Almost four decades back, when we moved in the home we currently live in, the lot was practically bare. Moreover, the soil didn’t look very vegetation-friendly. So, we did two things once we got settled: got a load of top soil and planted trees, fruit trees in particular. And, a fig tree was one of them.
Back then, unlike the current popularity, very few garden centers sold fig plants or were familiar with it. Also, we were somewhat concerned that the plant might not be able to survive the winter weather here. In fact, right after planting, few winters were so severe that we almost lost our young sapling. But the tree which is a fairly large bush now has certainly surpassed our expectation and still bears the sweetest, most luscious fruit during the season. Speaking of season, the peak is now. Starting from late spring onward, we watch the fruits form on branches grow larger and eventually ripen, a process though the same year after year, we find very pleasurable.
Fig trees are deciduous by nature and so, just as weather warms up in spring, dormant tips of branches open into tufts of light green leaves followed by large, deeply lobed foliage along the stems. Our variety, which I cannot recollect now, bears two crops, and if birds and squirrels don’t outsmart us, the production goes on until early fall. Fruits are best harvested when soft to touch and turn from green to purplish in color. An interesting fact worth mentioning here is that the fruit we eat is actually a cluster of tiny fruits enclosed in a delicate fleshy receptacle, hence a short shelf life. Therefore, after sharing with friends and consuming all we can, we freeze them whole – just like blueberries.
A native of the Mediterranean region and domesticated since ancient times, the common fig, Ficus carica, is a member of family Moraceae which includes rubber plant, the popular houseplant. Relatively speaking, it is not very difficult to grow a fig tree, as long as plenty sunshine is available and some protection during winter from cold, drying wind. Also, the soil needs to be moist but well-drained; stress due to dryness can result in premature drop of fruits. Since the tree or the shrub, as the case might be, tends to outgrow the allocated space, pruning can be done to remove dead or unruly branches to keep the size contained. Incidentally, a factor to bear in mind while handling a fig tree is that the injured leaves secrete a milky sap which can cause skin irritation in some people.
Growing a fig tree is indeed a very rewarding experience; aside from providing us delectable fruits, it is a nice addition to the landscape. Now that our beloved tree is aging, we have dug and are nurturing some plantlets that sprout near the root area to plant elsewhere in the garden, thus keep the progeny alive.