A couple years ago, I became obsessed with my friend’s backyard fig tree—its delicious pear-shaped fruits, its beautiful forked leaves, even its massive size (it’s as tall as her two-story house and just as wide!). Unfortunately, there’s no room in my backyard for such a magnificent plant.
I was very glad to discover that growers have bred fig tree varieties specifically for growing in large pots. These smaller trees are great options for those of you who, like me, are short on space or not ready to commit to a large tree. Growing figs in pots is also a great option for those of you who live in colder climates. While most figs can tolerate temps as low as 5°F, they die back and show signs of damage with anything under 20°F. A potted fig can simply be moved indoors during the coldest months of the year.
Fig trees are low-maintenance enough to make great fruit trees for beginner gardeners. That being said, when you’re growing in a contained space, it’s extra important to provide your potted fig tree with the right nourishment so it can remain healthy and productive. Let’s look first at the best fig tree varieties for growing in pots, and then I’ll cover my top fertilizer options and tips for when to apply to ensure you end up with an abundant supply of these delicious little fruits.
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THE BEST FIG VARIETIES TO GROW IN POTS
Just to be clear, we are talking about edible fig trees and not fiddle leaf figs. The fiddle leaf fig tree that’s on every houseplant enthusiast’s love-it-or-kill-it list is a whole different story. They’re both members of the ficus bunch and hate being overwatered, but that’s about where their similarities stop. While I love a beautiful houseplant, plain ol’ fig trees are every bit as ornamental in my opinion, and you get delicious fruit!
Here are some of the best fig tree varieties from Stark Bro’s to grow in a pot:
- Fignomenal Fig – This is a low-maintenance, miniature fig tree that, at just 2 to 3 feet when mature, is perfect for growing on patios and balconies. Brown fruits have a nutty flavor and sweet reddish-pink flesh.
- LSU Gold Fig Tree – This is a fast-growing tree that loves the warmth of the south and produces large golden fruits with reddish pink pulp.
- Italian Honey Fig – These figs have a beautiful light-green skin and honey-sweet fruits with just a little tartness. The trees are drought-tolerant and deer-resistant.
- Brown Turkey Fig– This is a famous variety with purplish-brown fruits (the ones that got me hooked!). While this is not a variety bred specifically to do well in containers, these plants will stay smaller if grown in a pot.
In case you’re wondering, just because a plant is a dwarf variety doesn’t mean the fruits it produces will be smaller than normal. I love seeing full-sized fruits hanging from a thriving container-grown fruit tree.
UNDERSTANDING THE NUTRIENT NEEDS OF FIG TREES
Fig trees, like other fruit trees, have specific needs to support healthy growth and abundant harvests. And when something produces fruits as delicious as figs, you can bet it needed a lot of nutrients to support it along the way.
Technically speaking, a fig is not a fruit; it’s something called an inflorescence, or a cluster of lots of little flowers and seeds, all rolled up inside a bulbous stem. (Does calling something bulbous make it any less delicious?) Anyways, the goal of fertilizing a plant to end up with an inflorescence is the same as fertilizing one to end up with flowers and fruits.
When we fertilize a fig tree, we’re looking for a well-balanced blend of essential nutrients, including nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). Nitrogen promotes vigorous leaf growth, phosphorus supports root development and flowering, and potassium enhances overall plant health and disease resistance. There are many other little things your fig tree will need to stay healthy, but these are the main three.
THE BEST FIG TREE FERTILIZERS
When it comes to nourishing your fig tree—or any edible plant—I recommend sticking with an organic fertilizer. Something derived from natural materials offers a healthier, more sustainable way to feed your food. Going with an organic fertilizer instead of falling for “miracle” promises means you can feel really good about each fruit you put in your mouth after your fig harvest.
Here are the best fertilizer options to help your potted fig trees thrive throughout the year:
Organic compost is rich in essential nutrients that promote healthy growth. Even better, it releases these nutrients slowly, which means you could apply a layer of compost around the base of your fig tree as often as every week without running the risk of burning, or overstimulating, your tree.
Compost also improves the soil structure and health over time. During the hot summer months, compost will act like mulch and help to retain moisture in the soil.
Basically, when in doubt, just add some compost. Even if you grab another fertilizer on this list, it’s a great idea to add more compost in early spring.
Worm castings, also known as vermicompost, are nutrient-rich organic matter produced by earthworms (yes, I’m talking about worm poop). They enhance soil fertility, improve water retention, and provide much-needed essential nutrients for fig trees.
If you’re grossed out about the idea of putting worm poop around your plants, you should know that each piece of fruit formed on a fig had to be pollinated by a special little fig wasp that then got stuck and died, its body eventually absorbed by the fruit. But that’s a story for another blog. In short, the growth of delicious fruits and veggies is fueled by things that have passed through some animal’s body or things that once were some animal’s body. Circle of life.
Liquid fertilizers can be easily applied to the soil by watering around the fig tree’s roots. They provide quick nutrient absorption and are particularly beneficial during periods of rapid growth or fruit production. Look for a water-soluble fertilizer with formulations specifically designed for fruit trees or container plants. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the correct application rates.
I love MicroLife’s Maximum Blooms for all my fruiting plants. You can mix it up in a watering can before watering around the base of the plant, or you can dilute it, pour it into a spray bottle, and use it as a foliar spray on the leaves. It provides over 100 vitamins and minerals, including those that encourage flowers, but it won’t burn your plants.
Compost tea is a type of liquid fertilizer you can make at home. Brew your own compost tea by steeping organic compost in water for about 24 hours. This nutrient-rich liquid can be applied directly to the soil, providing a boost of essential nutrients and beneficial microorganisms.
Slow-Release Granular Fertilizer
Slow-release fertilizers are an excellent option for potted fig trees as they provide a steady and consistent supply of nutrients over an extended period of time, without the risk of overfeeding or creating nutrient imbalances.
Look for granular fertilizers with a balanced NPK ratio. I’ve had great results with MicroLife’s Multi-Purpose Granular Fertilizer.
THE BEST WAY TO FERTILIZE YOUR FIG TREE
Once you’ve grabbed the right fertilizer, you can ensure the best results by keeping the right time and the right technique in mind.
The Right Time
Early spring, just as new growth begins, is the best time to start fertilizing your fig trees. This is when the trees are actively growing and in need of nutrients to support healthy development.
Avoid fertilizing during the winter months or late summer through fall to prevent stimulating new growth that may be vulnerable to cold temperatures or frost. The exception would be compost, which can be added at any time for a little nutritional boost.
The Right Technique
Water around the base of your fig tree thoroughly before applying any fertilizer to prevent root burn. Spread the fertilizer evenly around the base of the tree, avoiding direct contact with the trunk. For granular fertilizers, lightly scratch the surface of the soil to incorporate the granules.
For liquid fertilizers, follow the package instructions for the recommended dilution ratio and apply directly to the soil. For a fast nutritional boost, you can also follow the package instructions to make a foliar spray for the leaves of the plant.
ADDITIONAL TIPS TO GROW HEALTHY FIG TREES
Overall, fig trees are super low maintenance, which is why they make great plants for beginner gardeners. Here are some easy things to keep in mind to maintain overall plant health and maximize fruit production:
Pick a Large Pot
Go with a pot that’s about 6 to 8 inches wider than the nursery pot your fig came home in. As far as pot materials go, I love terracotta because it absorbs excess moisture and prevents overwatering. If you notice your fig tree is looking a little cramped or if you see roots poking out of the drainage hole, it’s time to pot up.
Prioritize Good Drainage
Make sure that whatever large pot you’ve chosen has at least one good drainage hole at the bottom. Use a drill to add one if needed. Good drainage is critical to prevent waterlogged roots and root rot. You can place a piece of weed barrier cloth or burlap over the hole at the bottom of the pot to prevent your soil from running out every time you water.
Fill Your Pot with Quality Soil
Either grab a highly rated organic potting mix to fill your pot or make your own potting soil. My favorite well-draining soil mix is equal parts compost, topsoil, and coarse sand. At planting time, toss a little bit of mycorrhizae at the bottom of the hole to promote strong root growth.
Give Your Fig Tree Lots of Sun
Place your potted fig in a sunny spot where it can receive at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight daily. Full sun is essential for optimal growth and fruiting.
Avoid Excess Water
Provide your fig tree with regular but moderate watering (perhaps one thorough soak a week). Avoid watering too often since excessive moisture can lead to root rot. Allow the soil to dry at least 2 to 3 inches down between watering sessions, and when you do water, soak the soil long enough that you see water begin to trickle from the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot. Figs are pretty drought-tolerant, and you’ll notice that container fig trees will still be looking green and perky in the middle of summer, even when your other potted plants are struggling.
Mulch Around Your Fig Tree
Apply a layer of organic mulch around the base of the tree to help retain soil moisture and regulate soil temperature. I like using little bark chips for my fruit trees, but you can use any organic material like straw or large wood chips.
Prune in Early Spring
Prune your fig trees during the late winter or early spring to remove dead or damaged branches. You can also increase airflow and sunlight penetration by cutting any branch that’s crossing through the middle of the plant. Never prune more than a third of a plant.
Bring Your Fig Indoors Before a Hard Freeze
During the winter months, protect your potted fig tree from cold temperatures by bringing it indoors or moving it to a sheltered location (even just putting it right up against your home can keep it warmer). If you can’t move the pot, provide the tree with some insulation by wrapping the pot and base of the tree with frost cloth or an old towel.
ENJOY YOUR FIG HARVESTS
I hope these tips help you grow your own healthy tree so you can enjoy the beauty and bounty of these fruit-bearing plants even in a small space or colder climate. There will be nothing better than biting into your first ripe figs. Even better, if you live in a warmer climate, you can get two crops over the long growing season, one around late July and another in mid-September or so.
You’ll know your figs are ready to harvest when they’re soft to the touch. Enjoy your fruits fresh or make some homemade fig jam!