Saturday, October 15, 2011

Growing Potted Fig Trees in Kihei

 Fig trees grow really well in the Kihei desert climate - they're drought tolerant, low maintenance and very forgiving. Many species of fig grow better when their roots are restricted making them well suited for growing in a container.

Most fig trees produce two crops of fruit a year. Since we don't have a four season climate in Kihei the timing for each species varies, sometimes the timing for each tree in a species varies and sometimes they appear to have no timing and just keep producing figs.

There are numerous varieties of fig trees - Brown Turkey is the one you'll find most often at the garden centers on Maui. Black Jack, Brown Turkey, Celestial, Negronne (Violet de Bordeaux) and White Kadota have all grown well in my garden and have produced fruit abundantly.

Black Jack, Brown Turkey and Negronne (Violet de Bordeaux) are good choices for container trees. In a container they don't grow much taller than 5 ft. Black Mission, Panachee (Tiger) and White Kadota are larger trees and are best planted in the ground. In ground fig trees require regular pruning to the branches and the top to keep them at a manageable height.

A Ripe Brown Turkey Fig

Most of the Brown Turkey trees from the garden centers are grown by Plant It Hawaii. The figs on my trees turn yellow-green instead of violet-brown. Plant It Hawaii is located in Kurtistown on the Big Island, an area similar to Haiku. I asked them about the color and they said it varies depending on the climate and that the Brown Turkey fig trees they grow on their farm also produce yellow-green figs.

Brown Turkey, Black Jack and White Kadota

Brown Turkey figs have thin skins and are normally used fresh or for making preserves. Figs should be harvested as soon as they're soft and drooping otherwise they'll begin to crack and rot on the tree. Fresh figs are fragile and perishable - that's why they're so expensive at the market.

Figs are often sun dried or dehydrated. White Kadota is cultivated commercially and used for making fig bars. In a four season climate these types of figs begin to dry and then drop from the tree onto tarps that are spread on the ground. With container grown trees in Kihei, the figs are usually rotting and inedible by the time they fall from the tree.

A Bareroot Black Jack
3 weeks after planting

In February, Kula Hardware & Nursery brings in a large assortment of bareroot trees from the Mainland. They normally order Black Jack, Black Mission, Brown Turkey and White Kadota. They keep a call list and it doesn't require a deposit to add your name to the list.

 A Bareroot Black Jack
Producing it's first figs 8 months from planting.

 Another good source for bareroot trees is Bay Laurel Nursery - they have a larger selection than Kula Hardware. They'll ship to Hawaii with a $50 minimum shipping charge for up to 5 bareroot trees. It works out if you buy 4 or 5 trees, as their retail prices are less than Kula Hardware and it offsets some of the shipping cost.

For information about planting bareroot trees, see my post
Growing Container Fruit Trees in Kihei

 Occasionally Wal-Mart has fig tree seedlings in their garden center for $5.

Black Jack

Fig trees are noted to be low chill but in Kihei we have no chill hours so there's always a chance that some species of fig won't adapt to the climate or produce fruit. I recommend growing self-fertile varieties as figs that require pollination are pollinated by a species of wasp that we don't have in the islands. The varieties sold at Bay Laurel Nursery, Kula Hardware and the local garden centers are self-fertile.

The only problems I've had growing fig trees is leaf rust and birds. Leaf rust is caused by ever present fungal spores in the air but it doesn't seem to affect the fruit. I've used OMRI copper sulfate spray on the leaves but it didn't make a noticeable difference.

Bird Protection

As for birds, they'll start eating the fruit several days to a week prior to it being fully ripe. With container grown trees it's easy to cover the tree with bird netting or cover the branch of figs with a piece of tulle. If the figs are left uncovered the birds in my neighborhood will damage the ripening fruit.

More Bird Protection

Another option, although a little more time consuming, is to cover the individual figs with 4" x 5" organza party favor bags. I purchased a package with 100 bags on Amazon for $3.50 with $4.00 for shipping - the price can fluctuate up or down daily.

I plant fig trees in the largest containers I can purchase locally - they hold about 2 cubic feet of potting soil. I fill the container with an organic potting soil amended with green sand and an organic all-purpose fertilizer. Adding organic all-purpose fertilizer twice a month. When the trees start to bud I add an organic fertilizer formulated for fruiting. Adding bat guano or fish bone meal works too.

Trimming the Roots

The tree in the above photo was a 4 foot tall Brown Turkey growing in a container for 3 years and had just finished producing a crop of figs. It's obvious when the roots need to be trimmed as the top surface of the soil becomes a thick mat that's difficult to water. I tipped the container on it's side and pulled the tree out onto a large sheet of plastic. Using a pruning saw, I trimmed the root base about 5 inches and took 3 inches off the sides.

I added new potting soil into the empty container and mixed in some organic all-purpose fertilizer and set the tree on top. Then I added new potting soil and fertilizer along the sides and mixed green sand over the top surface. The tree didn't seem to need any recovery time as it started to bud as soon as it was repotted.

 There are lots of YouTube videos on growing fig trees. Some of the gardeners are growing fig trees successfully in smaller containers. Although figs are drought tolerant when they're growing in the ground, they need adequate daily water when they're growing in a container.

Fig Tree Cuttings
At 2 weeks

Fig trees can be propagated from seeds or cuttings. I haven't tried growing from seeds but I have grown them from cuttings. I purchased fig tree cuttings on ebay - the selection varies and I had to check back often to find the varieties I wanted to grow.

I planted the cuttings in recycled ziplock type bags filled with organic potting soil. I punched holes all over the bag for drainage and I placed the bags in a covered plastic storage box in the shade. I misted the cuttings twice a day with water. Some of the cuttings began to root and show signs of growth in less than two weeks.

There are several techniques for rooting cuttings and this is the only one I've tried. The ebay listings have instructions for rooting and there are lots of YouTube videos on the topic.

A Celestial Fig Tree Cutting
Transplanted at 4 weeks

When the roots became visible through the plastic bags and the cuttings began to leaf, I transplanted them into 15 gallon containers.

The Celestial fig tree cutting -
4 months from transplanting.

From a cutting to a budding 3 ft tree in 5 months.

And, the first ripening figs at 7 months.

I've been able to successfully dehydrate all the fig varieties I've been growing. I like to quarter the fig and dehydrate the sections until they're partially dry and store them in a jar in my refrigerator. The figs with green skin will remain green and the fig pieces will still be somewhat soft and moist. I add these to salads often with walnut pieces, sun dried black olives and crumbled feta cheese.

Fig Recipes
Greek Sykomitha
Figs with Lemon Ricotta and Mint
Dr. Ben Kim's Raw Fig & Pecan Energy Bars
20 Fantastic Ways to Use Fresh Figs
Fresh Fig, Walnut & Rosemary Upside Down Cake
Fresh Fig Mascarpone Gelato
Figs, Vanilla, Rosebuds


  1. Hi Jane,

    Thanks for the great read. I always assumed that since the figs on my trees were yellow-green that my trees were white kadotas, but I guess they could be brown turkeys.

    Regardless, figs are so easy to propagate and the fruit they produce are so tasty. It's wonderful to grow them yourself since they're so rare and expensive in grocery stores.

    I've been looking for information about the best time to prune for size and shape. I want to keep my trees small so the fruit are easily accessible.

    Since the biggest crop fruits on new growth (a smaller crop---breba---is produced earlier in the season on older wood), I've been waiting till the tree stops fruiting in the fall months to trim back any long, leggy branches and encourage branching lower on the tree. I know in cooler climates where the tree loses its leaves and goes dormant, growers will wait until late winter when the tree is just about to bud to do their pruning.

    I'm not sure I would be able to anticipate when my fig trees would start to actively grow in Hawaii's climate or in Pukalani's climate, for that matter. So, I'm playing things by ear and I'm waiting several weeks after the trees are finished fruiting to prune.

    Let me know if you've come across any information on this. I imagine that it might not be an issue if you're growing figs in pots if you root prune prune them when they need repotting.


  2. Wow, so much information here Jane! I like your method for the fig tree starts. I just checked the Seed Savers Yearbook and am surprised to see no fig tree scions available, too bad. I was in Walmart last night and they had 6" starts from Chun's for under $5. Some common varieties but also a few Texas Giant Blues. Look forward to hearing more about your collection later on ; ))

  3. Hi Chicago Transplant! My brown turkey and white kadotas are similar in color when they're ripe but the kadotas have thicker skin. The kadotas have an amber-brownish interior and I thought they were rotten at first as photos online showed them to be pink. I couldn't find the photos I took of the cut fruit last year - they may be on one of my backup drives - but I'll have ripe kadotas and black jacks in a few weeks and I'll upload photos of the cut fruit to this post.

    The kadota is the only tree I've had to prune and I do it after the last crop in the fall. I don't know if the time of year matters for Hawaii grown fig trees or if they produce more fruit when they're pruned. My trees have produced fruit abundantly and seem to defy the guidelines for growing fig trees and that may be due to the Kihei climate.

    So far nothing seems to shock my trees - even root pruning didn't slow them down. Growing figs in Pukalani could be different than Kihei since you have cooler fall/winter months.

    Hi Julie! I'm surprised the yearbook has no fig cuttings. There are so many fig videos on You Tube. Until I started searching for info I had no idea growing figs was so popular even in Canada.

    Mahalo for letting me know about the fig starts at Walmart! I'll check it out next week. So far, ebay was the only source for cuttings that I found online.

  4. I took cuttings today from my Celeste and Brown Turkey figs. I've got them growing in the ground and I'd like to get a couple of them growing in containers. Thanks for all the info on figs!

  5. Hi Dave! That'great! Some of my cuttings didn't make it due to the heat - next time I'll wait until December to transplant them when our weather is usually cooler. Brown Turkey are perfect for containers. I hope Celeste is too but I won't know until they really get growing.

  6. Hello Jane,
    Thanks for the repotting info. I need to repot my fig tree and also prune and shape. It is too late now, but I will do so in the spring.

  7. Hi Norma! I was surprised how fast the trees rebound after trimming the roots and repotting. The tree in the photo was trimmed in September and began budding again with figs within 2 weeks.

  8. Love this site. Was referred by a friend. Thank you for your posts!


  9. Hi Not So Simply Single! Mahalo for your compliment!

  10. I think in our home we have the White Kadota fig tree, althougth here we call it " honey drop" :) Super nice article, thank you for all the info, an I'll be aware of birds! jeje



  11. Hi Carola! I like the name "honey drop" better than White Kadota! They are such delicious figs.

  12. would you like to trade some fig tree branch cuttings? if so please email me at I have several varieties and would be happy to trade a few 6-8 inch cuttings with you

    1. Yes, and now would be the perfect time to take cuttings as my trees are just about finished for the year. I'll send you an email.

  13. Think Negronne will set fruit in Kihei?

    1. That variety didn't grow very well for me but it was planted in a container so that might have affected it. It didn't make it through the hot summer months. My favorite is Celeste or Celestial - it produces really delicious figs that are smaller and dryer than Black Jack - about the size of Mission figs.