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. :)