Need advice on container-growing figs and dirt mixture

Hi friends. I have some figs that have badly outgrown their pots and I want to replant them b4 they break dormancy. But like most things fruit related, I have never done this and badly need some help. First, the new pots: I am going to use those blue plastic 55 gallon drums cut in half. I’ll have them on rollers so moving them from my garage to my patio each spring/fall will be no problem, even with the weight. DO you think ½ of a 55 gallon drum will be plenty big enough for a long time to come?

The next big issue is the “dirt” I need to plant them in. Here is what I have on hand:

  1. I have several piles of completely/almost completely composted mulch. This is the mulch that cities give away, which means originally it had a lot of leaves, brush, twigs, etc. I would think (guess) that this stuff makes a more fertile compost than rotted hardwood chip mulch since it did have all the leaves and twigs and etc. I know that the precence of those leaves makes this type of mulch “cook” a lot quicker and better and hotter, so I’m guessing the end product might be better to. I have piles that are 6 months old, and 1, 2, 3, and 3.5 years old. Obviously the oldest stuff is the most broken down. The older stuff is jet black and has almost no recognizable materials left (ie wood chips, twigs, etc. It is just a “fluffy” looking black gold material. The newer stuff has more wood chips and small twigs still visable, but it looks good too.
  2. I have several dump truck loads of material that the city collects when it “cleans out” ditches. They have a machine that looks and acts like a giant ice cream scooper. About every 3 years on any given ditch, they go in and scoop out about 3-8 inches of the dirt in the ditch, effectively lowering the ditch and keeping it from filling in over time. It is made up of the leaves, twigs, even dead animals and other organic matter that settle in the ditch and begins to rot away over time. This “dirt” is a little hard to describe, but its like the most super, super rich top soil on earth. It is jet black, very loose and light-weight, but generally looks like extremely fertile top soil. If you have ever walked along side a creek or river and seen the black, bottom-land dirt that accumulates there then you know what this stuff looks like. It is miles above regular top soil- much richer, blacker, lighter weight, etc but it’s more like real dirt than the pure composted mulch mentioned above.
  3. I also have several dump-truck piles of just good ‘ole top soil. Its dark in color, has almost no rock, evidence of rotted organic matter, and so on. Just a very good quality of top soil. Miles above fill dirt, but doesn’t look or feel anything like the 2 mediums described above.

Because I’m using 55 gallon drums I really want to use as much of the free materials I just described and minimize the things I have to purchase at retail prices in town. I was thinking about mixing equal parts of the 3 matierals listed above, and then buying and adding Peat Moss and/or vermiculite and/or other things. So please, anyone, after you finish reading this big novel, please offer me your opinion/input on everything I have just proposed- including the pots, the soil mixture, or anything else. Your help will be most appreciated by me, and perhaps other who are considering doing more zone pushing via the use of movable containers! Thanks so much, as always!!

By the way…please don’t think I take advantage of the city by getting free mulch, topsoil, and riverbed/bottom-land black dirt from ditches. The fact is that they have to load that stuff up, and I live right in town and have a place they can just pull off the road, dump, and go. SO while I do benefit, it honestly is also the most efficient way for the City to get the stuff off their trucks. And if any other citizens ask for some and live in town, we give it to them first. Sorry for that little disclaimer, but I didn’t want everyone thinking I am another crooked government employee who takes advantage of the system! I also report every load I get to City Council just to be sure no one can say I was secretly “embezzling” DIRT! haha

Any advice you can give me about planting and growing figs in pots like I’ve just described would be much appreciated. I have no experience at all with pot-growing anything, including figs. So any help is appreciated…if you read the novel above and are still willing to help, then thank-you!


12-15 gal is plenty big for a fig. Those huge things might as well be in the ground since they are basically immobile.

Mix needs to drain well. No or very little soil. If you want soil just plant in the ground. It doesn’t drain well enough in a pot.

I agree with fruitnut. I would myself slowly increase pot size, not put them in a huge container. Plus you need to change the soil every 4 or 5 years at the very most. You can go longer, but for best results, new soil and root pruning is needed. Even in 55 gal drums. I’m putting my figs in a 10 gallon pot after the first year. The 2nd year a 15 gallon etc till about 30 gallons.
You need to use potting soil not garden soil. This is what I use, everybody has their own formula. 1 or 2 parts pine bark fines, 1 part peat moss, 1 part compost (You could use the 3.5 year mulch), 1 part perlite or DE or both. Sometimes I add 1 part commercial potting soil if I have it. Pine bark fines are often sold as a soil conditioner. I also add other things if on hand. This year I have lime, green sand, azomite, organic fertilizer, Crushed crab shells, and worm castings. Sometimes I add rock phosphate too, I don’t have any for this year, I’m broke and about the same as green sand anyway. I happen to have some azomite from last year, it will run out and I will go without it once gone. Old potting soil goes in my raised beds.

In a few short sentences you already addressed two of my main questions- how big is big enough for a fig, and how much regular top soil can I use. SO thanks for that.

Both Fruitnut and Drew (thanks for your help, also, Drew) indicated that my pots are too big, and Drew even suggests that I should gradually increase container side. I certainly trust your advice and will accept it, but for myself and others who may be wondering: Can someone explain why having a pot that is “Too big” be a bad thing? I mean, it seems that if planted outside there would be unlimited space, so why is too much space a problem when using a pot? What is the advantage of increasing pot size slowly over a few years preferable to just planting it in a large pot to begin with? (except perhaps it gives one the opportunity to replace existing soil when sizing up?) (Aside from the inconvenience of handling a large pot, of course). Again, these questions are in no way a challenge or denial of the advice you all gave me- I absolutely believe you guys know what is best. But I want to learn as I go, so I’d really like to understand what the disadvantage of using a 22.5 gallon pot instead of a 12-15 gallon is. Perhaps others are curious as well.
Thanks, Guys

The answer with containers is almost always drainage. Too much soil means the pot holds water for too long which causes issues like root rot. In the ground, the water has the chance to dissipate far away to not cause issues. Or other tree roots in the area suck them up.

Vin is absolutely correct, it does happen a lot. Some exceptions blueberries can take excess water better. Figs, no, they seem to like being dry very drought hardy.
I want to clarify no pot is big enough eventually for a fig. It will fill a 55 gallon pot with roots when it’s big enough. These are trees after all. Put in the biggest pot you can handle.

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That lady is Daisy and I have a cutting growing off of that tree
The bark is beautiful!

It’s an improved Brown Turkey. Although it is a tasty one for Brown Turkey.
Here is the fruit.

It doesn’t have to be a complicated blend or exact mixture. As Bleeding said, drainage is a priority.

Top soil tends to compact and winds up giving you a dense mixture. You do want to avoid making a mix that becomes too heavy and compact. Your composted blend sounds pretty good to me as a base ingredient, especially if it’s a loose blend. The wood and bark retain water and also allow good drainage and aeration. Figs are pros are making roots and will expand in there more quickly than other types of fruit trees. They will send roots into the ground if the container bottom is in contact. Don’t make the mistake of adding gravel or anything extra large on the bottom. That actually impairs drainage. And remember to fertilize them. Figs are fast growers and get hungry.


55 gal cut in half will give you a 27 gal pot. The largest pot I have has about 17 gal of dirt in it. It’s very heavy. Your pot will probably weigh 200 to 300 pounds depending the soil type, moisture and size of fig tree. That’s a consideration. Anybody have a better estimate of weight?

Hard to say if dry it could be lighter than 50 pounds if you use pine, peat and perlite. Depends if wet or dry and what you use. Mine are a little heavier with compost as part of the mix. I like to use a peat based compost when possible, but have added other composts when i ran out of the peat stuff. (peat compost is sold as a premium compost so is expensive for compost) I mostly use the peat compost for blueberries.
Many say not to add compost to pots, I disagree. Studies have shown it adds microbes and also prevents root rot. Numerous studies have shown this to be true.
Here is one study

If you have the room, I’d plant the figs and forget about growing them
in pots. Figs in pots require a lot of work, while planted figs require none
at all. They’re the easiest plants in the world to grow.

Hi Drew,

Can you link to the DE product that you use in your mix? What size are the particles? I can occasionally get small amounts of vermiculite for free and use this in a lot of my container mixes but the DE sounds interesting. Have you compared it with perlite or Vermiculite?

Perlite holds only air and makes soil drain really well. I sometimes use both perlite and DE. DE holds water like turface clay, it also holds air when water is gone. It’s better than clay because it holds more water by weight then turface. The pores are bigger than turface and plant roots can grow into the pores, unlike turface. It also has silicon a trace mineral needed by plants. I use it because mixes stay moist longer without being saturated. The water is released when needed. I needed something to hold water in containers longer. I’m gone sometimes 3 or 4 days in the summer. A self watering pot may be another solution, my problem is I have around 60 containers going in the summer. So DE holds air like perlite, yet also can hold water. It does not make soil as well draining as perlite. When I feel I need that too, I use both. Vermiculite I don’t know much about except it’s similar to perlite.I also use DE in my seed starting soils. Size is slightly smaller than regular perlite. I use either Napa Floor dry (Make sure it’s the DE product-100% DE), you can get that at any Napa auto store. Or Optisorb which is sold at O’Reilly’s auto stores.
Horticulrural DE is sold at some specialty shops, it’s way too expensive. It is also sold to commercial landscapers.

Here are some studies on DE

Yes, that mix would be alot lighter than garden soil and compost plus more air and less water in the pot.

Wet though it would be fairly heavy, I have 30 gallon root pouches with this mix and wet I would say they are close to 100 pounds. But yeah another reason to use potting soil, it’s light! Dry it’s about 50-60 pounds. The 30 gallon size would be like a 55 drum cut in half. What’s cool about root pouches because of air pruning of the roots, the plants grow like they would in a 60 gallon container, an awesome product! The root pouches are not expensive either and last 4-6 years.
The price is 10 bucks for one, 83 bucks for ten. I use the 10 and 15 gallon too
The 10 gallon is $4.50 and the 15 gallon is $6.00.

I’ve been using this guy(s) way of growing Figs for a couple of years.Seems okay.
Here is the website.There is a link to care for them and near the bottom of the main page is a fertilizing method,which I’ve done and will keep doing to see how the results look.I do use something more like Drew does also,for the basic composition.
What stood out about the care to me,was the part where he mentions not to disturb the roots,but only cut them a little.
I’ve never bought any plants there. Brady

My fig does OK in a container with compost and peat. Quite a lot of peat. Maybe 40%. I’m not saying it’s optimum, but it works.

Thanks Drew, I’ll have to look for it and try it out in a few of my containers. Vermiculite holds water better than perlite as well and also has a higher CEC than perlite. If I find the DE, I’ll compare the two.

Another benefit is that is will last decades, vermiculite and perlite break down in about 5 years. They look terrible in raised beds too (recycled old soil). I still use perlite sometimes. Watch out for the dust of any of these products, they all can cause cancer.

If you’re an experienced grower and know your soil drains fast or retains water, you care for it in such a manner to optimize growth. I built my soil to fit my needs. Something else I try to do is add micorrhizae fungi. Compost may be enough, but just in case, and it’s cheap!

Yes that is good info!
I don’t get the lime or limestone though. The universities all say figs like a slightly acidic soil around 6.0. Watering with tap water, and all tap water is basic, would seem to provide enough carbonates. Most soils are not that acidic. I myself would not add a lot of lime. My home made soil has a pH of 5.5. One university suggested 5.0 to 6.5 as optimum pH for figs,
LSU which developed all those fig cultivars you know LSU purple etc, says 6.0-6.5 is best range. So again I don’t get the addition of lime often suggested on the fig forums too. I’m not going to add any myself, Add gypsum if you must as it is not as basic and also provides calcium.

Fortunately, it is a fig. I personally will be impressed if you can slow down its growth. I am doubtful you can kill it, even if you filled the pot with some sort of acid.

I have a number of figs in 25g half wine barrels. They blow through the bottoms in about two years and root in the ground. They sit in pure soil, and I’ve seen them be under 2" of standing water for more than a week. They still put off 10’+ of growth every year.