Inground Fig Set Observations and Discussion (Pic Heavy)

I went out today and made notes of main crop fig set in relation to variety and existing structure. These are observations taken from some ~300 trees, aged 3 to 7 years old, planted 8 feet apart in rows. Obviously I did not have the time to document and average every growth, or even every tree, so observations were only made on growths that had set fruit (except for varieties with no fruit set), the information should be taken with a grain of salt… But early fig set generally does correlate with productivity.

In some cases it represents the best case scenario ie. the full potential of the variety, and in others it could be a bit of a fluke due to making observations on a small amount of trees. Also keep in mind that the proof is in the picking, late varieties that are setting now will most likely not begin ripening until around mid October. Everything seems to be about 10 days ahead of average this year, with an early spring and no late frost. Most have had branches thinned, but some have not, still not sure how much of a factor that is for fruit set.

The difference in age does not seem to be significant, so next time you read someone talk about how it takes “time” for a fig to set fruit or become cold hardy, what they probably mean is maturity, as in branch structure, or they are just repeating what they read elsewhere. When they freeze back to the ground it is like starting over at year one, aside from being established.

I am including some discussion from prior years, as well as general variety information. I hope this will be helpful for those of you who would like to grow figs in the ground. Along with the variety name I marked the approximate length (in inches) of existing growth from previous years (0" is starting from the ground) and below that the number of leaves the first fig has set at, but keep in mind, a fig or 2 will often set below the first one 2-3 weeks later, so the ones that began setting early naturally have a lower leaf count, NA means no figs set.

Florea: The undisputed champion for fig set and earliness, this year looks to be no exception. If it were not for issues with splitting and ants it would outproduce the Etna types. Nearly dwarf, generally upright but branchy, small to medium fruit.


Etna Types (Marseilles Black VS, Gino’s Black, Takoma Violet, Black Greek, Salem Dark). A notch or 2 above Florea for flavor, they resist splitting and are somewhat bug resistant due to having a closed eye. Generally upright growers, compact, ripens 2-3 weeks after Florea, the differences I have noted between varieties are very subtle and change year to year, small to medium fruit.

Adriatic JH: Ripens 3-4 weeks after the Etnas, often splits wide open in the summer. Sprawling growth habit, extremely vigorous, medium sized figs.

VdB types (Abique Petite, Vista, Nero 600 m. Valle Negra): Very late ripening, maybe 2 weeks after Adriatic JH all else being equal, though I have never gotten one though winter so that observation is from my container trees. Vigorous upright growers (though Valle Negra seems dwarfed by FMV). Figs from inground trees are roughly half the size of container trees, generally do not begin ripening until at least mid October. Some may be summer budded to another variety, others may be trained to step over.

Easton Purple (I believe to be LSU Tiger). Sprawling plant, vigorous, ripens about the same time as the Etna types, but takes several days longer from swelling to ripe. Thick skin, often splits when planted in ground, medium to large figs.

Atreano: Observations are of only one tree, it has never set figs early enough to ripen after dying back before, maybe this will be the year. Upright plant, vigorous, ripens mid season according to my container trees, large figs.

Italian 258: Observations are of only one inground tree, I had another that managed to set and ripen a few figs after dying back a few years ago, but removed it because of persistent viral symptoms, I believe it was most likely fig badnavirus because it did not behave like what I believe to be FMV, unlike FMV, FBV is sap transmissible and therefore a greater risk to other trees. Ripens 2-3 weeks after Adriatic JH according to my container plants, upright, moderate vigor, medium sized figs.

Negretta: Nearly dwarf, ornamental red petioles, upright branchy growth habit. Small fruit. Container trees have been ripening just slightly ahead of Adriatic JH. Short fruit stem, container trees can be difficult to pick when internode distances are short, they end up looking somewhat like bunches of grapes. Tightly closed eye, thick skin, sometimes splits.

Ronde De Bordeaux: Very vigorous, lanky plants, suckers heavily, ripens one week after Florea when fruit sets early enough. This year fruit set appears to be slightly better than in the past. Small to medium sized figs, often splits and has a large eye.

Tatnall Red (Sicilian Red): Observations are of only one tree. Ripens about a week after Adriatic JH. Medium to large figs, sometimes splits, fairly vigorous upright grower.

Dalmatie: Observations are only from 2 trees. Large figs, generally split and bug resistant so far, compact branchy growth habit. Ripens slightly ahead of Adriatic JH by my estimation.

Longue d’Aout: Seems to be a bit of a disappointment this year with less fruit set than previous years (which was always good), both inground and container trees (though to a lesser extent). Branchy growth appears to inhibit fig set. Vigorous upright growth, medium to large figs. May be trained as a step over.

Noire de Barbentane: Large figs, very high quality but very late ripening, sometimes splits. Extremely vigorous upright grower. Slated for summer budding, has never ripened a fig in ground and is too big to protect.

Maltese Falcon: Medium to large figs, appears to be synonymous with Mission, container trees have not been very productive either. Extremely vigorous upright growth, slated for budding.

Improved Celeste (O’Rourke Not): Observations are of only one tree. Medium to low vigor, upright habit. Figs are small to medium sized, ripening fast, but always setting late (container trees as well so far). Slated for removal, relatively bland to my taste.

If you would like to add any observations about your own inground trees, please do, these varieties or different, contradictory or not. Best of luck to everyone this season.

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So in general, the more wood above ground that made it through the winter, the quicker it will set fruit (or fewer leaves required at least). Right? Are you considering stepover for certain trees for better production or just to manage size/shape?

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That is absolutely true for Adriatic JH, the Etnas, Easton Purple, and Florea, you can see how much further developed the fruit on the growths that started at 2 ft. or more is at this point. When they die all the way back to the ground they usually start growing later as well as need to grow more leaves before setting any fruit. The other thing to think about is the number of fruiting branches, a trunk with existing branches ends up ripening a lot more figs early in the season compared to one with fewer shoots.

But then LdA just seems like it has bushed out too much and that has inhibited fruit set. I’m thinking better spaced shoots on a step over would help with that. I will take a better look at them and thin out a lot of branches this week and see what happens. LdA and the VdB types grow from the ground to over 12 ft. (and of course the figs that set above 6-7 ft. won’t have time to ripen) so protecting them is hard, I did 2 of the LdAs last fall but it took a long time because they were so big. It would be a lot easier to just prune them back to a stepover and cover… But I’d really prefer them with less growth and more branches, and keeping unwanted suckers and branches pruned on stepovers with trees this vigorous would be a lot of work as well.

Maybe I will try to go for really long horizontal growth with many branches. Some of the Adriatic Jhs have more than 8 ft. of wood that is mostly horizontal because they have a hard time growing upright, but maybe that is the solution for LdA and the VdB types also and I just need to keep pulling some shoots down onto support wires and eventually they will lose enough vigor to be manageable.

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[quote=“hoosierbanana, post:3, topic:23024”]

I have a Ronde de Bordeaux, top 18 inches survived the winter, now has a dozen or so shoots but no figs, not a one. I was thinking I should prune out all but three or four shoots to improve fig set. Maybe it’s too late to do that???

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Brent,
I think a lot of your observations would vary depending upon, climate,
sun, and soil fertility. For instance my Barbentane, which suffers some winter die back,until this year, but grows back vigorously. has been moved twice, from a very fertile location to a low fertility location. It sat for a year with very little growth and no figs. This year it has bushed out into a very large plant and is loaded with figs. It has always ripened EVERY fig for me. It has always produced so many figs that ripen over a long period of time, that I get tired of eating them

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Hi Ray,

What sparked a lot of this is me asking him for input for zone 5 people or zone 6 for example. I totally understand your comments because I’m a veteran gardener.

I think Brent is trying his best to help ALL people and he’s done a write-up for what are more known to be cultivars for people in much-much colder zones than you.

This is all subjective to interpretation but for everyone to put in their nickel’s worth of information.

I’m putting in-ground a lot of figs coming up and I have quite a few right now.

@hoosierbanana where you located? I always think it’s near or in Indianapolis?

What are folks recommendations for overwintering? I plan on piling mulch over each to 18" or so tall. I was previously under the impression that organic debris covering a fig that has been held to the ground with heavy potting bags for example and then covered and pinned down with something such as aluminum insulation or tarps was the way to go. However, a couple guys on the forum use mulch in zones similar to my Illinois 5b.

Ray, thanks for chiming in.

Dax

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@hambone RdB is a bit of a mystery to me… The first year I had it the one planted in the ground ripened a half dozen figs, after that I planted about ~20 more and they have been sparse to produce. I will try and note some significant difference between trees that set well this year and those that didn’t and hopefully get back to you with something that can help.

@rayrose The ones I have in containers are reasonably productive after a couple years of building branch structure, but in ground here they just grow like mad and never set figs. I’m growing in silty loam with a good amount of organic matter, and don’t really have any choice about that. They seem pretty late to ripen for me, and had issues with splitting (though I did pollinate lots of them and last year was the first time they managed to ripen figs. Do you have any pictures of yours to compare?


@Barkslip I’m right near the border of Pennsylvania and Delaware, pretty much the top of zone 7. Getting them flat to the ground and covering with soil (ground cover first to use less soil) or bags of leaves or compost has always been the surest winter protection for me. But also covering with 2 layers of the cheapest agribon for frost protection seems very important for the ones that are planted out in the open because the past 2 years they got hit with a hard freeze when still leafed out.

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Also, forgot about Sultane. Also doesn’t set figs in a reasonable amount of time after freezing back.

Mine doesn’t freeze back and sets and ripens a full two crops.

Here’s my Barbentane

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Thanks Ray, I’ve got no intentions of getting rid of my container plants by the way, that would be nice if I can get some brebas… Those often drop here too though.

(I view everything through the lens of viticulture)–for more vigorous varieties a scott-henry system is sometimes used. This would be interesting for figs. So. Two wires on which first year growth would be tied down, top/rear wire growth goes up, bottom/front wire growth goes down. More light penetration, yes, but also bottom wire growth is devigorated to some extent. Yes definitely some work but straight forward. Just food for thought.

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Hey Dax, I’m trialing a low tunnel system in zone 6a that seems intimidating at first but is easy once setup. Low Tunnel Winter Protection (Figs, etc.)

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Brent,
Barbentane is a one crop fig. There are no brebas.

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Thanks for that. Don. I’m continuously thinking but leaning toward a big ole pile of mulch still. How did they do from last winter in terms of hardwood exposed/not covered with soil or anything other means under the tunnel (die-back)?

I assume the soil covered portions didn’t have die-back?

Dax

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Hey Dax. The soil covered portions had no die back. Of the six trees, three either died back to soil or survived just a few inches above the soil line. The other three saved growth between 8-14 inches above soil. Most of the damage I attribute to two things–one, I didn’t plant them until end of July. Two, I didn’t have the full protection (only had row cover, no 6mil plastic) in place before the cold blast right around Thanksgiving. I also didn’t have the wifi thermometers in place at that time, so I can only guess at the temperature. That being said I did have a thermometer in a nearby low tunnel, slightly different at five feet wide instead of three, that had a lighter row cover and it got down to 14F.

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Thanks!

Great documentation, Brent!
You are about a zone warmer than me, in SW PA. I only have 20 trees inground, oldest has had 4 winters in ground now, but I have similar observations so far.

I am protecting some by growing in low cordons, and pruning them way back and covering, some are growing as bushes which I cover with various insulating materials and a tarp. I find that if I cannot protect some wood above ground, that they are significantly later in setting figs. I find that my pruning and protecting methods remove a lot of the terminal buds/branches, which seem to be faster at starting growth in the spring and in setting fruit earlier. I am thinking about how to save more terminal buds on lower branches in my protection methods.

Florea results are same as yours, though the Mt Etnas grow much more vigorously.

My RdB, grown as a low cordon, has had 2 winters in the ground and although it grows back quickly, as you noted it takes a while to start setting figs - much later than the Mt Etnas and Florea, even though as a container plant it ripens in a similar season to a container Florea.
I hope with increased age/maturity it will start setting sooner.

My Niagara Black(supposed to be the same as LdA), seems too late in setting fruit after die back to continue with - I only had a few inches of a low cordon survive with protection.

Mount Etnas (Sals, Chicago Hardy, Bryant Dark, Black Bethlehem, RedSicilian(MN), Salem Dark and Unk Chios Dark) will fruit late after die back, but with some protection grow and fruit extremely well. I have 3-4 ft of growth on some branches already of the oldest ones, covered with figs.

Nero 600m does not seem that hardy to me and has frozen back despite protection, this will be second summer without ripening figs in time, it appears.

I have Jason’s Unk Black Ischia in ground, supposed to be same as Negretta, and this year some wood was protected above ground and I have lots of small figs which should start to ripen some time in September, its first inground production.

I also have an Adriatic(JH) in ground and this year I also was successful in protecting more than 20 inches height of 3 trunks, it woke up quickly and it is growing well but just starting to set figs, which may be too late to ripen for the second summer in a row. I am willing to give it another season or so to see if maturity helps make it fruit a little earlier.

I also have a Salem White in ground, my oldest cordon specimen, and I have been able to protect a longer cordon segment under cover, and this year it is fruiting much earlier than the prior two seasons, maybe as much as 4-6 weeks earlier this year - my results with this one and my Salem Dark is why I have hopes that with better protection over succeeding seasons and saving gradually bigger trunks, earlier fruiting is possible. Some of the improvement this year could also be due to the warmer early spring temps without a late frost. The fruit in the pic below is on rapidly growing branches off the main cordon. Some of the fruit on my Mt Etnas is a little farther along.

salem%20white%20fruit

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Thanks for weighing in Ed. I’ve thought about how to grow them as cordons and save some terminal buds too, maybe notching above a bud nearest the cordon later in summer to get it to break could help?

@hambone, I went and looked at all the RdBs, aside from the branches coming from 2nd year growths I can’t really make any sense of it. They are still not setting as well as the Etnas, but most are doing better. I didn’t thin them much this year either, so maybe that slowed down the individual growths a little bit. Normally I would go out in May and select maybe 8-10 shoots coming from the ground, I like to give each a tug to find the ones that don’t have a strong attachment and are likely to break in a storm, but to the best of my recollection I did not do that this year.

I thinned out the 2 LdAs that had some trunks survive, not sure if it will help more figs set, but I saw some web blight getting started down low so cleared out all growths that had no figs set as well as weeds and shaded branches to let in more air and sun. About 30# of branches removed. Will have to be on the lookout for web blight on the others, with so much rain last year it was a real problem and apparently survived the winter on the wood.


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Great post, Brent; thanks!

I don’t have a very large sample (I overwintered 22 in ground)—or much experience—but this first year an Improved Celeste (O’Rourke NOT from Petals from the Past in Jemison, AL) was the first to set fruit. It has also, by far, been my champion grower, having put on about 4’ of new growth since I uncovered it. Like all my in-grounds, I pruned it back to 2.5-3’ and protected it with a plastic-topped, straw-stuffed cage. Uncovered in early April. We had a low of 4F this winter, but this one experienced no dieback—probably in large part because of the big old slab of thermal mass (a hog pen foundation poured—and then abandoned—many years ago) behind it. Exposure here is southeasterly; and it should get about 8 hours of sun. Another IC, from the same source, was planted out in the open in my back yard, which is sunnier but less protected. It lost about 2/3 of itself over the winter, but is bouncing back nicely; fruit set was a couple weeks behind this one.

Improved Celeste, 7/4/19

Improved Celeste fruit, 7/4/19.

That’s interesting that they are late-setters for you. Could it have something to do with climate differences? Or do we have different strains of IC? Potted ones seem eager to fruit here, too, and they were the first of my cuttings rooted over the winter that wanted to push figs.

My next-earliest—nearly neck-and-neck with IC #1—was Malta Black, planted near the southwestern-facing wall of a metal shed. All the Etna-types (is Malta Black an Etna Type? seems a little different to me) followed fairly close behind. None of the Etna-types experienced much dieback over the winter—regardless of location—and all started setting fruit around the same time. Interestingly, the champion grower of the Etnas, Papa John— which has put on a similar amount of growth to IC #1 and is getting a lot of fruit set right now— enjoys no particular microclimate and is planted next to IC #2.

The only other one of these I overwintered is a VdB-type (Beer’s Black). About 1’ of a sucker survived because I pinned it to the ground and covered it with the bulk of my enclosure; the rest died to about 1"-2" stubs. No fruit; but it’s a tissue culture, so that may have something to do with it. Have Olympian and “English” Brown Turkey EL (= Hanc’s/Miller’s Brown Turkey?) in the open—which were protected in the same manner as the rest, and only lost some smaller-caliper growths this winter; they’ve just started pushing figs in earnest in the last couple weeks. Do have a Longue d’Aout and three Rondes de Bordeaux in ground now—but just planted. Thought I had a Michurinska-10/Florea—but it was just a misidentified Etna-type.

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