Introducing the Fig Tree
The fig tree is a unique and versatile flowering plant species that produces a sweet fruit known as the fig. Native to Western Asia and parts of southern Europe, fig trees can now be found growing widely across the world in warm temperate and subtropical climates. There are many hundreds of fig varieties, ranging from common bush varieties to larger tree cultivars.
Fig trees are deciduous woody plants that can grow into small trees reaching heights of 15-30 feet, or remain shrub-like when grown in containers. Their leaves are alternate, simple ovals with distinguishable veins. Fig trees produce distinctive inverted teardrop shaped fruits that are actually inflorescences (flower clusters) known as syconium. Inside each fig “fruit” are many tiny flowers that pollinate to produce seeds.
Figs are a very low-maintenance fruit tree that is drought and heat tolerant once established. They adapt well to many soil types but prefer deep, rich, well-draining soils. Their only significant pest is the fig wasp, without which figs could not reproduce. Homegrown figs have an incredibly sweet and complex flavor unlike any other fruit. They can be eaten fresh off the tree or used in numerous recipes.
With the right care, a fig tree can produce delicious figs for decades. Proper fertilization is key to maintaining a healthy fig tree that yields abundant crops year after year. This article will explore the various fertilizer options for fig trees and help you determine the best fertilizers to use.
NPK Fertilizers: The Basics
All fertilizers are rated and labeled according to their nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium (NPK) analysis. Nitrogen (N) promotes leafy green growth, phosphorus (P) promotes root and early fruit development, and potassium (K) promotes overall plant health and disease resistance. A balanced ratio of these three macro nutrients is essential for optimal plant growth and productivity.
When selecting a fertilizer, the first numbers listed refer to the percentage of nitrogen, followed by the percentage of available phosphorus and soluble potash (equivalent to potassium). For example, a 10-10-10 fertilizer contains 10% nitrogen, 10% phosphorus, and 10% potassium.
During the active growing season, fig trees require fertilization every 4-6 weeks with a balanced, complete fertilizer containing all three major nutrients. A balanced NPK ratio of 10-10-10, 8-8-8 or similar is suitable for most soil conditions and growth stages. Higher nitrogen formulations like 13-13-13 can promote excessive vegetative growth at the cost of flowering and fruit production.
While synthetic fertilizers provide a quick boost, organic options offer sustained nutrient release and improve soil structure over time. Organic fertilizers derived from compost, manure, bone meal and other natural sources provide balanced nutrition for fig trees in an earth-friendly way. The following section examines specific fertilizer types and their benefits for fig trees in more detail.
Homemade or bagged compost is one of the best all-around organic fertilizers for fig trees. Compost adds nutrients, improves soil texture and drainage, and encourages beneficial microbial activity. It releases nutrients slowly as it breaks down further in the soil. Compost should be incorporated into planting beds prior to planting or transplanting fig trees for optimum effect. Mature trees can be top-dressed with compost in early spring and again in late summer. Compost contains on average 2-3% nitrogen, 2-3% phosphorus, 1-2% potassium, and trace amounts of other minerals. Apply compost generously, 1-2 inches deep, as fig trees are heavy feeders. Well-composted manure can also provide comparable benefits.
Both cow and horse manures make excellent organic fertilizers for fig trees when fully composted and aged. Fresh manure can burn delicate roots. Apply aged manure in spring prior to new growth starting. Cow manure averages 1-2% nitrogen, 0.5-1.5% phosphorus, 1-2% potassium. Horse manure’s analysis is slightly higher. Work manure into soil around drip line of tree, and water in well. For container trees, mix manure compost directly into potting soil. Manure adds vitamins, minerals and supports beneficial microbial activity in soil over time.
Bone meal is an organic fertilizer derived from steamed animal bones. It is an excellent natural source of phosphorus which promotes root and fruit development. Apply bone meal around base of fig trees in early spring at a rate of 1⁄4-1⁄2 cup per young tree or 1-2 cups per mature tree, working it into top 2-4 inches of soil. Reapply every 2-3 years as needed. Bone meal releases phosphorus gradually for constant feed. It contains around 20-30% phosphorus.
Shredded leaves or leaf mold make superior mulch and fertilizer for fig trees. As leaves break down, they enrich the soil with organic matter, nutrients and beneficial microbes. Apply a 2-4 inch layer of shredded leaves around trees in autumn after leaf fall. The mulch insulates roots, conserves moisture, suppresses weeds and adds nitrogen, phosphorus and other key elements as it decomposes further over winter. Leaf mold/mulch rates are typically 1-2 inches deep, extending several feet from trunk. Reapply annually.
Alfalfa meal is an organic, plant-based fertilizer high in nitrogen. It works well applied to fig trees in early spring at budding or leafing out. Alfalfa meal provides balanced 3-4% nitrogen content to aid green foliage growth as trees leaf out. Sprinkle 1⁄4-1⁄2 cup per young tree or 1-2 cups per mature tree around drip line, then water into soil. Can also be mixed into potting media for container plants. Alfalfa meal offers slow-release nitrogen in a natural plant-based formulation.
Crab meal fertilizer is derived from shellfish processing waste. Unlike some other organic fertilizers, crab meal has an analysis similar to synthetic fertilizers – 5-3-0. It provides quick-acting nitrogen to fig trees. Crab meal works well as a side-dressing around established trees in early summer for extra foliage growth and fruit fill-out. Apply 1⁄4-1⁄2 cup per young tree or 1-2 cups for mature specimens every 6-8 weeks during growing season. Crab meal nitrogen is readily available but still a natural, organic choice.
Blood meal is a concentrated organic nitrogen source derived from processed animal blood. It has an NPK ratio of around 12-0-0. During transplanting, working a tablespoon of blood meal into each tree hole provides an initial nitrogen boost to new roots. For established trees, side-dress with 1⁄4 cup per tree in spring and again mid-summer. Can burn if over-applied, so use judiciously. Blood meal quickens foliar growth and promotes rapid transplant establishment.
Derived from seaweed, kelp meal adds beneficial trace minerals like vitamins and hormones that aid overall plant vigor. Kelp is typically lower in NPK at around 1-0-2 but high in micronutrients including zinc, copper, and iron. Apply kelp meal to fig trees as a preventative tonic in early spring and again mid-summer for healthy growth. Rates are 1⁄4 cup per plant/pot or 1 cup per mature tree. Kelp can also be mixed into soils and composts as an all-purpose plant conditioner.
Cottonseed meal fertilizer provides nitrogen at around 6-2-1, making it suitable as a balanced organic substitute for younger fig trees. Work 1⁄4 cup into soil per young tree or 1⁄2 cup for container plants at planting. Established trees can be side-dressed in spring at 1-2 cups per tree. Cottonseed meal breaks down gradually over weeks to feed new growth. It improves soil structure and benefits microbes in the decomposition process.
Organic Fertilizer Mixes
For maximum nutrition and plant performance, fig trees truly benefit from a combination or rotation of organic fertilizers applied seasonally. Here are some sample organic fertilizer regimens for fig trees:
Spring: Compost, Alfalfa Meal, Kelp Meal
Summer: Crab Meal, Blood Meal
Late Summer: Cottonseed Meal, Bone Meal
Fall: Compost, Manure, Leaf Mold
All Season: Worm Castings for improved soil quality
Most of these organic options are available individually or commercially blended in garden centers. Homemade blends can also supply sustainable nutrition and benefit fig tree health long-term. As trees grow, increase amounts per application rates accordingly. Some fertilizer rotations continue through multiple years.
While organic fertilizers nourish soil ecology and long-term fertility, fast-acting synthetic fertilizers also serve a purpose for high-demand fig trees. Here are some popular inorganic choices:
All Purpose Fertilizer 10-10-10: Balanced, versatile and appropriate rates are 1⁄4-1⁄2 cup per young tree or 1-2 cups for mature trees every 4-6 weeks during growing season.
Citrus/Fruit Tree Fertilizer:
balanced NPK formula designed for acid-loving fruits like citrus also suits fig trees well. Citrus fertilizers often have micronutrients added. They promote strong growth and have analysis around 15-5-15. Use at same rates as All Purpose 10-10-10, focusing applications during active growth periods.
Ammonium Sulfate (21-0-0): Pure nitrogen source best reserved for immediate growth boosts in early summer. Side-dress 1⁄4-1⁄2 cup per young tree, 1-2 cups per mature tree, watering in well after application. Too much can burn foliage so apply judiciously.
Calcium Nitrate (15.5-0-0): Similar to Ammonium Sulfate but has added calcium to balance soil pH. Apply at same rates as Ammonium Sulfate. Offers availability between fast & slow-release forms.
Potassium Nitrate (13-0-44): Primarily a potassium source but also has nitrogen. Good maintenance fertilizer applied every 6-8 weeks at 1⁄4-1⁄2 cup per young tree, 1-2 cups per mature tree size. Potassium strengthens plant structure and functions.
Magnesium Sulfate (“Epsom Salts”): Provides magnesium which is often deficient in soils. Sprinkle 1⁄4 cup per tree around drip line and water in monthly during growing season. Balances pH and nutrient availability. Be cautious as too much can burn.
Miracle-Gro all Purpose Plant Food Water Soluble (24-8-16): Convenient liquid fertilizer for immediate uptake. Dilute per label instructions and water/foliar feed every 2-4 weeks. Provides quick results but less beneficial to soil long-term than dry granular options.
The balance of major/minor nutrients in synthetics, proper application rates and watering methods are critical to avoid phytotoxicity. Organics generally have less risk of burning plants if directions are followed. Switching between organic and synthetic fertilizers based on trees’ needs ensures robust and productive fig cultivation.
Here are some additional tips when it comes to fertilizing fig trees:
Soil test regularly, at least once every 3 years, to determine existing nutrient levels and any deficiencies. This will help guide a customized fertilizer program.
Timing is important. Generally apply fertilizers in early spring as buds break dormancy, through summer during active growth periods, and one final application in late summer or early fall.
Water fertilizer applications in well after applying to move nutrients into the root zone where they can be readily absorbed by the plant. Irrigate again a few days later if rainfall does not occur.
Watch for signs of nutrient imbalances like yellowing or burning leaf tips and edges. Adjust fertilizer type, concentration, or watering as needed to correct issues.
Divide fertilizer amounts for newly planted or very young trees to avoid over-application which can damage roots. Gradually increase annual feedings as trees mature and grow larger.
Organic mulches help retain moisture and break down slowly releasing nutrients. Top-dress compost, manure or leaf mold mulches annually to sustain fertility over the long-term.
Fig trees in containers may need more frequent, smaller fertilizer applications due to limited soil volume. Use balanced liquid/soluble formulas diluted per label directions.
During winter dormancy, figs do not require fertilizer. Resume fertilizing early in spring starting with slow-release or organic options to gradually awaken roots/foliage.
Consider using a variety of fertilizer formulations in rotation, such as organic followed by synthetic blends, to supply multiple nutrients and prevent deficiencies or toxicities.
Always follow application rates on product labels and adjust slightly depending on soil and visual observation of tree health and growth rate. Slow steady nourishment produces the best results.
Proper fertility is key to fruitful and sustained fig production for decades to come. Adjusting a fertilizer program based on seasonal needs and response will maximize harvests from these tasty cold hardy trees.