How to ripen figs off the tree

Why won’t my figs ripen?

By Heather Kirk-Ballard

LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

(08/21/20) Fig season is well underway, and many fig varieties are wrapping up their production while others are still producing and ripening. Fig season can begin in Louisiana as early as mid-June and end as late as early October, depending on the varieties. Your trees may still have green figs that just won’t seem to ripen, and that can be for many reasons.

First off, fig trees have a long juvenile period where they will not make fruit. Depending on the variety, they may take anywhere from two to six years to begin producing fruit. Those mature enough to produce fruit can take up to two months from fruit formation to optimal ripeness. In this instance, you just need to be patient.

Beyond the age of plants, the next possible cause for figs to not ripen could have to do with environmental factors such as temperature, water, nutrient levels and amount of light in addition to biotic pressures such as weeds, pests and disease.

Stress is the main reason why fig fruit will not ripen. Fig trees are extremely susceptible to stress, which causes them to slow down or even stop ripening their fruit. The most common stress is lack of water in high-heat conditions. Fig trees have a shallow root system, and irrigation is extremely important. If a fig tree does not receive an adequate water supply, fruit may not form or will not ripen.

Annual rainfall in Louisiana is typically very high — 60 or more inches of rain annually. However, rainfall data from 2020 for the months of May through July are showing an average of 2.45 inches less than 2019 rainfall for those three months. August data will likely show a further decrease in some parishes.

Stressed trees will go into survival mode, conserving their energy in an effort to help them stay alive and reproduce by conserving their seeds. Trees conserve energy by diverting it from the ripening process. Fruit will not ripen or will drop prematurely in addition to dropping leaves in their effort to stay alive.

One hard fact about figs is, unfortunately, green figs will not ripen off the tree. However, fruit picked just before full ripeness will continue to soften and become sweeter when they are stored at room temperature in a dry location, such as a pantry.

Ripeness is most often determined by enlarged size and a color change from green to brown or purple and sometimes gold, depending on the variety. You can feel for ripeness by gently squeezing the fruit, and it feels soft to the touch. Unripe figs are hard and have a rubbery feel to them. Additionally, ripeness can be determined by sweetness: the riper the fig, the sweeter it is.

Other possible reasons fruit will not ripen are a lack of nutrients, insufficient sunlight, too much nitrogen, pests or disease. In an effort to protect itself from pests or diseases, a tree will divert energy from fruit production and ripening into fighting off pests and disease. Scout often for pests and disease, and treat affected trees as soon as you spot them.

Fig leaf rust is a common disease that affects the trees. It is a fungal disease that affects mostly the leaves, and it thrives on humidity and moisture that is prevalent here in Louisiana. Trees respond by dropping their leaves in late summer or early fall. Fruit is not typically affected, but the disease can cause premature ripening of the fruit.

When planting fig trees, provide adequate spacing to improve air circulation in addition to using good pruning practices to open up the canopy. Avoid overhead watering, but water at the base of the trunk. Remove fallen, diseased leaves and discard them in the waste to prevent further disease spread.

No fungicide is registered for use during fruit production. Rust can be treated when trees are bare during the winter or dormant season followed by repeated treatments every two to three weeks to help prevent rust from reoccurring on the next year’s foliage. Never spray when fruit is present.

Making fruit can take a great deal of energy and work by the tree. A tree requires extra nutrients to support both itself and fruit. If the tree lacks proper fertilization, the figs slow the ripening process or may even stop. Additionally, over-application of nitrogen can also reduce ripening.

Regular fertilizing will help promote fruit production and ripening. Do not fertilize in late summer because succulent growth is more susceptible to cold injury in the winter. Wait until late winter or early spring and apply 1 pound of 8-8-8 fertilizer per year of age of the tree up to 10 years old.

Prune back one-third to one-half of the plant in early spring after the danger of the last frost has passed, typically March 15 for south Louisiana and after April 1 in north Louisiana.

To help improve fruit production and ripening of fruit, make sure the tree has plenty of water, especially during extremely hot temperatures, proper nutrients and proper maintenance. And scout for pests and disease regularly.

Fig fruit ripens on the tree. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter

Ripe figs are sweet and juicy. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter

Fig leaf rust on a fig leaf. Photo by Randy LaBauve/LSU AgCenter

Are You Stuck with a Tree Full of Unripe Figs? — The Italian Garden Project

Unripe figs in Joe Pietanza’s Brooklyn garden

A fig lover’s nightmare is to have a tree full of small, hard figs sitting stubbornly unripe on the tree at the end of the season.  It is often tempting to pick this end of season fruit before it’s fully mature, but will these figs ripen off the tree, or will you be stuck with sour, green lumps?  It’s an age-old debate. Don’t be surprised to hear an Italian gardener tell you fervently that no, figs will never ripen off the tree, never pick an unripe fig – period.  Then the next day you may hear his wife, cousin or neighbor give an equally enthusiastic yes, it’s okay to pick the fig a little early, just let it sit on the counter for a day or two and it will ripen right up.

Who’s right?  Who’s wrong? Will the fig ripen or not?

It turns out they are both right– sort of.  Figs are what is scientifically known as a climacteric fruit, which means they ripen (on the tree or not), when exposed to ethylene gas, which is produced naturally by the fruit itself.  Other climacteric fruits include bananas, apples, peaches, and tomatoes.  Unlike other climacteric fruits, though, figs only responds to ethylene gas in their later stages of development.  What does all that mean for the fig debate?  Basically, a fig which has already started the ripening process will continue to ripen even off the tree, so a fig which is soft and full, but not as sweet and juicy as you might hope, will become riper if you leave it on your counter for a few days.  A hard, green, sour fig on the other hand will not ripen on your counter, no matter how long you wait.

We thought we’d share a few ideas for how to make sure you end up with luscious, juicy fruits, not a sad tree full of never to be tasted figs.   Unfortunately, if it has already frosted in your area, it may be too late to ripen any figs left on your tree.  If frost still hasn’t hit where you live, give some of these ideas a try.  Not sure if your figs are ripe or not – check out our blog post here for help on knowing when your fig is ripe.

“Pinch” the figs: Figs bear their main season fruit on the current season’s growth, which means you’ll only get main season figs on the new growth at the end of the branch.  Some trees have an early crop (breba) that grows on last season’s growth. A good way to ensure that all your figs will ripen is to keep the new growth to a minimum by “pinching.”   This method of reducing the number of fruits allowed to grow is similar to pruning a grape vine or a fruit tree and should be done in the spring after the plant sets its first leaves.  To do this, find the branches from this year’s growth – they should be green and supple compared to previous year’s growth.  Count the leaves on the current growth starting from the trunk side, and pinch off the growing tip so that only 5 or 6 leaves remain on the branch.

You can use this same principle later in the season as well.  Some gardeners claim that pinching the ends off of branches which have already set fruit can encourage the last figs on the tree to ripen.  They recommend pinching the tip off the tree late in the season, around mid-September for most of the East Coast. Removing the tips of each branch when the tree has already set fruit will encourage the tree to stop growing and send its energy in to ripening fruit instead.

Reduce the number of figs: If you find yourself mid-Summer and you forgot to pinch back the growth in the Spring using the early pinching method, don’t worry.  You can apply the same principle to a tree which already has already fruited.  Just pick off the smallest, greenest fruit, furthest away from the trunk. This will ensure that the tree sends its energy into ripening the fruit that remains.  You’ll end up with fewer figs, but they’ll be more likely to ripen.

If, like many of the readers who are writing us now, you find yourself towards the end of fig season with no ripe figs, don’t worry, you still have some options.

Oil the figs: Another method of ripening figs is to dot the eye of the fig with a bit of oil.  To do this, simply dip a Q-tip in some olive oil and brush it lightly over the little belly button on the bottom of the fig, opposite the stem.  Anointing the figs like this helps seal the eye of the fruit, preventing ethylene gas from escaping and encouraging the fig to ripen faster.   Figs treated this way can ripen in as little as two days. Be forewarned though, this method will not work if the figs are extremely under ripe, in fact it can cause the immature figs to fall off the tree. Additionally, many people claim that figs ripened this way don’t taste as good as figs ripened naturally.  If the forecast calls for cold weather a few days out though, it may be worth your while to try to coax a few ripe figs off the tree with this method.

The banana bag method:  Figs need an average daytime temperature of at least 60 degrees to ripen – any colder and the tree will begin to enter dormancy.   With that in mind, one of our gardeners in Pittsburgh, Jimmy Sunseri keeps a close eye on the weather.  When he sees a cold stretch coming in he recommends picking all the fruit left on the tree and putting it in a paper bag with a banana.  Bananas have high quantities of ethylene gas, and will help to quickly ripen any of the figs which have already entered the maturation phase.  Not all the figs will ripen he says, but you might get a few last sweet figs.

Here’s some new tips we recently received from a website reader in Australia, John Tick:

“Recently, my main tree was full of green figs and starting to go dormant. What to do? I read a few articles on green figs and decided that it was heat stressed. I immediately gave the tree 20 gallons of very weak liquid manure. Within two (2) days some figs began ripening and very quickly. So every day I have been giving the tree 20 gallons of water and on the fifth day liquid fertiliser. The figs immediately began ripening daily such that I could harvest about 10 or so a day. All the other fig trees (2) have gone dormant but this big tree has decided to hold off till all the figs are ripe which will be in about three or four days by my reckoning.
So Conclusion - if figs are not ripening in a hot climate it may be the result of heat stress - so more water!!!!”

Eat them green:  If all else fails you could try one of the many recipes for green figs.  In Italy, green figs are added to frittatas and served on pasta. We particularly like this recipe for unripe figs and fettuccine which is adapted from the Italian version online here.

1 lb. fresh fettuccine pasta
1 medium onion, cut into a small dice
¾ pound unripe figs, rinsed and diced
4 oz pancetta, cut into a small dice
Pinch of hot pepper flakes
½ cup of dry white wine
Olive Oil
Grated Parmesan Cheese

Recipe update: After trying this recipe according to the original instructions that didn’t require that the figs be boiled and squeezed first, and then trying it by softening the figs by boiling, we have decided we prefer the latter preparation as shown below.

In a small sauce pan, boil figs until slightly soft, rinse and squeeze out excess water. Cut the figs into small pieces. Heat enough olive oil to generously coat the bottom of a large frying pan.  Add the onions and sauté over medium until translucent then add the pancetta and sauté for another two minutes.  Add figs to pancetta and onions and sauté until the pancetta begins to crisp.  Add the white wine to the pan, and cook until the alcohol has evaporated, then add salt and hot pepper flakes to taste.  Add half a cup of water and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until the figs are soft and brown.   Cook the pasta in salted boiling water, and when it is al dente drain it, reserving half a cup of the starchy cooking water.  Add the fettucine to the frying pan, along with the reserved pasta water and toss in some grated parmesan.  Stir together to coat the pasta in the fig sauce, and serve hot with more cheese on top.     Buon Appetito!

Here is a recipe for preserving unripe figs from website reader Tommy Slatten of Wilda, LA:

I live in the deep south. Here we usually have an overflux of figs, especially the early varieties like Celeste. The traditional method of preserving figs here is to cook them into a syrup, and keep in jars. The ripe figs will break up, because of the long cook time. We actually look for figs that have just begun to blush with color, and are still firm. To prepare just rinse the figs, no need to stem them, and cook in a crockpot on high. Cover the figs completely with dry granulated cane sugar. The moisture will come from the figs, and a syrup will form slowly. DO NOT STIR, the sugar will all eventually dissolve. Cook times will vary, but it will usually take an overnight cook. The color should be dark, like strong tea. Jar them with enough syrup to cover them completely. Water bath the jars for about ten minutes. Any leftover syrup can be used as flavored syrup. Store in a dark place, they will keep for years.

If you know any other methods for ripening figs please share them with us. And, keep us posted if you try any of the ripening methods we mentioned here – we’d love to know how they worked for you!

Fig Trees, RecipesElise Canupfig, fig trees, figs, food, fruit, Italian food, ripening126 Comments


❀ Cultivation of fig garden | GreenMarket

Figs are native to the Mediterranean and other countries with a mild climate. We, the inhabitants of central and eastern Ukraine, are also not averse to joining the cultivation of exotic fruits, but here the question immediately arises: how will the heat-loving figs survive our cold winters? Is it possible to grow it in the garden and how to do it? As the experience of Ukrainian gardeners proves, with the desire and diligence, this is quite real.

The fig (or fig tree or fig) is one of the most ancient plants cultivated by man. The Latin name "Ficus carica" ​​indicates to us that the fig belongs to the genus Ficus. We find mention of it in the Bible. Indeed, it was with a leaf of this tree that Adam and Eve covered their nakedness after eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge. An unpretentious plant with beautiful large leaves attracted the attention of a person with its sweet, like honey, fruits. Delicious and tender, they are at the same time very nutritious and healthy, they can give you a quick satiety.

Buy fig seedlings for its fruits, which are not only tasty, but also very healthy. As mentioned above, many Ukrainian gardeners living in Kyiv, Dnepropetrovsk, Kharkov and other regions have experience in growing this plant in open ground. We will talk about the features of agricultural technology for the regions of Ukraine in the article.

In places of its range, the fig grows as a fairly large tree, but in our country it is grown as a bush.

cordon figs

figs in the form of a bush

Ways of growing figs

In places of its range, the fig grows as a rather large tree, but in our country it is grown as a bush. The main secret of successful cultivation of figs is to provide them with conditions for a successful wintering. For this, as a rule, it is grown in pits or trenches, which is convenient for the winter shelter of a heat-loving plant.

Two main ways:

1. Growing at a 45° angle. The seedling is placed in such a way when planting, in order to further facilitate the bending of the branches before their shelter.

2. Formation of a horizontal cordon. In this case, the seedling is planted vertically, the top is cut off, and the growing side shoots are carefully bent to the ground. They are arranged in the form of sleeves directed along one line in opposite directions. From the buds on these shoots, vertically growing branches develop, on which the crop will ripen.

Planting figs

First, choose the warmest, wind-sheltered spot in the garden and prepare the hole. You need to dig a trench if you are going to plant several plants at once. This must be done in advance, as the process is quite laborious.

  • To plant one plant, dig a hole about 1.5 m long, 1 m wide and 60-80 cm deep. A deep hole for planting the seedling itself is not needed, since the root system of figs is located on the surface.
  • For convenience, you can plant 2 plants at once, then increase the length of the trench to 2 m. Place the seedlings at opposite ends at an angle to the center of the trench. It is convenient to bend down the shoots growing towards each other and make a general shelter for the winter. It also saves space and labor costs.
  • Fold the top fertile layer of the earth separately to later fill it in the planting hole. When the pit is prepared, pour 1.5 buckets of humus or compost on the bottom, 200 g of superphosphate, 200 g of potash fertilizers (wood ash can be used), then a layer of prepared fertile soil.
  • Form a small mound in the hole, on which spread the roots of the seedling, cover with soil, compact and water abundantly. As for fertilizers, they can be omitted, because in nature figs grow even on poor stony soils. Therefore, sand and small pebbles can be added to the soil mixture.
  • Figs are planted in open ground in late April - early May, when the threat of night frosts has finally passed. When growing a large number of plants, the trench should be positioned in an east-west direction in order to maximize sun exposure.


sweet figs

Fig care

After planting, seedlings should be watered frequently and abundantly at first, then a couple of times a month. Keep the height of the bush by pruning no higher than 2 m. Pay special attention to pruning and crown formation. The crown needs to be thinned out so that the fruits are well lit by the sun and ripen.

Preparing figs for winter

In autumn, after leaf fall, in late October - early November, fig bushes growing at an angle can be gradually and carefully bent down to the ground, trying not to break off the branches. Then tie them up and sprinkle with earth, dry leaves and other plant debris. With the onset of frost, cover with two layers of black spunbond, and after a while also with plastic wrap. Some gardeners build a low frame polyethylene shelter over the fig bushes, this is optional.

In spring, with the onset of positive temperatures, the shelter can be gradually removed. It is completely removed when stable warm weather is established without the threat of return frosts. Every year the branches become thicker, and it is difficult to bend them down, so you just need to cut such branches.

Fig crop

It is an early-growing crop and begins to bear fruit already in the second year after planting. In nature, the fig tree is a dioecious plant, i.e. There are male and female trees. The process of pollination is very complex, the main role in it is played by the blastophage wasp, which carries pollen, pollinating plants. Since this wasp does not live everywhere, breeders have bred self-fertile - parthenocarpic varieties. It is these varieties that are usually used in culture. This allows you to get a crop even when growing a single bush.

The flower in the usual form for us is not seen in figs. It seems that a small fruit is immediately formed, which grows and ripens. In fact, the fig flower develops in the axils of the leaves inside the spherical thickened shoots with a hole at the top. The flowers are small and inconspicuous. Female seedlings - figs - as they mature, acquire rather large pear-shaped forms.

Most varieties give two harvests per year: the first in early summer on the last year's shoots, and the second in September-October on the current shoots. In our conditions, when growing in open ground, you need to focus on getting fruits in the fall. But when growing figs in a greenhouse, you can get two harvests per year. The moment of maturity of the fetus is determined by the color of the skin and its density. The ripe fruit has a characteristic color for the variety (green, brown, yellow or dark purple), it is soft to the touch.

Propagation of figs. Figs are easy to propagate from cuttings in autumn during pruning or early spring. Cuttings harvested in autumn are stored in the basement until mid-January. Then they germinate like grape cuttings.

Brunsvik variety

Dalmatsky variety

Adriatic variety

Popular varieties of figs

Self-fertile and most frost-resistant varieties are most often grown in our region, such as Dalmatsky, Brunsvik, White Adriatic and Crimean Black.

Figs Brunsvik has established itself as the most frost-resistant variety, withstands frosts down to -29 °C. Its fruits are greenish in color with a purple blush, with an average weight of 45 g. Fruits of a greenish tint, pear-shaped in shape, weigh 90-180 g. The flesh is pink, juicy and sweet.

White Adriatic Fig is also popular, many gardeners grow it on their plots. This variety produces small (35-40 g), but tasty, juicy and sweet fruits. Their skin is light green, and the flesh is pink.

Crimean black fig (or Moisson) has fruits similar in size to those of the Adriatic, but is distinguished by a very dark purple color of the skin. The taste is sweet with sourness and pronounced aroma.

In general, figs are unpretentious, given the important point - proper preparation for winter and reliable shelter. If you like to try something new, experiment, grow exotic fruits - try growing figs!

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Figs: peculiarities of cultivation in Ukraine

Figs - a relative of indoor ficus, known for its amazingly sweet fruits. They are dried, used for cooking jam, processed in other ways. Fig belongs to heat-loving tropical crops, but some of its varieties can be grown even in Ukraine. What care should be given to the plant?

Planting figs in autumn

Properly selected place and timely planting of seedlings determine the survival rate and future yield of the plant.

You can buy and plant a plant in a summer cottage twice a year:

  • in spring , before the start of sap flow;
  • in autumn after shedding leaves.

The autumn variant is most acceptable, since natural factors contribute to rooting: high air and soil humidity, moderate solar activity and air temperature.

Planting is carried out a month before the forecasted frost, so that the figs have enough time to take root and gain strength before the dormant period.

Choosing a planting site

Figs are demanding crops in terms of planting site and soil structure. The root system of the plant is superficial, so it should be planted at a distance from other crops. Groundwater must be located at a depth of at least 3 meters, otherwise the fig tree will die over time. The plant grows well on sandy and loamy soils, on stony soils.

It is important to choose the most lighted place for figs. With a lack of sun, the shoots of the plant stretch out, the ovaries dry out, their number decreases. It is undesirable to shade the plant even for several hours a day. It is better to choose the brightest place that is not shaded by other cultures.

Tropical crops should be protected from cold winds. A building (house, garage) or structure (fence, shield made of film or sheet materials), as well as other crops with a dense crown, can act as a wind protection. Almost any conifers can act as them: spruces, pines, arborvitae, heathers.

Fig tree planting procedure

After selecting a suitable place for growing, planting work is carried out.

Fig planting order:

  1. Planting hole preparation. Dig it in advance, 2-4 weeks before planting the seedling. Drainage is laid at the bottom - pebbles, crushed stone, brick breakage. A mixture of fertile soil and 100-200 g of superphosphate is laid on the bottom in a slide. During the time remaining before planting, the substrate will settle, part of the fertilizer will dissolve in it. It is advisable to line the walls of the pit with slate, broken bricks or other materials to limit the growth of the root system.
  2. Pre-soak the seedling in a root stimulator for 12-24 hours to activate the growth of suction roots.
  3. The prepared fig tree is placed on the resulting hill in the pit, the roots are straightened and covered with fertile soil.
  4. Figs are watered thoroughly, at least 30-40 liters of water for each plant. The earth is covered with organic mulch - straw, mowed weeds, peat, humus or sawdust.

Properly planted figs will take root before the onset of winter, and in the spring will grow without delay.

Preparing figs for winter

Culture is resistant to frost down to -15…-20 degrees . If in the southern regions the plant hibernates without shelter, then in the north of the country, in the Kyiv and Kharkov regions, the culture needs protection from the cold. For this, the branches of the plant are bent to the ground and fixed. If the shoot breaks during bending down, it is cut. The remaining stump from the top bud will give rise to new branches.

Shoots are insulated from above with mulching materials - sawdust, wood chips, straw, up to 20 cm thick. Suitable for shelter and boards, which are laid out on mulch. The figs are covered with a film on top to prevent the shoots from getting wet and aging.

It is convenient to plant two plants in close proximity in order to tie the crown of one plant to the trunk of another. The distance between the bushes with this method of planting should be about 2 m.

Caring for figs

Proper care of the crop will ensure its maximum growth, resistance to diseases and pests, and high yields.


Figs tolerate drought well. Leaves are an indicator of the need for watering: they lose their elasticity and wither. In this case, the tree must be watered. Under the root, depending on the age of the bush and its size, pour from 40 to 70 liters of warm water.

Irrigation is completely stopped during fruit ripening to improve the taste of the fruit, and also to prepare the plant for wintering. After all, excess moisture will cause the tree to re-grow.

Top dressing

Nutrients introduced when planting a fig tree seedling will last the plant for the whole year. Starting from the second year, figs are fertilized at least 2-3 times per season. In the first half of summer, potassium and nitrogen are added to help the plant in the active phase of vegetation. For full fruiting, phosphorus and potassium are introduced from the second half of summer. Nitrogen fertilization is stopped so as not to cause a new wave of shoot growth.


Forming the crown of figs starts from the first year of cultivation. The bush is formed in the shape of a bowl to evenly distribute sunlight over the crown. Thickening is excluded, winter crop care is simplified. Old shoots are removed, as they are difficult to bend down in the fall. Fruiting will continue on new branches, so the yield of the plant will not be affected.

Features of cultivation in Ukraine

Cultivation of figs in Ukraine has its own characteristics:

  1. The seedling is planted in a hole or trench to make it easier for the shoots to bend down to the ground. To do this, in the northern regions, a hole for a seedling is dug to a depth of about a meter so that the figs are buried 30-40 cm relative to the soil level.
  2. Figs in frosty regions are grown as a shrub , because it grows quickly in a year and pleases with high yields. To do this, the old, rigid branches are removed, and the young, flexible ones are pressed to the ground as much as possible and tied up. For this, landing in pits is necessary: ​​in this way, plants bent to the ground will be level with the soil and will be securely covered with snow.
  3. Another growing option is on trellis when the shoots are fixed on a support in the same plane.

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