Black Mission or Not - ID Please

briana_2006July 13, 2014

Hello All -

if I did it right there should be some pictures of the tree here:

I purchased this tree several years ago as a "black mission" fig. I forgot which nursery.

It has never produced a fig - not sure if it is because I haven't fertilized it enough etc. or it is not a black mission at all.

This year I root pruned it - a little late in the season for it but it leafed out and I gave it new soil -- mixture of miracle grow, perlite and spagnum peat moss.

I have been fertilizing weekly with (per 1 gallon of water):

1 tsp 5% white vinegar
1 tsp foilage pro
1/2 tsp protekt

I have not yet seen any indication this year that a fig is forming either.

Other fig trees I have are producing figs.

?: why is it that it is never forming a fig at all?

What should I do with it -- I am thinking to get rid of it and purchase another black mission

Does anyone have a recommendation on which nursery to purchase a black mission from?


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First, I would stop using vinegar in combination with the ferts. Fig trees HATE acidic soils and acidic fertilizers make the situation worse, especially if your soil is loaded with peat moss for water retention. Add some granular limestone to that potted fig as a top dressing. Add a good fat, handful to sweeten your sour soil.

You also have a saucer under the pot, and you potted your tree in a mixture of Perlite and Sphagum peat. Is your potted tree draining quickly? You also state that you root pruned the tree - late in the season - which will definitely set it back, and probably delay fruit production. Your growing mix might be too water-retentive, far too acidic, and the saucer under the pot may not be helping with drainage. Figs need a very quick-draining mix and fresh air in the root zone when containerized. Try a good 5-1-1 mix, with added granular limestone. This kind of mix will give you better drainage and aeration. Most fig growers will not use acidic mixes. Maybe you might have some better results with a new, more alkaline mix.

I can't tell by the leaves - the photo looks blurry - but why do you have doubts that your tree is not a "Black Mission" if it was labeled as being this variety?

I see plenty of non-productive, wiry suckers, growing from the base, and too many wiry branches along the central stem. It looks like you staked the thicker main-stem, and are trying to train your plant into a standard,tree form. Will your tree fall over without the stake? In any event, I'd cut away all the extra, weak branches, including all the bottom growth, to concentrate all the tree's energy into the one, main-stem, and just a few branches. If your pot is too small this will also stress the tree, and delay fruit production. Figs need plenty of root room....15-18 gallons is a good size container. Even then, you'll need to root prune every 3-5 years, maybe more if the tree is a vigorous grower.

Give your tree plenty of full sun. I'll bet in a few seasons, you'll have a stronger growing tree, and some figs to eat, although, you also state that the other fig trees that you are growing ARE producing figs. If the other trees are getting the same culture as your "BM" then I'm confused. Something (culture?) is making this particular tree behave differently from all your other trees.

Sorry, I could not be more helpful. Good luck.


    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 8:30PM
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Hi Frank -

Thank you for your very detailed response.

You have made numerous good points that I will try to comment on in the next few days to learn more from you.

You mention using the 5-1-1 mix. Am I remembering correctly that I read a post from you in the past where you used the gritty mix for fig trees? If so do you still use the gritty mix alongside the 5-1-1 for growing fig trees? -- Which mix do you consider better for growing fig trees in terms of growth of the tree/healthy look to tree/number, size, taste of fruit, etc.

As far as I can tell the mix I am using is draining quickly and temperatures have been hot here so the pots tend to dry fairly quickly.

I will try to take some more pics soon that are clearer/sharper to help in identification.

The reason I think the fig may be mislabeled is that it has NEVER produced a fig at all -- not even one that begins to form and then later drops off. All of my other fig trees that are in the same soil, receiving the same fertilizer, in the same type of pots, the same amount of sun etc have always produced figs. I am sure I have had this one at least 3-5 yrs and it has never produced a fig -- so I have no idea what it really is -- frustrating!

I agree that I need to do some pruning and will be planning to do it soon. Is fall after all the leaves drop the best time to do it since I can easily see all the branches and which way they are growing etc or should I wait until the middle of winter to make sure the tree is fully dormant?

Thanks again Frank for your help!

    Bookmark   July 16, 2014 at 12:39AM
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Hi Brian-

Glad to give you any help that I can.

I would guess that your culture is off on the "BM"'re treating all your other trees the same way and they produce figs. So I'm a little bit more than confused. I still would not add any extra acidity to any of the figs that you grow, successfully, of not. Add some limestone and see if the quality/flavor of your figs improves. ESPOMA, IRON-TONE is a good organic, fertilizer, but I use this in early spring supplemented with dilute tonics of soluble fertilizers like Miracle-Gro.

The 5-1-1 mix is a very good mix. So is the quick-draining, gritty mix, but finding the Pine Bark Fines is difficult, and the substituted, "Repti-Bark" that I buy in large pet-supply stores, is very expensive. What ever you decide to use must drain quickly, when used for containerized fig trees. Water should pour right through the mix. This will wash away salt and toxin build-ups, and force in a new charge of fresh air/oxygen, into the root zone, which is essential, or the roots will rot. I am still using a quick-draining mix and the results have been excellent. I'm not trying to rub it in, but earlier this spring, I planted a 6" sucker into the quick-draining mix, watered it with very dilute tonic of 24-8-16 Miracle-Gro (1-Tbs./5 gallons water with every watering)....and the tree is now close to 4 ft. tall and is sprouting figlets. (Note: I did this because I wanted as much growth as possible, and, not fig production).

Sorry to bring this up, but for all the years that you have been growing your questionable tree, the growth should be more robust and not so weak and wiry. Something here, does not look right. There should be healthier-looking growth, and surely, branches sprouting some figs by now. What are we missing?

There's another possibility to consider. And it is remote, at best. You may have a dud tree. Many times, lousy, profit-hungry, wholesalers will start figs from seeds and then sell these resulting trees to retailers. Retailers then label the trees. Your tree may never produce figs, or, will produce lousy-tasting figs if it started as a seed-grown "BM". However, if your nursery source is reliable, I'd forget what you just read, and concentrate on cultural problems with your tree. I'm running out of ideas.

I see in the above photo that the pot you are using is only half full of mix. That means if the pot holds X-gallons of mix, the tree is growing in half that amount and will quickly become root-bound all over again. Containerized tree should be growing in a minimum 15-18 gallons of mix...unless you want to root-prune and repot very often. Small-volume containers dry out and heat up very quickly. This stresses the roots and leads to poor growth. Stressed trees could also suddenly abort figs. A vigorously growing tree, would fill that pot full of roots in one season, and then stop growing. Trees are handicapped when grown in containers that are too small.

Pruning of fig trees is usually done as buds begin to swell and as trees break dormancy. March/early-April, usually. If you decide to prune away all the extra growth do wait until the tree enters full dormancy. As the weather begins cooling off, all those extra leaves on that extra growth will be sending reserved food to the roots, and the stored food is needed for the flush of new growth, next season. Why cut off the food supply to the roots by pruning now? However, if this growth is diseased, or, unhealthy, then chop it out. Otherwise leave it growing for now.

Brian....every instinct that I have tells me your problems are cultural. Personally, as a Plan-B...I would order a few tissue-cultured, virus-free "Black Mission" trees from either Florida Hill, or Wellspring Gardens. In the time that it will take you to nurse that tree into better health, you could start over from scratch with healthy, vigorous trees, that will give you figs in 2-3 years, if not sooner. Granted the trees are tiny, but they can grow fast. I ordered me some tissue-cultured trees just a few months back, and the growth has almost quadrupled over the last few months. I had a terribly cold spring here in NYC, but the tiny fig trees still managed to put on some tremendous growth. I'm growing "BM" and also, "Olympian"....and I'll bet the tissue-cultured Olympian trees will start pushing figs next year. My fig trees have to put out, or, they're gone.

I do hope you find a happy end to your fig problems.


This post was edited by BronxFigs on Wed, Jul 16, 14 at 10:24

    Bookmark   July 16, 2014 at 10:10AM
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Hi Frank -

Thank you again for all the information.

I will need to read through it again and also read the 5-1-1 link again to see what type of bark is best suited to that mix.

It sounds as if you have used both the gritty and 5-1-1 for figs since it was difficult to find the right size bark for the gritty mix at a reasonable price for the quantity you needed.

I am very interested to know how much difference in growth for fig trees you have observed between the gritty mix and the 5-1-1? Are they essentially the same or does one mix out perform the other?

I have switched to gritty mix for several indoor plants (fairly small pots) and have seen good growth and better health compared to the mix they were in (same as the outdoor figs).

I have considered using gritty for the figs but the weight for 20 or 25 gallon pots is significant! I have inquired with some people nearby and it seems that the weight in the pot size I currently have could be moved with a 2 wheeler into/out of my garage for winter/spring -- I haven't inquired about the weight of a 20 or 25 gallon pot. (From the bulk densities of gran-I-grit, turface, and the fir bark I have calculated what the weights of the pots containing the gritty mix would be for various sized pots).

I have also considered using only gran-I-grit and turface in a 1:1 ratio since the bark is also a bit difficult for me to get -- I have ordered a few bags directly from Oakhill gardens near chicago (I am in the St Louis area) and so the shipping charge is about as much or a little more than the price of the bark and so makes the gritty mix a bit expensive especially for the number of trees I have)

For next season I would really like to know if a significant difference in growth for a fig tree should be expected if it is grown in the gritty mix or 5-1-1 mix?


    Bookmark   July 16, 2014 at 1:39PM
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Hi Frank -

I was doing some reading on the 5-1-1 mix.

The bark fines - best according to Al T -- is dust size to dime size.

I have tried to locate this before in the big box stores but haven't really been able to find a bag that is predominately this size range -- so I would have to sieve the contents and just use a portion for the mix.

Where do you obtain the fines for the 5-1-1? What is the brand name?

Also, if I can manage the weight of the gritty mix and the growth is about the same as the 5-1-1 mix or even better than the 5-1-1 mix then the gritty may be a better option for me since I won't have so much wasted bark fines and the gritty (or turface:gran-I-grit in a 1:1 ration) will presumably never break down -- although I know I will still need to root prune!


    Bookmark   July 16, 2014 at 2:00PM
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I haven't noticed any significant differences between the quick draining formula and the 5-1-1 mix. Neither of the mixes offers the required nutrition so fertilizers and trace elements, macro-micro nutrients must be used with these formulas. The mixes are formulated to give the roots fresh air and to prevent a perched water table from forming at the bottom of the containers. Perched water leads to root rot and souring of the mix.

The gritty mix is very heavy, so to avoid hernias, all my containerized trees are moved around on dollies, or a 4-wheel platform, hand truck. Now, the largest capacity container that I use is 18 gallons. That's enough mix to grow a healthy 5-7 ft tree.

When I cannot find the correct Pine Bark Fines/Repti-Bark... I use "Mini, Pine-Bark Nuggets"...never Pine Bark Mulch I actually like the mini-nuggets because they lighten the 5-1-1 mix and, and prevent the mix from compacting. The Turface MVP retains water, and so does the peat, so go easy on the peat. Peat is also acidic and that's not good for figs so do not leave out the granular limestone. I also add Espoma, Iron-Tone to my mixes because it contains, besides N-P-K, a good dose of trace elements plus macro/micro nutrients and beneficial bacterias. It's a long lasting, organic formula, and the iron that it contains really helps the leaves.

The 5-1-1 mix is much lighter than the gritty mix. Both work equally well, so pick your poison. Since you are growing in containers you will always have to root-prune and recharge the containers with a batch of fresh mix, so pine bark nuggets or PB Fines breaking down will not be too much of an issue. Both take a few years to break down beyond any usefulness, but by then, you will need to root-prune anyway, so don't even worry about this issue. The ingredients for the 5-1-1 mix are easier to find. Napa Auto makes a Floor Dry Compound (part number 8822) that can sub for the Turface. Aquarium grit can sub for the Gran-i-grit. You might find the equivalent of Pine Bark Fines in places that sell Orchid-Growing Supplies.

Best of luck with your growing endeavors.


PS: Brian, you might want to also give a long hard look at the virtues of using coarse-grade Tree Fern Fiber as an ingredient in growing mixes. This stuff lasts a very long time, never compacts, and is cheaper than PB Fines. It is also very light and clean to work with. As a matter of fact, I think I might start using it in my mixes instead of the Perlite, which I hate with a passion.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2014 at 11:22PM
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