Mission Fig Tree Overview:
The Mission Fig Tree is a wonderful plant that grows like a weed in Southern California.
Mission Fig Tree Fruit Appearance:
- The fruit is roughly the size and shape of a small pear.
- The Mission Fig is green and firm when unripe.
- In the few days before maximum ripeness, the fruit rapidly swells, softens and begins to turn purple-brown.
- The flavor changes from light and airy to very sweet and jam like as the fruit ripens. Therefore, the perfect time to pick-and-eat a fig will depend somewhat on your own personal preference.
- The fig skin sometimes cracks a little bit at maximum ripeness. That being said, the fruit skin does not always crack. However, the fruit is almost always ready when the fig will easily detach from the branch with a gentle upward lift.
Mission Fig Taste:
- Until a few years ago, my only knowledge of figs was from a Fig Newton. I was not impressed. Therefore, I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about when people talked starry eyed about fresh figs.
- Little did I know that the dry pasty fig of a Fig Newton filling is no match for the utterly delightful flavor of a fresh Mission Fig.
- Then I tried a fresh fig and I was enlightened. A fresh fig is tender and delicious. The flavor is perfectly sweet and mild but subtly complex. There is a faint hint of that characteristic Fig Newton flavor, but that note is relatively mild. To me the flavor and texture is closer to Crème brûlée without the caramelized sugar on top.
My friend Jim is a self proclaimed ‘fig hater.’ However, I recently convinced him to try a fresh mission fig and I got it on video. After trying a fresh Mission Fig he is now a converted ‘fig lover.’ (see video link)
Mission Fig Season:
- There are two main seasons for the Mission Fig.
- Around June there is a short early season which is known as the breba crop.
- There is a second extended season that starts around late July-early August and continues through to the end of fall. This is known as the main crop.
- The Mission Fig does not need to be pollinated.
Mission Fig Tree Landscaping Use:
- The Mission Fig tree is long lived and can grow very large. However, the tree is easily pruned to just about any size or shape you may want.
- Because the Mission Fig Tree bark can be sunburned, the branches need to be protected if exposed. You can easily protect exposed branches with an indoor water based white latex paint (mix about ½ volume of water to the paint and mix before applying).
- Awesome large leaves can provide dense shade in the summer. The iconic leaves are also good at covering the ‘nether-regions’ in conservative Catholic art.
- It is a deciduous tree, so it is not good at hiding anything in the winter when it loses its leaves. None the less, even without leaves, it can be a beautiful tree.
- Like many trees, it is best to plant the tree when it is dormant in the winter.
- You should also plan to prune in the dormant season. Be careful though, the milky latex sap can be irritating to the skin. Small dormant clippings are great to use for starter plants.
- Note, the figs that are not eaten will drop on the ground. This can make a mess especially if there is pavement nearby. However, this has not a problem for me, because I eat them all-and want more. However, if you are not a fig fan, the beauty of the tree may not be worth the mess under foot.
- For detailed information on tree pruning, check out my article titled, Tree Pruning Techniques.
Mission Fig Soil:
- The Mission Fig (and most figs that I have read about) can grow and thrive in just about any type of soil as long as it is well draining. Fig trees seem to have the uncanny ability to extract nutrients from poor soils that are unsuited to other fruit trees. None the less, your Mission Fig Tree will do better if there is some organic material in the soil.
- Overall, fig trees seem to prefer alkaline soils. Therefore, I would avoid putting peat moss in the soil because of its tendency to stay damp and acidify the soil.
- I have read that nematodes, can be a problem in sandy soils.
- Once established, this tree is drought tolerant.
- However, the fruit will be dry and kind of nasty if of you push the limits of water restriction. Leaves will turn yellow and drop if things get really dry.
- On the other hand, too much water during fruiting can cause premature fruit splitting.
- I have seen a lot of conflicting information about the fertilizing needs of a fig. The general consensus is that since figs are so good at mining nutrients from the soil they don’t need that much fertilizer. There is a belief that too much fertilizer will result in leafy growth at the expense of fruit. Exactly how much fertilizer the Mission Fig Tree needs seems to be up for debate.
- Some people do not fertilize at all and have reported good results.
- Other people use a balanced fertilizer in the spring.
- I throw on some organic compost around the root zone with a light application of balanced fertilizer early in the growing season and it seems to work very well.
- However, I suspect that individual requirements will have a lot more to do with the baseline soil quality and how much organic material you add to the initial planting hole.
- The Mission Fig does best in a Mediterranean climate (hot, dry summer/cool, wet winters). Southern California is great for Mission figs. That being said, the Mission Fig Tree seems to be one of the most adaptable varieties of figs that can do well in many different climatic zones.
- For more information about the lowest temperatures that you can expect in your area, check out my article “Climate Zones: What can I grow in my yard?”
Mission Fig Pests:
- The biggest pest for figs is gophers; fig roots are like gopher chocolate. Gophers seem to specifically seek out fig roots. Therefore, you really need to cage your fig roots to protect them. Some people have advocated planting things around the fig tree that gophers don’t like such as lavender, rosemary, euphorbia species, etc. (Here’s a bit of info about Euphorbia).
- For a list of gopher resistant and nonresistant plants, check out my post from 8/28/13.
- However, companion planting is not going to be an adequate form of protection by itself because the gophers will just dig around those other plants to get to their prize fig roots.
- Basically, you must cage the roots of this tree. When you cage the roots, allow the cage to come at least 4 inches above the soil line so the gophers cant climb up into the cage. One of my friends has a gopher in his yard that he calls “the professor” who did just that-it climbed up into the cage and took down one of his fig trees from the inside.
- Click here for a simple way to build a gopher cage.
- Other than that, the other major problem is fighting the birds and squirrels for the fruit.
- A few years back, I tried bird netting to protect the fruit, but the tree grew through the mesh. Therefore, the process of taking the netting off the tree resulted in significant leaf damage.
- I now use Holographic Bird Scare Tape that works rather well at keeping the birds away. If you are going to use glitter tape, it is best to only use it during the ripe season so that the birds don’t get use to it. A very similar product is Flash Tape but I haven’t tried that.
- Another recommendation is to pick/eat the figs every day so the neighborhood critters are less likely to notice whats available to them.
- I have read that nematodes, can be a problem to Mission Fig Tree roots when planted in sandy soils.
Mission Fig Food Uses:
- Umm, so good just to eat it fresh out of hand. The fruit does not ripen much off the tree and it doesn’t last long either. The fruit bruises easily which may be a major reason why you don’t see fresh figs in many stores. My best advice; eat it fresh and fast (eat it the same day you get it).
- Figs are also great with cheese or in a salad.
- They are sometimes added to cooked meets after a gentle sear.
- Of course you can also make jam or jelly out of them.
- Many historians believe that the ‘forbidden fruit’ of the Garden of Eden was actually a fig (apples didn’t grow in the Middle East in the biblical days).
- Franciscan missionaries first planted the Mission Fig in San Diego around 1768.