Fig Fruit Stays Green – Reasons Figs Don’t Ripen
By: Heather Rhoades
A common question that gardeners with fig trees have is, “How long does it take a fig to ripen on the tree?” The answer to this question is not straightforward. Under ideal conditions, figs can ripen in as little as two months, but most figs do not grow in ideal conditions. If your fig fruit is staying green, there are many reasons why your figs are not getting ripe. Let’s look at the reasons why figs don’t ripen and how to ripen figs a little faster.
Reasons Why Figs Won’t Get Ripe
The long and short of why a fig tree is taking a long time to ripen its fruit or the figs won’t get ripe at all is stress. Fig trees are very susceptible to stress and when under stress, they will slow down or even stop ripening their fruit.
The most common stress responsible for when figs don’t ripen is lack of water, especially in high heat conditions. Fig trees in containers are especially prone to this. If a fig tree does not have enough water, the figs won’t get ripe because the tree is trying to preserve itself and its seeds. If a fig tree continues to get too little water, it will abort its fruit, which means your fig fruit will fall off the tree while it is still green.
Another possible reason why your figs are not getting ripe is a lack of nutrients. Fruiting is hard work for a tree. It needs extra nutrients to be able to support both itself and its fruit. If the tree has too little nutrients, the figs don’t ripen as fast and may even stop ripening.
If your figs are not getting ripe, pests and disease can also be the problem. While a fig tree is under attack from a pest or disease, it must divert its energy from ripening its fruit to protecting itself. The fig fruit will stay green longer if the fig tree is battling pests and disease.
How to Ripen Figs Faster
The best way in how to ripen figs faster is to remove as many stress points from the tree as possible. To avoid figs that won’t get ripe, make sure that the tree has plenty of water, especially in high heat.
Another way to prevent figs that don’t ripen is to regularly fertilize your fig tree. Keep a sharp eye out for pests and disease as well, and treat these as soon as you spot them.
While there is no set answer to how long does it take a fig to ripen on the tree, you can take steps to make sure your figs ripen as fast as possible.
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Read more about Fig Trees
Why Are Figs Falling From Trees Unripened?
The common fig (Ficus carica) is a low-growing fruit tree that has been cultivated for thousands of years thanks to its sweet, aromatic figs. If properly cared for, fig trees usually produce a generous bounty of fruit. Poor cultural conditions, pests and diseases, can cause a fig tree to drop unripened fruits from the tree. Unripe figs are inedible and will not ripen off the tree.
Fruit souring in plants is a very common problem and appears frequently in citrus, figs and grapes. It’s caused by a variety of soil-borne yeasts that gain entry through the skins of ripening fruits, where they feed, resulting in the fruit’s fermentation. Wounds may be so small that they’re difficult to see with the naked eye, but soon water-soaked spots appear and spread across the infected fruit’s surface.
As the yeasts work through affected fruit, they break down the tissues, which become slimy or almost completely liquid and ooze from the skin. Gas bubbles may erupt from broken areas in the fruit’s surface and a white to cream colored layer of mycelium often appears. Affected fruits may change colors, but this color change is heavily dependent on species and variety.
You cannot save fruit once the rot has begun, but you can take steps to prevent it.
Avoid letting soil splash up into the plant. Organic mulch will help immensely. Prune off low hanging branches.
Avoid damage to ripening fruit. Handle lightly, and control pests that will damage the fruit skin.
Thin the fruit to avoid touching/rubbing. (I had fruit souring in my grapes one year - this is not applicable there).
Prune the plant if necesary the thin the center and improve circulation.
If you see one fruit beginning to sour, remove it and any adjacent fruit. If you just had a recent infection, remove any fruit that shows skin damage.
Why won’t my figs ripen?
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
(08/21/20) Fig season is well underway, and many fig varieties are wrapping up their production while others are still producing and ripening. Fig season can begin in Louisiana as early as mid-June and end as late as early October, depending on the varieties. Your trees may still have green figs that just won’t seem to ripen, and that can be for many reasons.
First off, fig trees have a long juvenile period where they will not make fruit. Depending on the variety, they may take anywhere from two to six years to begin producing fruit. Those mature enough to produce fruit can take up to two months from fruit formation to optimal ripeness. In this instance, you just need to be patient.
Beyond the age of plants, the next possible cause for figs to not ripen could have to do with environmental factors such as temperature, water, nutrient levels and amount of light in addition to biotic pressures such as weeds, pests and disease.
Stress is the main reason why fig fruit will not ripen. Fig trees are extremely susceptible to stress, which causes them to slow down or even stop ripening their fruit. The most common stress is 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 of rain annually. However, rainfall data from 2020 for the months of May through July are showing an average of 2.45 inches less than 2019 rainfall for those three months. August data will likely show a further decrease in some parishes.
Stressed trees will go into survival mode, conserving their energy in an effort to help them stay alive and reproduce by conserving their seeds. Trees conserve energy by diverting it from the ripening process. Fruit will not ripen or will drop prematurely in addition to dropping leaves in their effort to stay alive.
One hard fact about figs is, unfortunately, green figs will not ripen off the tree. However, fruit picked just before full ripeness will continue to soften and become sweeter when they are stored at room temperature in a dry location, such as a pantry.
Ripeness is most often determined by enlarged size and a color change from green to brown or purple and sometimes gold, depending on the variety. You can feel for ripeness by gently squeezing the fruit, and it feels soft to the touch. Unripe figs are hard and have a rubbery feel to them. Additionally, ripeness can be determined by sweetness: the riper the fig, the sweeter it is.
Other possible reasons fruit will not ripen are a lack of nutrients, insufficient sunlight, too much nitrogen, pests or disease. In an effort to protect itself from pests or diseases, a tree will divert energy from fruit production and ripening into fighting off pests and disease. Scout often for pests and disease, and treat affected trees as soon as you spot them.
Fig leaf rust is a common disease that affects the trees. It is a fungal disease that affects mostly the leaves, and it thrives on humidity and moisture that is prevalent here in Louisiana. Trees respond by dropping their leaves in late summer or early fall. Fruit is not typically affected, but the disease can cause premature ripening of the fruit.
When planting fig trees, provide adequate spacing to improve air circulation in addition to using good pruning practices to open up the canopy. Avoid overhead watering, but water at the base of the trunk. Remove fallen, diseased leaves and discard them in the waste to prevent further disease spread.
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.
Making fruit can take a great deal of energy and work by the tree. A tree requires extra nutrients to support both itself and fruit. If the tree lacks proper fertilization, the figs slow the ripening process or may even stop. Additionally, over-application of nitrogen can also reduce ripening.
Regular fertilizing will help promote fruit production and ripening. 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.
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.
To help improve fruit production and ripening of fruit, make sure the tree has plenty of water, especially during extremely hot temperatures, proper nutrients and proper maintenance. And scout for pests and disease regularly.
Fig fruit ripens on the tree. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter
Ripe figs are sweet and juicy. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter
Fig leaf rust on a fig leaf. Photo by Randy LaBauve/LSU AgCenter
The Smyrna fig produces large, edible fruit containing true seeds. It was first brought to the United States in the late 19th century. However, this type of fig requires the presence of Blastophaga wasps, as well as a nonedible type of fig tree called a caprifig. The caprifig produces pollen, which the wasp carries to the Smyrna fig. Only after pollination from the caprifig will the Smyrna type produce normal fruit. In the absence of these pollinators, the fig produces fruit that drops from the tree during the growing season.
- Figs are members of the Ficus genus, a grouping of vines and viney trees that produces a unique fruit.
- However, this type of fig requires the presence of Blastophaga wasps, as well as a nonedible type of fig tree called a caprifig.
Top 10 Questions About Fig Trees
It can be disheartening to have your hard work in the garden go caput due to unforeseen challenges along the way. That’s why it is the goal of Gardening Know How to help avoid these issues, or at the very least amend them, by providing the best information possible so your garden will flourish – and that includes answering the gardening questions that plague us all. Fig trees are no exception. The common fig, Ficus carica, is native to the Middle East and western Asia but can be grown in the southern and western United States quite easily. Fig trees can be grown outdoors or in containers and, with the right care, will fruit prolifically. Here are the top questions about growing figs.
Fig trees should be pruned when you first transplant them and again in the winter when the tree is dormant. When the tree is first planted, it should be cut back by about half to allow the tree to concentrate on developing a strong root system and to grow side branches. Once the tree is established, prune the tree to make it easier to harvest and maintain its overall health. Prune out any dead or diseased wood or suckers, remove secondary branches that are at less than a 45-degree angle from main branches, and cut back the main branches by 1/3 to 1/4. Container grown figs can be pruned similar to that of those grown in ground.
Fig trees can be propagated quite easily, especially cuttings. Take a ½ to ¾ inch thick cutting that’s between 8-12 inches in length from the tree late in the dormant season. Cut the tip at a slant and the bottom of the cutting flat. Treat the slanted end with sealant to prevent disease and the flat end with rooting hormone. Place the flat end into a couple of inches of sand or potting soil and then back fill with more medium. Keep the cutting warm, in a sunny location and regularly watered. The new tree will be ready to transplant the following dormant season.
Yes, and the larger the pot, the better unless you want to restrict the plant size. The benefits of growing figs in containers are that yields are often improved and the harvest date is earlier due to root restriction. A half whiskey barrel or the like is an ideal container for figs. Place the pot on casters for ease of movement. Choose a site with lots of sun and pot the fig in well-draining, loamy, compost-rich soil. Container grown plants require consistent irrigation and more of it than those grown in the garden as well as more frequent fertilization.
There are three major reasons for a fig tree not producing: the age of the tree, excess nitrogen and stress caused by too much or too little water. Some fig trees fruit at 2 years of age and some at 6you’re your tree is older than this, I would look at watering next. Remember, fig trees in pots need more water than those in the ground. Try using a water gauge to determine if you are over or under watering. If that doesn’t seem to be the problem, then the issue might be nitrogen. Too much can lead to lush foliage at the expense of flowering, thus no fruit. Switch to a lower nitrogen fertilizer or add some phosphorus to the soil.
Rust fungus thrives in wet, humid environments and is most common in late summer or early fall. While rust on fig trees is unsightly, it isn’t fatal, although it can foster winter die back of branches and affect the ripening of fruit. Remove any infected leaves at the first sign of infection and dispose of them don’t compost them. Then treat the plant with a fungicide that contains copper sulfate and lime. Treat bare trees during the dormant season and repeat every 2-3 weeks. Also, prune the fig to improve air circulation and allow for more rapid surface water evaporation.
Caring for fig trees in winter differs slightly depending on your zone and if grown in pots versus those in ground. Container grown figs can just be moved into a cool, dry area such as a garage or basement. If kept outdoors, however, I would place the container in a well-protected location, such as next to the house or a wall where it can absorb heat. The pot may also need to be wrapped. For trees planted in the ground, start by pruning in the fall. Then, tie the branches together and place a thick layer of mulch over the ground to protect the roots. Wrap the tree in layers of burlap, leaving the top open to allow for air circulation and let excess heat escape. Build a cage of chicken wire around the tree and fill it with straw or leaves and then wrap entirely in bubble wrap or other plastic insulation. Top the entire contraption with a bucket. Remove in early spring when night temps are consistently above 20 F. (-6 C.).
First, check the soil. If the soil is very dry, it could be resisting taking up water. If this is the case, then rehydrating the plant may be all you need. Fill your tub or a large bucket with water and place the plant in the water and let it sit for about an hour. This will force the overly dry soil to once again take up water and should help with any leaves falling off as well. For in-ground plants, soak the ground for about an hour to obtain the same results. If the soil is moist, something else is causing the browning. Pests or disease could be to blame and will need to be dealt with accordingly, which will ultimately help take care of the browning foliage. Also, you can prune off the brown leaves as well as any dead or dying branches.
Figs are notoriously fickle and will drop their leaves due to a number of factors. Leaf drop may be a normal result of dormancy, which is a natural occurrence upon the onset of winter. Pest infestation can cause leaf drop but can be controlled with weekly neem oil applications. Over or under-watering figs will result in leaf drop. Be sure to water when the 1 st inch of soil is dry to the touch. Also, environmental factors such as a change in lighting, humidity or temperature will stress the fig and result in leaf drop. Gradually expose the tree to any new conditions beginning with an hour and increasing the fig’s time in the new area over the course of a couple of weeks.
A fig tree that fruits but doesn’t ripen or mature is probably under stress either from a lack of water or nutrients, or due to high temps. If you fertilize and water regularly, it might be a temperature flux. Also, pests and disease might be the problem attacks by either of these causes the fig to divert energy from ripening into protecting itself. Treat any pests or disease promptly and if you have had a period of high heat, be sure to water more frequently. Poor pollination can also contribute to this issue, as the fig fruit will remain very small and may also drop from the tree before ripening.
Generally, these plants draw all the nutrients they require from the soil therefore, regular fertilizing of figs is not usually necessary except for potted trees or those growing in poor soil, such as with sandy soil that leaches nutrients rapidly or when figs are surrounded by competing plants. Fig fertilization also depends on whether a plant is young or mature. Use a general purpose balanced fertilizer (8-8-8 or 10-10-10) per foot of plant height each time. For instance, feed 1 and 2 year old trees an ounce of fertilizer once a month when the tree begins to put out new leaves, in late winter or early spring. Older trees get 1/3 pound of fertilizer per foot monthly in late winter, mid-spring and mid-summer. Stop feeding before the end of July.
We all have questions now and then, whether long-time gardeners or those just starting out. So if you have a gardening question, get a gardening answer. We’re always here to help.