Fig season is well underway, and many fig varieties are wrapping up their production while others are still going strong.

Fig season can run from mid-June to early October, depending on the varieties.

Your trees may still have green figs that just won’t seem to ripen. Here's some reasons why:

Fig trees have a long juvenile period and can take from two to six years to begin producing fruit. Some figs can take up to two months from fruit formation to optimal ripeness. In this instance, you just need to be patient.

Figs might not ripen because of environmental factors, such as temperature, water, nutrient levels and amount of light in addition to weeds, pests and disease.

Stress, however, is the main reason figs won't ripen. And, the most common stress factor is a 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. However, rainfall data in May through July this year show an average of 2.45 inches less than in 2019 for those three months. August data will likely show a further decrease in some parishes.

Stressed trees will go into survival mode, putting their energy into staying alive and conserving their seeds to reproduce rather than ripening fruit. In addition to fruit not ripening or dropping prematurely, fig trees will also drop their leaves in their effort to stay alive.

Green figs will not ripen once they're off the tree. However, fruit picked just before full ripeness will continue to soften and become sweeter when stored at room temperature in a dry location, such as a pantry.

Ripeness is most often determined by enlarged size and a change of color from green to brown or purple and sometimes gold, depending on the variety. Ripe fruit will feel soft to the touch, unlike unripe figs, which are hard and have a rubbery feel. Ripeness also can be determined by sweetness: the riper the fig, the sweeter it is.

A lack of nutrients, insufficient sunlight, too much nitrogen, pests or disease are other factors that can keep figs from ripening.

Scout often for pests and disease, and treat affected trees as soon as you spot them.

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

When planting fig trees, provide adequate spacing to improve air circulation and use good pruning practices to open up the canopy. Water at the base of the trunk, not from overhead. Remove fallen, diseased leaves and discard them in the waste to prevent further disease spread. 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.

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.

Regular fertilization will help promote fruit production and ripening, but 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.

Overapplication of nitrogen can also reduce ripening.


Email questions to gardennews@agcenter.lsu.edu.