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, 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.