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.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Gino's Black and Marseilles Black VS Fig, In Ground, Lowell AR

Lowell is a city in Benton County, Arkansas, in the United States. Located within the Ozarks, a bit cooler than the Fort Smith area and so a good testament to these two Fig varieties, submitted by Greg L.

"The MBVS is the taller one.  It is 1.5 yrs older and has trunks of about 5" . One more year of wrapping and I will try not wrapping and see what happens.

Both give large main crops and smaller breba crops.  Great flavor and make GREAT jam! (Very pretty jam as well with the red color, see pic)

They are on the south side of the house and I wrap with blankets and a tarp for winter after trimming them to manageable sizes.  I am currently doing several air layers on the MBVS that need to be cut off cut I have not had the time.
The MBVS is a VERY vigorous grower for me and easy to air layer.
I just this year (and are very small yet) put in the ground RDB. Bayenfiege (sp?) violetta, black German, Danny's delight (the dark one), Hollier, and sweet George.   Will protect and report how they did on the forums for the first 3-4 years."


Gino's Black

Also notice there is roof guttering installed, a good thing so the trees aren't flooded with rain from the roof.  Directly beneath a roof drip line is not favorable for Fig trees, especially very young ones and doubly if there is not ground with good drainage as soggy ground will rot tender Fig roots.

Areas with poor drainage, high water table during Winter or otherwise rainy season can spell disaster for Fig trees.  My own yard is a perfect example and I nearly killed my first Fig tree by promptly setting it in the ground when it arrived.  Our home is situated on the base of a hill and we have a very high water table during wet weather.  

If not for the experts on the fig forums giving me advice to raise it up quickly, it surely would have died.  My original thought was it should get plenty of water in my yard!  

Others in the deep South of Louisiana have commented on their large Fig tree roots setting in water much of the year.  Apparently it is less of an issue with older, well established trees.  I opt to lean on the side of caution and plant any in-ground trees on a raised area and compensate with having to water during dry season as needed versus them drowning before they get established.

Greg's Fig Jam

Winterizing of Figs Around Fort Smith

A reader sent in the following about their fig tree...

I bought a fig tree at a local market several years ago.  Each year it died back, but re-emerged each spring.,  I know now that It did not get enough sunlight where it was.  Two year ago I moved and replanted the bush in a sunnier spot.  Last year it grew to about two feet with two separate stalks.  I have never protected it from winter weather.  This year it sent  up three stalks of about six feet tall, and for the first time is bearing fruit.  My problem is that the fruit is green and they don't appear to be  growing any larger over the last month.  Based on pictures shown on  your blog, I'm assuming mine are the brown turkey variety.  How will I know when they are ripe, and is there any reason they seem to have stopped growing?


My reply...

Hi Ed,

Normally a tree will put on small, hard and green figs.  They usually stay that way for up to 90 days before they finally swell up, change color and ripen.  The small piece of stem between the fig and the main stalk will become soft and the fig will droop down and also become soft.  That is when they are ripe.  Usually the lower ones on the stalk ripen first and then upwards.

Dying all the way back to the ground every year is hard on the tree and makes it later to put on figs.  Normally a brown turkey would have ripened its fruit by now.  If you could put a ring of fencing around it, fill it with dry leaves, hay, wheat straw or anything to insulate it and put a cover of some sort over the top to keep the rain off of it will possibly save the main stalks at least so it doesn't have to start over.  Some protection is needed for most varieties until they get a good woody bark on the main trunk, then they are somewhat better suited to the cold.

I will attach a picture of my outdoor brown turkey from last winter.  Just a few of the tender branch tips died but the rest stayed good.  I had the wire column filled with dry wood chips and covered with a piece of styrofoam.

Unless we have a mild Winter, chances are very good, we will need to provide some sort of protection for any variety of Fig we try to grow for the first few years, until they develop a hard, woody bark on a substantial main trunk or multiple trunks.

The trees I have personally seen which suffered Winter die-back but survived to the main(s) had at least 2.5 inches diameter on the main(s) and woody bark.  Most usually it is the year's growth for that year which will suffer and especially the tips which have not yet hardened off and are tender green when the cold weather hits.  

Hardening off of the stems is called lignification or to lignify or become lignified.  You can observe this as the stems change from green to brown from the bottom up as the year and growth progresses. Any stem which has not yet lignified when cold weather comes is sure to be winter killed in freezing temperatures.  This is what helps make some Fig varieties more cold hardy than others, the speed by which they lignify.

We need to be careful with what we choose to protect our Figs with.  It needs to be breathable to some degree to prohibit moisture from being trapped in with the Fig wood or it will likely mold.  I learned that the hard way by making an airtight styrofoam box for some of my garage kept figs last Winter.  I noticed mold forming just in time to save most of them but some were already too far gone and it didn't take long for it to happen.  

Dormant Figs will survive well enough in a garage if it is attached to the house and the temperatures stay right around or above freezing.  Last Winter we saw low teens F and most of my potted Figs survived if temperature had been their only deciding factor.  I have never seen freezing water in jugs kept in my garage.  Buildings not attached to a home might need some form of heat, if just enough to keep it above freezing.

Now is when the talk of winterizing Fig trees will become fairly common on the fig forums, links in the right column.  They also have search functions to use and typing in 'winterizing" or "over-wintering" will show one plenty of discussions on the subject.  

There have been a few trees posted about on this blog which are very large and have not ever been winterized much if any at all.  My only explanation for that is,they must have been started when we had mild winters, survived and developed substantial trunk(s) before any substantial cold.  Them having survived the Polar Vortex of a couple Winters ago and last year is testament to their hardiness. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Letizia Fig coming to Fort Smith Area

Just ordered a previously unheard of Fig by us, from Burpee Nursery, Letizia, to trial cold hardiness along with the rest of our varieties.  This Fig has a great historical story associated with it. Started on Our Figs Forum by Jerry (jmaler), one of the members in a discussion about Letizia.

Forum member Brent (hoosierbanana) shares the Letizia Fig history...

"Letizia “Letty” Castorani Gallucio, age 101, of Wilmington and Hockessin passed away peacefully at Kentmere Nursing Care Center on Sunday, February 22, 2015. Born September 28, 1913 in the small mountain village of Cagnano, Aquasanta Terme, Italy, Letty immigrated to America at age 7. Upon coming to America with her mother through Ellis Island, she moved to Russellton, in the coal region of western PA to join her father, and later to Staten Island, New York, where she graduated from Curtis High School, before moving to Wilmington, Delaware. Letizia married her first husband, Settimio, a local mushroom farmer. Together they owned the Colonial Inn Tavern and package store in Wilmington, which she ran for 30 years. Letty had a love for vegetable gardening, crocheting and visiting with friends and family. Letizia was a marvelous cook and all were welcome to her dining table where she delighted everyone with her homemade Italian specialties. After Settimio’s death, she married Frank Gallucio. Letty enjoyed traveling throughout the US and abroad. She returned to Italy many times to visit family and friends. In later years, she enjoyed time at Frames Senior Center in Wilmington. 

In the Italian language, Letizia translates to Joy and Happiness, which was very fitting. Letty greeted everyone she met with love and kindness. She saw the good in all people and brought out the best in everyone. In fact, her grandchildren nicknamed her “Fun”.

More info from last year's DCH rare plant auction:

Today, figs are grown the world over, showing up in the backyards of families who have nurtured them for generations. One such plant is ‘Letizia,’ named for Honorary Chair, Steve Castorani’s mother, who emigrated here from Italy in the early 1900’s. The family settled in Wilmington, at the outskirts of the city and Steve remembers the small backyard where the fig tree grew at the corner of the property. He assumes it was brought here by his mother’s father, who hailed from the Marche region of Italy on the Adriatic. Cuttings traveled with the family when they moved to Hockessin in 1965 and there it continues to grow and bear fruit, in the same spot, with Steve and his wife, Peg, in residence. As owner of North Creek Nurseries, Steve took some cuttings for fun and planted them out at the Pennsylvania site. A representative from Burpee, for whom North Creek propagates some plants, saw the fig growing in a “hot garden” near a garage on a nursery visit and told Steve, “You should name it and we’ll promote it.” He did and ‘Letizia,’ which means “joy,” sold out instantly from the Burpee catalogue when it appeared last year.

‘Letizia’ is a handsome plant with large, lobed leaves and strong branching, a tribute to the woman who just passed her 100th birthday. The pear-shaped figs 24 are sweet and luscious, turning from green to deep maroon as they ripen and often yielding two crops per season – an early one in June and another at the end of August. The auction fig is an established, containerized plant that will bear fruit this year. Steve says he has never done “the Italian thing” by elaborately covering the plant for winter, but suggests that any fig loves to grow in a protected spot, preferably against a wall. A variety of edible figs are offered at tonight’s auction, providing the opportunity to experience eating figs fresh from the tree – incomparable. Their bold foliage and shrub-like habit make them exciting landscape plants. Most benefit from winter protection, or by siting them against a house wall, and all need full sun for good fruit production."

Forum member "chuckell" has been growing Letizia for awhile and has gotten some ripe figs, which he compares to Hardy Chicago... "My Hardy Chicago was my first ripe fig ever this year with Letizia getting ripe right behind it, I think the Letizia was just a tad better in taste but you know what, I liked my Chicago's taste and I let them almost fall off the tree ripe, so maybe that's why they both tasted great."

Letizia left and Hardy Chicago right.

Jerry's Letizia, showing very similar leaves to Hardy Chicago...

I'm very much excited and looking forward to getting this variety, as I shared on the topic, "If it's as good or better than Hardy Chicago, I have to have it!"

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Air Layering Fig Trees

I love to air layer figs.  It is simply the best, most successful method for me personally, to multiply fig trees and can be done any time in our area from Spring up to August, though I did some last year early September, they could have had better roots if done a few weeks earlier.

Air layering is simply surrounding a portion of a fig limb with moist media for long enough time that roots form well, then the limb is severed from the mother plant and re-potted, creating a new tree.

They can be done successfully with any size of limb, though larger limbs will create faster growing trees, sometimes ready to fruit and some may already have figs on while the layering is done.  In that case it is best to wait until the fig(s) ripens and is/are removed before parting from the mother tree.

Some people use recycled plastic bottles as a media container, some use various plastic bag configurations and some may simply wad a bunch of moist sphagnum moss around the limb and cover it with aluminum foil.  Some like a transparent container to be able and see the roots and some just go on time, knowing the roots are there.

I personally prefer to air layer around mid August.  I know there will be roots well formed in plenty of time to separate from the mother and re-pot for winter to store away, gift or sell if that is one's goal.

Here's a few pictures, showing some air layers I started back in August, just a little over a month ago. Most are recycled foam deli bowls, customized with strategically placed holes to fit each limb to be air layered.

Once fit and taped at the seam, if there are two bowls being used, my rooting media, a 50/50 mix of compost and clay kitty litter, is moistened just a bit and is poured into the opening and foam top that was cut from a bowl bottom with razor knife is taped on.  I prefer to use a media similar to what the new tree will be re-potted into so there is no need to disturb the newly formed roots.

Some people will girdle the stem by removing a ring of bark.  I have not found this to be necessary on any of the fig varieties I have air layered and only try to get two or three nodes in the area to be rooted.

Violette de Bordeaux (VdB)

Some I have done at ground level...

Some may require staking to support...

Multiple air layers in a five gallon pail on tissue cultured Desert King.  Tissue cultured figs often result in many stemmed plants, perfect for air layering in this manner.

Olympian, Green Ischia, Vasilika Sika and 143-36 Emerald Strawberry.  These were all started in the Fall of 2014 as single node cuttings in the same foam bowls being used to now air layer them.  The black pots were buried down into a bed of wood chips to keep them cool during Summer.

Conadria with two 1 gallon pots and a quart foam cup at ground level...

Unknown Lake Spur.  A gallon trade pot is split along one side to the bottom center hole, worked onto the stem and taped shut, filled with media and pot covered with foil to prevent overheating...

These type of air layers are left open at the top,covered with some sort of mulch and watered a little bit when regular watering is done, in my case, every 3-4 days.  Depending on limb orientation it may be desirable, such as a limb poking out of the media right next to the main stem, to go through a bottom-side drain hole or make one custom if no holes are present.

Here we see some results of the previous pictures after four weeks in comparison...

These air layers will remain on the mother plants a couple more weeks before I separate and re-pot them or I could simply leave them on until they go dormant and then re-pot.  

Will update this post when separations are made and show the root balls formed.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Brown Turkey Fig Having Troubles

I received email today from Frank & Judy, Greenwood area, about a Brown Turkey fig.  Here is what Frank has to say about it...

"Hello: These photos are of a Turkey Brown fig Bush that has been in the ground for eight years. It has never made it over eight feet high because it keeps getting froze back to the roots in really hard winters as the last two were. 

I live between Witcherville and Greenwood about two miles to the west of Highway 71. I planted on the west side of the house, where the rainwater off the roof was free of charges, but in dry summers I give it additional water.  Last year I only had about 4-5 figs because the bush had to grow up from the roots. (Notice the old dead canes that I kept in place to support the new canes) 

This year I gave it Miracle grow and all that extra rain helped boost the fig's growth, so I'm hoping for at least a couple dozen by frost. Ignore the date stamp! These shots were taken this morn. 

My question: In the Ft Smith photo of three different varieties, it looks like the Turkey Brown is a tree rather than a bush. Do you recommend cutting back all the canes to one leader/trunk only to make a tree rather than a bush? One small problem is that the fig tries to constantly grow additional sucker shoots that have to be clipped back or they will suck growth out of the main part of the bush/tree.

In the summer of 2013, I had a great crop that started producing in late July and kept producing until frost, I have been pleasantly surprised  that figs seem to be virus, fungus, insect free, but the mocking birds love figs. How easy is it to start figs from slips? I tried a couple this spring and they died. Thanks for any information you can send. Frank "

My reply to Frank... "Hi Frank,

Thanks for sending photo's.  I will get them posted on the blog.

As for your questions, keep in mind there are different strains of Brown Turkey and some are more cold hardy than others.  There is no way to really tell what variety you have unless we can get a good photo of a ripe fig, the eye and the fig cut in half showing the interior.  Then I might be able to get expert opinions on the true variety of it.  

We have had some extreme cold but Brown Turkey is supposed to be one of the most hardy varieties.  There is also a chance the tree was mis-labeled from wherever you got it.  It is more common than one may think.  The leaf on your tree does look very similar to my Brown Turkey.  

A central leader is preferred by many who have the time to take care of the tree.  It is said to make better figs by some.  Honestly I don't know how those fig trees in the latest post survived out in the open like they are, unless they got tough before any really bad cold.  They are growing right on the banks of the Arkansas River and open to the North winds.  The owners only ever piled hay around the base of the trees.

Any variety of fig we plant in our area is recommended that we give it some sort of winter protection for at least the first several years until the trunk forms a good, thick woody bark.  Some put fence around theirs and fill it with leaves, hay or whatever and put a top of some sort so the rain runs off.  Others will wrap them and others up north will go as far to dig them up and completely bury them and dig them back up in spring time.  They still need some air circulation or they will mold, however we do it.

Starting from cuttings is tricky but not hard if you know what they want.  The biggest thing that kills them is too much water.  I buried some cuttings last fall under 4-6 inches of composted wood chips and they came up good this Spring on their own.  I also started over 300 cuttings indoors and tried to keep them alive over winter and ended up with about 70."

Those cuttings I buried in the composted wood chips were taken green from a growing tree in the Fall of 2014.  I washed them and dipped the ends in melted cheese wax to seal the ends as protection against disease and moisture loss. 

They spent at least two months in the refrigerator in a ziplock bag before being buried in the wood chips in cold weather and stayed there all winter until they sprouted new fig trees in Spring.  

This is the least maintenance way I know of to do cuttings. Other methods abound but whatever method is used, it is critical the cuttings do not get too much water and are in a well draining mix, preferably in a large pot that can maintain them for some time after they sprout roots and green growth.  I have tried the cup method and it is more trouble than worth.

Updated 9/19/15  Went to visit Frank and see the tree and it's not that bad looking of a fig tree at all.  Late fruiting due to last winter die-back.

Frank's neighbor across the street has a huge fig, bush form, that was mostly winter killed back to the main trunks which are about 2.5 inches in diameter and woody bark.  I think it's a Celeste.


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Green Ischia Fig Ranks High In Fort Smith!

Highlighting this post is the Fig variety, Green Ischia.  It comes to us from a fantastic couple and new fig friends, Barbee and Keith from Fort Smith!

This tree is 6-8 years of age and has had minimal winter protection of some hay around the roots some winters.  It is completely open to the North wind.   

This fig is as delicious as it looks, one of the best we've tasted!

For size comparison, here we see our awesome hosts, along with my wife Mitzy in the middle, standing among the fig trees.  Brown Turkey on the left, Green Ischia behind Barbee and Hardy Chicago to the right of Keith.  All three, very cold hardy varieties of fig for our area.

These are among the largest and healthiest of  fig trees we have seen in person and thank Barbee and Keith for sharing with us!