Advice from the Help Desk of the
UC Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa County
Client's Request: I need some help with pruning, grafting, and transplanting young fruit trees. I'm especially interested in growing Brown Turkey Figs.
MGCC's Help Desk Response: Thank you for contacting the UC Master Gardener Program Help desk with your questions about pruning, grafting, and transplanting young fruit trees. Some of your questions were answered on the phone and others required some “digging”.
Before pruning any fruit tree, it is important to know its bearing habits, and ultimately what shape or size you would like the tree to be when it reaches maturity. You mentioned that you would like to know how and when to prune the Brown Turkey fig that you bought and planted in a pot last year. You also mentioned that you wanted to know how and when to graft a fig branch (or scion) from your son's tree onto yours.
Grafting a different fig cultivar onto your tree, involves taking scion wood from a healthy tree this winter, and preserving it in a bag with moist peat moss until spring when the grating should be done. Here is a link with detailed instructions about one grafting method you might try.
You might also consider getting hands on experience at the Golden Gate Chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers Scion exchange on January 20th in Berkeley. Here you may take a grafting workshop, as well as finding hundreds of varieties of budwood for grafting and cuttings to root. Please see the following website for more information about the event, as well as its location. http://www.crfg.org/chapters/golden_gate/scionex.htm. (Editor's note: Many years ago, I attended the CRFG's Scion Exchange and brought home scions of 22 different types of figs. I planted them all directly 1 each in gallon containers. They all survived, much to my surprise, since I'm not fond of figs. Fig Newton cookies yes. They eventually all were donated to dia to a much better fate than my garden.)
You also mentioned that you have a two-foot-tall volunteer fig tree in your yard that you'd like to transplant. The best time to dig up and transplant a fig is now during its winter dormancy period. You will need to measure the trunk and calculate that for every inch of trunk diameter, you will need to allow for ten inches of root ball diameter when digging. So, if your tree is 1 inch in diameter you'll have to allow for an almost 1 foot diameter of root ball. You should also dig the root ball at least 1” beyond the canopy of the tree to minimize damage of any lateral roots.
Other important facts when transplanting your fig tree include: planting it in full sun, digging the new hole no deeper than the root ball, using existing soil when back filling the hole, and avoiding planting in areas that collect water, in order to mitigate the possibility of “wet feet”, which might make the tree more susceptible to root rot. Use the following link for a comprehensive guide to fruit tree planting and care. http://homeorchard.ucdavis.edu/8048.pdf
For more all-inclusive information on how to prune, including shaping, types of pruning cuts, and much more, see the following link. http://homeorchard.ucdavis.edu/8057.pdf
This is a lot of information to take in, but I hope that you are successful in your home gardening pursuits, especially for your fig trees.
Help Desk of the UC Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa County (JJM)
Note: The UC Master Gardeners Program of Contra Costa's Help Desk is available year-round to answer your gardening questions. Except for a few holidays, we're open every week, Monday through Thursday for walk-ins from 9:00 am to Noon at 75 Santa Barbara Road, 2d Floor, Pleasant Hill, CA 94523, although we will be moving sometime soon. We will notify you if/when that occurs. We can also be reached via telephone: (925)646-6586, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or on the web at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/Ask_Us/ MGCC Blogs can be found at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/HortCoCo/ You can also subscribe to the Blog (http://ucanr.edu/blogs/CCMGBlog/)
Advice From the Help Desk of the
UC Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa County
Client's Request: I am a new resident to the County. I would like to plant the Black Madeira and Flanders varieties of fig, but would like a recommendation for a variety that would do well in this area.
You had also read that chefs recommended Flanders. This variety is described as growing best in south coastal California and the San Joaquin Valley. Unless you are in the warmer areas of the County (closer to the Bay and/or River), you may find that your garden may not be warm enough for this variety.
There are, however, many other varieties that do grow well in this area. The most complete list and best information on growing figs is available from the California Rare Fruit Growers. Their fig information can be found at http://www.crfg.org/pubs/ff/fig.html. This list does not cover all of California. They indicate which areas are best for each cultivar. As you check out the list of cultivars, you will see reference to the “breba” crop. Many figs produce two crops a year: one early in the spring that is called the “breba,” and a main crop in the fall. Those terms are further defined in the link.
For more information on fig varieties, see also: http://homeorchard.ucdavis.edu/plant_Fig.pdf. This is a smaller list but contains some useful general information.
Other fig background and cultivation information is also available at: http://fruitsandnuts.ucdavis.edu/dsadditions/Fig_Fact_Sheet/.
One other good source of information is The New Sunset Western Garden Book that is available for purchase or can usually be found in a County Library.
You also indicated a desire to talk to a fig expert. I suggest contacting the local Golden Gate chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers and attending one of their meetings. They may be able to give you the name of a fig expert. Their contact information is: http://www.crfg.org/chapters/golden gate/index.htm.
Good luck with your fig tree selection and please let us know if you have further questions.
Help Desk of the UC Master Gardeners Program of Contra Costa County
Come to the UC MGCC Program's Great Tomato Plant Sale
Walnut Creek 4/2&9, Richmond 4/9, and Antioch 4/16
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Dozens of heirloom tomatoes & vegetables chosen especially for Contra Costa
Note: The UC Master Gardeners Program of Contra Costa's Help Desk is available year-round to answer your gardening questions. Except for a few holidays, we're open every week, Monday through Thursday for walk-ins from 9:00 am to Noon at 75 Santa Barbara Road, 2d Floor, Pleasant Hill, CA 94523. We can also be reached via telephone: (925) 646-6586, email: email@example.com, or on the web at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/Ask_Us/ MGCC Blogs can be found at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/HortCoCo/ You can also subscribe to the Blog (http://ucanr.edu/blogs/CCMGBlog/).
- Author: Shannon Wolfe
I learned a lot of new, interesting information during the Master Gardener program. One of the most interesting things that I learned, that I love to share with people, is that some figs could be considered carnivorous. Ok, maybe that is making things sound a little too much like "Little Shop of Horrors," but at the very least some of the figs you have eaten in your lifetime were not exactly vegan (yes, there is debate about this on internet forums).
As figs are starting to show up at local farmer's markets now, I thought this would be a great time to share this little tidbit with the blog, so that other people can use this information as fun garden party banter.
Around the world there are over 700 varieties of figs, but they all fall into four types:
Common: Common figs (such as the Brown Turkey) do not require pollination from another tree, or from a wasp. True to their name, common figs are most common in home gardens. Common figs are 100% vegan.
Caprifigs: Caprifigs produce small non-edible fruit (also called a male fruit because it contains male flowers). The purpose of the caprifig is to produce pollen that fertilizes the last two types of figs, Smyrna and San Pedro. The pollen produced by the caprifig is transported to the female fruit (which contains the female flowers) by the Blastophaga wasp.
Smyrna: Smyrna figs produce a large edible fruit, but the figs must be pollinated. If the figs are not pollinated they will shrivel and fall from the tree.
San Pedro: San Pedro figs produce two crops per season. The first crop, called the Breba, ripens in early spring on the previous season's growth and requires no pollination. The second crop, also called the main crop, happens later in summer, on the current season's growth, and requires pollination from a caprifig and Blastophaga wasp.
Now, a little more about the fig's friend, the Blastophaga wasp and how figs are pollinated. What we commonly think of as the fig "fruit" is actually an accumulation of tiny flowers all contained inside the "fruit." It is these flowers that need to be pollinated in Smyrna and San Pedro-type figs. The fruits produced by Smyrna and San Pedro-type figs have an opening on the end of the fruit, called the ostiole.
Female Blastophaga wasps will lay their eggs inside the male caprifigs. The male wasps emerge, wingless, from their eggs first and fertilize the female wasps before the females emerge from the flowers they were laid in. Most male Blastophaga die before exiting the fruit.
The female Blastophaga, thanks to her wings, can exit the caprifig to enter a female fruit where she will try to deposit her eggs. On her way out of the male caprifig she picks up pollen from the male flowers which she carries with her into the female fruit. Upon entering the female fruit her wings are ripped off. She has been tricked! Not only can she not lay her eggs in the female fruit (because the female flowers are not compatible with her egg-laying needs,) but she cannot escape! Thus, after pollinating the female fruit, the female Blastophaga dies inside the female fruit (yes, the edible fruit).
These tricky figs contain a specialized enzyme to break down the female Blastophaga wasp's body, but the moral of the story is that when you eat a Smyrna-type fig, or a late-harvest San Pedro-type fig, you are eating a carnivorous fruit!