This season we added two apple trees and were gifted three figs, each a different variety; so if memory serves me we should have a green, brown, and black fig now in our ‘orchard’. Figs are still new to me. I was not exposed to them as a child, nor did we know someone who had a fig tree, so I’m excited to learn more about them.

Something I did not know was figs are technically not fruit – they’re actually inverted flowers. Whaaaat? I did not know that and what this means is figs require a specific kind of pollination that can only come from fig wasps. These little wasps are only 1.5mm big and they have to DIE INSIDE the fruit in order for the fruit to mature, since figs cannot be pollinated by wind or normal bees. Do not think though that ripe figs are full of dead wasps – they are not and the “crunchy bits” in the fruit are only seeds. The fig actually produces an enzyme called ficain (also known as ficin) which digests the dead wasp and the fig absorbs the nutrients to create the ripe fruits and seeds. Yeah, maybe too much information there, as this won’t be easy to forget next time I go to bite into a fig.

So, if this information doesn’t change your mind about growing figs, here are some other things you should know about caring for figs. Figs can be grown in a container, however make sure you have some space indoors to house it over the winter. If you choose to plant outdoors plant in the spring or early fall and in full sun. They will grow in most types of soil as long as the soil is well-drained and contains plenty of organic material. Space fig trees at least 20 feet away from any buildings or other trees as they like to put down deep roots if given the chance.

Fortunately, fig trees require little pruning. When dormant, be sure to remove all dead, diseased, or weak branches to encourage growth and if you have an abundant growth of figs, thin the fruit to encourage larger figs. In colder regions like ours, fig trees planted outdoors may die back to the ground. If the tree is of a hardy variety, the below-ground part of the tree will likely be unaffected. Remove all dead wood while the tree is still dormant and watch for new growth in the spring.

Pests include root-knot nematodes, leaf spots, rust, thrips, and twig dieback, but mostly it will be your local squad of birds and squirrels that may give you the most trouble. It might be wise to invest in bird netting.

Harvest your figs only when they are fully ripe, as they will not continue to ripen off the tree. To determine if they are ripe, they should be fully coloured and slightly soft to the touch. When picking figs, wear gloves or long sleeves because the sap from the fig tree can irritate your skin. Note that figs are very perishable; store in the fridge for 2-3 days. Don’t fret – there are long-term storage options too; you can freeze figs whole for later use or they can be dried to use in baking or they can also be canned.

So, I’m going to have to forget about the wasps and keep in mind the following things about figs: they are an excellent source of potassium, dietary fibre, and calcium, and they are yummy stuffed with gorgonzola and prosciutto or as fig preserves.

Susan and Brad Emery are members of the Dunnville Horticultural Society. DHS meets every third Thursday, September to June, at the Optimist Hall. For more information, contact DHS Secretary Jennifer Miller at 905-741-7727 or

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