amounts given during growing time but we don't want the media to dry out either.  Last Winter I gave them about a cup of water per five-gallon container every three or four weeks.  It was gauged by just sticking my finger in the media.  If it felt dry, I watered.  If it was moist, I didn't water.  Pots with oyster shell as a top dressing held moisture better than wood chips or pine bark mulch. 

Most any variety of Fig can be grown and kept this way, for those who have the urge, space and ability to do so.  They do it way up North and even into Canada so if they can, so can we here also.      

Saturday, October 31, 2015

No-Sew Landscape Fabric Fig Propagation Pots

Been doing some Fig rooting experiments with coarse sand in fabric pots and the results so far are really amazing!  Fabric pots are all the rage these days, promoting healthier plants via more aeration in the root zone.  I believe this to be true. Newly formed Fig roots are very sensitive and susceptible to rot from excessive moisture in too little aeration media.     

The system we've been experimenting with is pretty much the same concept as any other wicking media in cloth pot type, except we're using only coarse sand as the media and a diluted hydroponic fertilizer, mixed in the water, referred to as "fertigation".  

Our Fig subjects are cuttings that have been buried horizontally, within the top inch of four inches depth of the sand and the 2 gallon Root Pouch grow bags we purchased online are sitting in the "trays" we cut from square plastic pails.  We try to keep approximately 1/2 inch of  fertigation in the trays at all times and the sand wicks it upwards, into the root zone.  

The fabric pots in the photo above are approx four inches diameter with four inches depth of sand.  We wanted some smaller pots to experiment with some smaller, one and two node Fig cuttings.   

It was observed in experiments that our particular grade of sand, referred to as 10-20 by the sand plant or "coarse builders sand", will wick fairly well up to three-four inches height.  The fabric itself also wicks a bit so our sand stays moist enough for rooting of Fig cuttings and allows enough oxygen in the rooting zone, without being too overly wet, that will result in rotting of the delicate new Fig roots.

We purchased a roll of this popular landscape fabric for about $20, tax included.  It's 3' wide x 100' long and has a dark colored smooth side and a light colored, sort of fuzzy side. 

We started by marking some lines to cut out our pieces.  For this size of pot, we have measured 12" from the edge and made four 9"sections. 

Here comes the no-sew part.  Most all landscape fabric is some sort of woven plastic and will work with a food storage sealing machine.  We have folded about 3/4 inch of the black side towards the light side and formed a seam for the top edge of the pots along a 12" side.

Next we fold it over and make a double seal seam for the side of the pot, trying to get close to the edge as possible.  Practice helps with this.  

Next we bunch up the bottom as best we can...

Install a small cable tie and trim off the end of it.

All there is left to do is turn the fabric bag inside out and fill with your media.  They stand up just fine and are strong enough to hold wet sand, probably the heaviest media one would ever use in them.

That's pretty much all there is to it.  Without any mistakes, we can get four-hundred of this size pot from one roll of landscape fabric at a cost of $.05 per bag for fabric, plus the cost of the cable tie, probably about $.01 each.

As an alternative to using cable ties to secure the bottom, simply make a double seal along the bottom and then turn the bag inside-out, leaving the corners tucked in a bit.  It doesn't go as flat as using the tie but seems to add extra height and with sand it still will flatten enough to stand on its own.

The same 9" x 12" starting piece of fabric, sealed along the 12" side, makes a 2.5" diameter bag, 10.75" tall.  This is for those folks who can't fathom the act of completely burying their cuttings under the surface. :)

Here are some recent Fig photo's of the wicking sand grow bags experiment...

The Valley Black Fig above was started in a previous sand experiment in a plastic pail (below), separated into three plants and each transferred into the Root Pouch grow bags with sand, where they are currently thriving, growing like crazy!.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Nature Lover Brings Fig Knowledge to Fort Smith

The local newspaper, Southwest Times Record, did a nice story on the Learning Fields Chaffee Crossing Fig Trial and yours truly a few weeks ago.  The online version can be viewed here...

Here is the photo that was omitted from the online version...

That's Susan Randolph, the River Valley Master Gardener in charge of the five to ten year Fig Trial and me, posing for the photo and pretending to talk about the LSU Purple Fig we put in the ground on July 11, 2015, one of the most hot days of the Summer!

Surprising to even me, all forty varieties we set in the ground that day overcame the heat plus transplant shock and are doing fine, except for maybe the Rattlesnake Island Fig that was chopped in half by a weed-eater mishap!  I think it too will survive going into Winter but what varieties will survive the Winter?  Time will tell.

Here is copied text from the online article, in case readers are not able to access the link above for whatever reason...

 By Scott Smith
Those with a hunger for figs have a new resource for their research cravings.
Manfield resident and nature lover Charlie Little offers an online blog to help area residents identify the varieties and details of different figs that can be grown — and are being grown — in the Fort Smith area. Located at, the blog keeps area residents aware of how to grow figs and what environmental conditions will be best, he said.
“If people have fig trees in their yard, then they can go to this blog and see what kind it is,” said Little, who plans to become a River Valley Master Gardener in the spring. “One of the most common varieties is the Celeste, and some fig trees can grow really tall. Some are six feet tall, while one tree in Dora is as big as a house.”
Providing information such as some of the names of the other figs commonly found in the area, Little’s blog is tied into what RVMG members are calling their 5 Year/10 Year Fig Trial, which includes several rows of recently planted fig trees at the Learning Fields at Chaffee Crossing.
The trial involves the planting of the first 40 of 122 figs, with fig trial chairwoman Susan Randolph and other RVMG members monitoring and recording the progress.
“We’ll collect and tell the information each year over the next five years, and when the study is complete in 10 years, that information will be made available to the public for free,” Randolph said.
Randolph and Little said the study’s plan is to not give the trial figs “100 percent protection,” but instead, watch how the figs endure the winter elements with little protection. During the summer months, Randolph irrigates the figs, with the plan to reduce watering when colder temperatures arrive.
“With only 40 figs in the ground now, we will wait and see what survives,” she said. “We’ll also log what diseases they’ll have and such.”
Little said he hopes the trial and blog will help encourage more people to research and grow fig trees. The various flavors found in figs are one of the many reasons people like to plant and grow the trees, he said.
“Some figs taste berry-like, while some have a melon taste and others can have a spicy taste,” Little said.
“And it’s interesting because a fig is really an inside-out flower,” he added while peeling back a fig’s outer layer. “The flower material is on the inside, under the skin. You can see what looks like individual flowers inside.”
Some figs found in other states and other countries require a fig wasp to pollinate them, Little said.
“Those types of figs aren’t here in the Fort Smith area, though, because we don’t have fig wasps,” he said.
Some figs, like the one named “Hardy Chicago,” can endure frigid temperatures, Little said.
“It’s said that the Hardy Chicago can survive 70 degrees below zero,” he said. “Now that tree will die down to the ground, but then it usually will grow back.”
Randolph said he is optimistic the fig trial and Little’s blog will benefit area residents for years to come.
“This is exciting,” she said. “With the Learning Fields, we’re doing different trials, and we’re trying to teach people to grow their own food.
“There’s nothing more exciting than seeing someone go outside and eat something that they’ve grown,” Randolph added. “Small children might be hesitant to eat things like figs at first, but once they see other people eating figs, they will want to eat figs, also. They’ll know that figs are really good.”
Little nodded in agreement.
“Figs are healthy — they’re very nutritious — for you,” he said. “Figs can be a good part of a heart-health diet to keep people healthy.”
Little then smiled.
“And figs taste really, really good,” he said.
“Yes, they do taste good,” added Randolph. “You can make fig pizza — you have figs, goat cheese, tomatoes and a little bit of fresh basil — and it is really good. You just put it in the oven for about 10 minutes, and the goat cheese and figs mix really well. It has such a great taste.”
Since the publication of that article, we have been fortunate to have been contacted by many area Fig growers who read it in the newspaper and have made several new friends.  Doors have opened that would have otherwise possibly never opened.  I for one and very thankful to Scott and the SWTR for doing a great story.

Friday, October 16, 2015

More Unknown Fig Varieties Around Fort Smith

We were originally going to lump all unknown Fig varieties in one post, until such a time as they could positively be identified but have changed that thought.  Instead we will write about them in various posts as we go.

First let's see the Durbrow Unknown Fig.  This variety is probably either Olympian or a strain of Brown Turkey such as LaRedek Eastern.  Either is a good choice variety for our area.  The dominant leaf pattern is nearly if not identical to Olympian but the figs more resemble the Eastern Brown Turkey except for the BT's nearly always have a hollow core inside the fig.  So for now this Fig remains as the Durbrow Unknown.

This tree was purchased unmarked variety at a nursery, some 20-25 years ago by Mr. Durbrow and planted in a spot away from the home out in the yard.  It didn't do so well out there so he moved it next to the Eastern facing wall of the home, near the South corner.

Fig trees have a habit of bushing if not trained to grow as a tree form.  The lower limbs can become weighted and touch the ground, where they take root and spread if not pruned.  Such is the case with this tree which now has spread along approximately 30 feet Northward from its main trunk, along nearly the whole East side of the home.

This fig is very sweet, one of the sweetest we've had and by all we could tell is completely seedless, very soft eating with a thin skin.  Undoubtedly the largest bush form Fig we have personally witnessed.  Late to ripen this year but Mr. Durbrow said it has ripened earlier in past years and probably all the rain we had earlier in the year caused a delay in fig formation.

We're very much looking forward to helping Mr. Durbrow do the Fall pruning on this Fig!


The next Figs come to us from Sister Madeline at St. Scholastica in Fort Smith.  Our initial visit was very short and we have not yet had opportunity to get the full history on these figs but will update in the future as we have been given the honor of getting to prune their Fig trees after they go dormant in a few weeks.

This first Fig is called their "Greek Fig" by Sister Madeline.  It's a green when ripe variety with a deep red interior.  When it is perfectly ripe, that is when no white fig sap bleeds from the stem when picked, yet not wrinkled, this fig tastes like a very sweet, ripe strawberry.  Simply delicious and ranks as one of the best tasting figs we've had.   

Sister Madeline.  She's a tiny woman compared to this massive tree that resembles a bush form but in reality it isn't as typical a bush form as is common locally. 

Four main trunks, the smallest being approximately 3.5 inches in diameter.

The leaf is very similar to our Unknown Lake Spur, which is very similar to the Greek Vasilika Sika.

The next two photo's show their yellow "Italian Fig".  Sister Madeline says these two same trees of theirs make their largest figs.  This was the only ripe one left on the tree, eaten on site and it would probably be classified in the "Honey Figs" group.  Very sweet and tasty!

Their "Dark Fig".  Likely Negronne, AKA Violette de Bordeaux. Delicious!

A true mystery Fig.  Sister Madeline says this tree came up on its own.  It's a good 20 - 30 feet away from the others. How can this be?  We have no explanation.  There are no male figs and no fig wasp for pollinating.  This fig is different from any of the others.  It has a Negronne style leaf but a large, flat bottom Fig that grows very close to the stem with no neck and a fairly large, open eye. 

Figs and Fig Bread, a gift from Sister Madeline! For size comparison since we didn't think to place a coin, the pumpkin print on the paper towel is the size of a quarter, so is the smallest fig.

Figs showing eyes.

The two dark ones and mystery fig on bottom

"Greeks" showing various stages of ripeness. They were all very good but the ones like on bottom were to die for!  

Next two are the dark figs...

The mystery fig.  This fig has a flavor totally unlike any fig we've ever tasted. Nothing to compare it to other than to say it taste "Heavenly!" and the tree is very young and small compared to the others.  We simply have to propagate this Fig! 

We hope you enjoyed these Figs.  Check back around late November to see if we've been able to update as we learn more.