Figs – Easiest of all fruits!

Photo Credit: Randy Lemmon
Photo Credit: Randy Lemmon
Photo Credit: Randy Lemmon

Which fruit epitomizes the definition of Texas Tough Gardening? Fig Trees! Maybe I’ll get some arguments that figs aren’t tough at all, rather they are just plain easy.  Yet my definition of Texas Tough also means they can put up with cold and hot temperatures and rarely need pruning and even more rarely do they need fertilizing regimens.  That’s why I consider them to be Texas Tough.  I argue that they are both.  In fact, if you want to grow the ‘easiest to grow’ fruit ever, plant a fig tree.

Since figs produce for us in the summer, that gives us an extraordinarily tasty gem to have when other fruits have shut down, but before our citrus harvest season begins. See what I mean by Texas Tough?

Let me add to that by reminding you that they are long-lived and most of them are freeze hardy. And even if they do freeze back, unlike citrus, it’s okay for them to come back from the root system and produce again, which they will.

Keep in mind that while most figs bear fruit in June through August, there are a few that ripen later, and that means you can possibly have figs for months if you take the time to plant those different varieties that bear fruit later into October and November.

 This is simply my list, and I know there are many other varieties for the Gulf Coast. This is a list of the easiest to grow and the ones that are most readily available at the fruit tree sales and especially at independent nurseries and garden centers throughout the region. Beware the purchasing of figs from big box stores and mass merchandisers, because much like the stone fruits they have to carry on a national basis, there are scores of fig tree varieties that may not fare so well down here.

Fig Varieties
– I admit this is likely my favorite of all figs because of the banana flavor infused into this easy-to-grow fig. Banana fig is a medium size yellow fig with pale strawberry flesh. Very sweet, full flavor, no bitterness. This is a closed-eye variety. They have a reputation of splitting if you do not harvest them at the right time. The tree is very short and low-spreading but can be trained to grow tall. They have been in Texas since 1910.

‘Celeste’ – Probably the most popular variety available for a lot of good reasons, number one of which is how cold-hardy it is. Celeste is a small, purple-brown skin, pink flesh, excellent flavor fig, which ripens in mid-June. Celeste fruits have a distinctive closed eye, which is a good fresh eating fig and is excellent for preserving. You will also find it sold under names such as Celestial, Celeste Malta, Blue Celeste or Sugarfig. Speaking of ‘Sugarfig’, Celeste is more than likely the ‘sugarfig’ your grandmother made those great preserves with. Plus, it’s been grown gin our area for a hundred years, so I can’t think of a better definition of Texas-Tough.

‘Brown Turkey’ – This is probably the best old-time favorite fig. But what I believe most people love about it is that it can produce two crops a year. Brown Turkey is a medium-small fig with a violet-brown skin and reddish-amber colored pulp. The fruit are tear-drop shaped. The pulp has a very sweet but not too rich taste, not quite as rich as ‘Celeste.’ It has a small, nearly closed eye which is reddish in color from the very early stages of fruit development. It fruits on new wood (growth); which is why you can get two crops in one year, one in late May-June and another in late September to early November. It has a broad-spreading tree shape. The leaves have five lobes as opposed to the three-lobed leaves of many figs.

‘Texas Everbearing’ – I think this is the variety with most conflicting opinions. Some say it is the same variety as ‘Brown Turkey’ and some say that it is similar but not the same variety. Experts I trust say that it is a different variety. There are three differences – the flesh is more amber in color as opposed to the reddish-amber of the ‘Brown Turkey’ pulp, the leaves have three lobes as opposed to the five lobes of ‘Brown Turkey’ and the shape of the tree is more upright instead of broad-spreading. I’ve tried both, and in my opinion, Texas Everbearing has the better reputation, but since they both can produce two crops per year and they both taste essentially the same, I don’t think you can go wrong with either.

‘Black Mission’ – This may be the epitome of the big, dark purple fig. But it can also be the least cold-hardy of all my suggestions. So, think of it as best grown in the southern parts of our region. Again, this is a large fig with purple-black skin and light strawberry pulp. It has a heavy first crop in early summer and average main crop which ripens in late fall. Its large size and rich taste make it a premium fig. Good either fresh or dried. The tree is a rather vigorous grower, so make sure you have plenty of room for this one.

‘Alma’ – This is a variety developed by the Agricultural Experiment Service of Texas A&M University. A cross of the variety ‘Allison’ and a male ‘Hamma’ caprifig, it was introduced in 1975. It is a medium-small fig that has golden-brown skin with a pear shape and amber pulp. The pulp is very rich and sweet, which is what built Alma’s popularity. Plus, it produces almost instantly, but that also makes it susceptible to freezing weather. However, once established, the trees are more cold-hardy. Whereas most figs don’t need consistent pruning, this variety does, or it can get a little leggy.

‘LSU Purple’ – This is a medium size purple fig with strawberry pulp, and probably my second favorite in terms of flavor behind the Banana. It is known to have one of the highest sugar content of all the figs recommended in Texas. This is another closed-eye fig that is perfect for southeast Texas. It’s a great ‘second’ fig to plant near a Celeste, because it ripens a month after, thus giving you that extended fig production alluded to earlier.

‘LSU Gold’ – These figs are huge with a bright, golden skin but an amber, strawberry flesh that is very tender and extraordinarily sweet. In other words, it’s as pretty to look at as it is tasty to eat. It is a much more vigorous growing tree than its “purple” cousin, so be prepared to prune this variety back too. Even though it is a fast-growing fig it is not near as susceptible to splitting. It likes to bear fruit from late July through August.

‘Petite Negra’ – As you might deduce by its name, the Petite Negra is not the tallest of all the varieties recommended here. In fact, at full maturity this fig’s maximum height is only 8 ft. That also makes the Petite Negra the best option for growing in a pot. However, it does need full sun. You’ll never find this grown commercially for fruit, so it’s a variety never seen in the produce section of grocery stores. This is a delicious, juicy, black-skinned fig with red flesh inside. This is also known as a closed-eye variety.

‘Mysteak’ – Also known as a ‘Nagle’ in some circles, because it was developed by the late Dr. Stewart Nagle. This is likely the latest of the ‘late-season’ varieties available. Mysteak is a green-skinned fig with a deep raspberry interior that ripens from August to November.  

Varieties Worth Trying if You Can Find Them!

Galbun, Magnolia, Trojano, Native Black, Italian Honey, Texas Blue Giant, Genoa White, Royal Vineyard, BA-1, Deanna, Hardy Chicago and Green Ischia. Side bar on The Green Ischia: It is still green when ripe, which makes it sort of camouflaged to birds.

I should note that one of the most popular figs throughout the entire state, that is likely sold at box stores and mass merchandisers is not a variety I would recommend for this region, because frankly it’s not that tough – The Kadota Fig!