Soil for container figs

dangsr2September 4, 2006

I read a lot on container gardening about soil mixes, but on the fig forum soil is not talked about. What are the best soil mixes for container figs. How much water and food do they need and how often. Ive never tried figs in containers before but I am starting now. Thanks for any advise you may give.

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Ray Givens, considered by many to be today's fig expert, recommends the following formula: 2 parts pinebark, 1 part composted cow manure, 1 part Perlite, handful of gound limestone. For fertilizer he says slow release such as Osmocote, use per directions.
I have never kept figs potted until they fruit, but for starting air-layered plants and keeping them non-dormant over the winter I use half of any good potting mix, such as Pro Mix or Miracle Grow, and half Perlite. I have kept Brugmansia long-term with this mixture. For fertilizing potted plants I prefer water soluble as per directions.
If you ask ten fig growers what he/she uses as a potting mix you will get ten different answers. Some use a product called Turface in the mix, others use granite gravel (adds weight to the mix), others use course sand. Frankly, I doubt if the fig trees give a tinker's dam what you use as long as it drains well, holds some moisture between waterings, and you provide the necessary nutrition.....Elder (Lou)

    Bookmark   September 5, 2006 at 12:26PM
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my mix next year will be equal(ish) parts pine bark, perlite and haydite(similar to turface). The goal of the mix should be to drain quickly from the macro pores and hold moisture in the micro pores. I've read that the proper mix will occupy 50% of the pot volume. The other 50% of the volume will be occupied equally with air and water.

I prefer a coarser mix so I can water every day (sometimes more than once per day). The heat can be a big problem for potted trees. If you water daily, the water will cool down your roots. Also, frequent watering allows for frequent air exchange preventing the air in the mix from going stale.

I think Lou is correct that fig trees will grow in just about anything (when I was in Istanbul last year, I saw a fig tree growing out of the side of a building), however a couple of words of caution. Firstly, do not use Vermiculite. If you use granite or some other heavy gravel, it will compress the Vermiculite. Secondly, try to keep your particle sizes about the same. Both of these issues lead to settling of the mix in the pot impeding water flow. All of my pots have had settling issues this year. Some have settled as much as two inches since March. I was in a hurry to repot this year and couldn't find granite smaller than 3/8-3/4 inches. The trees have done well (some with more growth than others), but not as well as last year.

Good luck,

    Bookmark   September 6, 2006 at 3:50PM
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Thanks for the soil information, I am getting my 1st figs in containers next Wednesday and have two celest cuttings that I rooted this year to be container plants. Checked those 2 yesterday and they both have nice roots to be only6 months old. I have limited space is the reason I am going to pots, also my legs are giving out so I am trying to get all the garden in a compact area to limit the tilling and cultivation.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2006 at 11:04AM
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James, thank you for your thoughts on my question about soil in containers. You mentioned soil compaction in pots, is compaction in pots any different from that out of a pot like on the ground under and around a fig tree not in a pot. should I be cultivating the soil under and around my fig tree, maybe thats why I didnt have many figa this year. Dan

    Bookmark   September 9, 2006 at 2:19PM
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I don't think its too necessary to amend the soil in the ground. I normally don't do anything to the trees I have in the ground... maybe some slow release fert at the beginning of the year and some fresh mulch. I have a clay-y gumbo soil here. My trees only utilize the top 8ish inches of the soil to grow roots in (also in the mulch layer), but the roots extend far beyond the drip line of the tree. If you are worried about compaction of the soil below and in ground tree, you might want to spread some compost or humus underneat the tree. It is popularly believed that this will introduce beneficial elements to the soil and provide a safe place for worms to live which help keep it loose and aerated.

In a pot, you don't have so much area for the tree to send out roots in. You end up with a heavier concentration of roots under the tree (or long roots that circle around the perimeter of the pot). Therefore, compaction is more of an issue within a pot and one reason frequent bare-rooted repotting is necessary. As the roots occupy the pot, they push their way through the soil... compacting the growing mix (you only have so much space in there). If the soil underneat the tree becomes too compact, it can result in a girdling type situation where it becomes difficult for the tree to draw moisture and nutrients through the compaction.

One of the issues I have in my yard (and is also suppose to be a problem in Flordia) is root-knot nematodes. If they have invaded the root system of your trees, they can slow down growth and fruit production. If you haven't already checked, pull back the mulch/soil about a foot away from the trunk of your tree and examine the roots. If you have RKN, you should be able to see galls (pearl like lumps) in the roots of your tree. It's worth looking into before doing anything else to the trees.


    Bookmark   September 10, 2006 at 3:32PM
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I have been growing a Brown Turkey fig tree in a pot for 6 years now. It is extremely health and produces a larger crop every year. The mix I used when first planted was a 50/50 combination of top quality black soil and a high peat content potting soil (Miracle Grow). I water heavily every day at dawn and give it a dose of Miracle Grow general-purpose, water-soluble fertilizer once a week (every Friday). I stop giving it the weekly fertilizer shortly before the fruit begins to ripen. The tree has resigned itself nicely to the size of the pot I used and stopped getting any taller 3 years ago, though it has continued to add branches. It stands about 6 feet tall. This year it gave me another bumper crop of nearly 9 dozen figs. All nicely sized with a beautiful dark purple exterior and luscious, sweet red meat. I will be repotting it this fall for the first time to a slightly larger pot just to let it have a little more room to spread out. Since our winters can be quite brutal I have to keep the pot to a size that can be taken into the garage on a 2 wheeler in late fall.

I have 2 new additions to my collection this year. I have a cutting from a wonderful Yugoslavian Fig that is taking off quite nicely. It is probably 2 or 3 years away from giving a fruit. I recently purchased a Black Sicilian that I am waiting to receive. It should be shipped very soon. IÂm most excited about that one. The fruit is reported to be such dark purple it is almost black and the meat is so sweet it is like a spoon full of sugar.

DonÂt let figs scare you. They are not difficult to grow. With a little common sense and a lot of loving care they do quite well on their own.


    Bookmark   September 2, 2007 at 10:06PM
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jxbrown(z10/24 SD, CA)

I had a commercial mix of coconut hull chips, zeolite, charcoal, and coir left over from potting a dwarf orange. I dug up a Violette de Bordeaux that was being nibbled to death by my fig leaf loving dogs and potted it in the left over mix and it has done splendidly as has the orange. I gave it a handful of citrus fertilizer the last time I fertilized the citrus trees. The CHCs really hold water well without smothering the sensitive citrus roots or the much hardier fig roots. I have another fig that is also doing well potted in commercial cactus mix, but which needs a little more attention to regular watering.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2007 at 3:29PM
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chills71(Zone 6b Mi)

I mix perlite, pine bark mulch (sifting out bigger pieces) and a low-peat potting soil with a little water absorb polymer. Next I put about a quarter cup of lime on top of the soil. (pot is about 16 -18 inches across at the top, I think its a 5 gal, but I'm not sure)

I top the whole pot with 2 or so inches of mulch.


    Bookmark   September 3, 2007 at 4:47PM
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Sept. 4th 06 I asked about container soil for fig trees. Next day I tried to find it and after several unlucky days I just gave up, and I just found it. I read all the good answers that all you good fig lovers gave and THANK all of you. I did go on and buy 3 potted 1 year trees and planted in the ground. I bought 1 ALMA, 1 GIANT CELESTE and 1 CONADRIA. I also got a new User name as you will see.


    Bookmark   September 3, 2007 at 6:08PM
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kieth, you mentioned that you've had a fig in a pot for six years. Do you take it out periodically to root prune? Also, what sized pot do you use?

    Bookmark   September 4, 2007 at 2:40PM
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I use a very large ornamental pot for show on my patio. I'm sorry I don't know its actual size. If I were to guess I would say it's about 15 or 20 gallons. I pruned the roots once at about the 3 year mark. Other than that I have had to do very little and the tree is very happy.

I will be transplanting it this fall into a larger pot - approximately 20 or 25 gallons. Other than a bit of root pruning and fresh soil every few years, it will stay in that pot from then on.


    Bookmark   September 6, 2007 at 5:03PM
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Here are a few pics of the fig I've been telling you about. It's been in this pot for the 6 years I've owned it.


It produces a beautiful crop every year.

Stands about 6 feet tall.
That's my new "Yugoslavian fig in front - no idea exactly what variety.

As you can see, I have it shaped as a tree rather than a bush.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2007 at 11:58PM
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keith, that is a beautiful fig tree, I have an identical one and I think it could be brown turkey. I have another one from Yugoslavia too and it is a very productive one with the yellow tin skin and a very sweet one. Another one that I got from Yugoslavia is a huge one, black and did ripe this past week, and first fruits were showing at the end of May. Soil mix is; cow manure and triple mix.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2007 at 7:51AM
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I am always interested in folks that raise figs in the colder climates. The weather can provide its own special challenges.

I see by Google Maps that you live north west of lake Ontario. I'm on the southern shore of lake Erie. Our winters can be pretty harsh here. How long and severe are yours typically?

I begin taking my figs out of the garage during the daylight hours around late March to early April, depending on the weather. I put them back every night until the danger of frost is past. That's usually mid to late May. They stay outside from then on, until the weather begins to reverse itself around October. I try to wait until the trees have begun to drop leaves then I reverse the process and start putting them away at night and bringing them out during the day. When they have lost all their leaves I put them away permanently for the winter. While they are dormant I give them a little water once a month. When they begin putting up buds I begin watering and feeding them daily again.

What process have you developed to care for your figs in your climate? I'm assuming they are all potted.
What percentage of your potting soil is manure and how much is triple mix?
By the way - forgive my ignorance - what is "triple mix"?


ps - Here's a picture of my new Yugoslavian fig cutting.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2007 at 4:52PM
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chills71(Zone 6b Mi)


Are you sure you're zone 4? I'm not looking at a map right now, but I would have thought you would have been zone 5.

I'm north of Erie....Follow the Detroit river up and you will see Lake St. Clair. I'm about 1/2 mile from it on the Eastern side. My winters are mild (in comparison to yours, if your zone is correct) and last winter my coldest temp was 6 degrees (positive 6 degrees). My monitoring over the past 5 years (only this last year with remote transmitting sensors, places me in a warm zone 6.

I've got one fig in the ground (that I have attempted to wrap for the past couple years) and a few in pots that go into a "putting up" room in my basement from late Nov/early Dec. The room stays a constant 45 or so degrees (at least last winter it did) and it is dark in there.


    Bookmark   September 9, 2007 at 7:01PM
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Thank you so much for your question regarding my zone. I can't believe I was so far off. I am actually in zone 6a. I haven't looked at a zone map for years and somehow got completely mixed up as to my region. The temperature here in winter can get down to -10 sometimes but rarely any lower than that. I guess the thing that makes our winter seem so much worse than the temperature would indicate is the amount of snow we get from the lake affect snow across lakes Erie and Michigan. When that cold Canadian wind comes down across those lakes we get absolutely burried.


    Bookmark   September 9, 2007 at 8:51PM
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keith-figs, although it is cold in Brampton, Ontario to grow figs I still persist to grow and grow and grow figs in containers. I am soooooo addicted to fig trees that I have about 10 varieties and about 19 fig containers in height from
5 inches to 4 feet. I have no power to say NO! Whenever I break and/or steal fig twig I plant it, just can't resist it.

Yes, it is a big problem during winter time. Can't keep it in the Shed bcs it's too cold and figs do freeze there. I keep them in the cellar room=cold room in the basement.
The biggest problem is there is no more room for my wife to keep her preservatives in the cellar room and every winter I am facing tough times with my wife.
And, the dummiest thing is I take my fig trees outside too
early in the spring and then they freeze:-)

Soil mix; no % in my measurements:-) just my eyes and my two handfuls of cow manure and triple mix.

Triple mix:=? , peat moss, some soil and some ..... oh I really do not know:-) I just buy bags of that mix.

Since I have too many containers I can't move them in and out to often bcs it's too heavy and my wife gave up on me, and I am quite too old, at least that's how I feel when I have to move those heavy containers.

*****keith, pls take good care of my homeland fig, good luck

    Bookmark   September 9, 2007 at 8:55PM
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chills71(Zone 6b Mi)

I'd love that snow you gripe about. Last winter I had 3 inches of snow total. 2 of them in one storm.

When I lose a plant in winter it is because of wetness, not because of cold. (which explains why I've twice lost grapes that should be perfectly hardy here)


    Bookmark   September 9, 2007 at 10:02PM
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This is an example of the snow I don't like.
I took this picture on April 25th.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2007 at 10:23AM
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As a general purpose mix I've used:

1 - part COMPOSTED, "TOP-SOIL". I NEVER use "POTTING-SOIL"! Potting -soil mixes have too much peat, which breaks down and stays too soggy. The same holds true for vermiculite, and those gummy, water-holding crystals. Learn how to water correctly and you will not need these additives in soil mixes. Also, I make sure that the top-soils that I buy contain NO perlite. I hate this annoying stuff!!!! It always floats to the top of the soil surface, like rice-puffs, after I water.

1-part "TURFACE-MVP" : this is a fired-clay product that is super absorbant, yet retains oxygen in the root-zone. It does not break down over time, nor does it get gummy or sticky like some kitty-litters. It's also inert, and holds fertilizers very well. No need for perlite if this product is used. It's a brownish-grey shade which blends with soil color. It comes in 50 lb. bags.

1-part: COCO-BEAN HULLS/SHELLS ... this is very light and stays fluffy. This keeps the soil loose and airy, and will not compact into a solid block if you over-water. I mix this into soil by volume, not, by weight. Found at garden centers in the "mulch section".

1-part COCONUT-TREE FIBER: ... This may be hard to find, but any orchid greenhouse/supply center will stock this material. It looks like deep-brown strands of "shredded-wheat cereal" and, comes in clear plastic bags. It's expensive, but it does the job! This is a very stiff, twiggy material which will also keep the soil filled with air. You simply cannot compact the soil into a solid mass when this and coco-bean hulls are used. Also use a volume measurement.

Mix all ingredients well and add a handfull or two of GRANULAR LIMESTONE, and, a handfull of low-nitrogen, organic, meal-type fertilizer. This breaks down more slowly over a longer period of time and is less likely to leach out when you water, or, burn tender roots.

I've also used "PLANT GROWTH ACTIVATOR-PLUS" mixed into my soils, and, I also water with a solution of "ROOTS-CONCENTRATE" My fig-trees are lush and healthy, with no visible diseases on the leaves. The soil is very free-draining, and will not hold too much water, so there is always a free exchange of oxygen at the roots. In extra hot weather you may need to water in the morning and evening. I also rarely wet down the leaves. I will wash them off if the leaves have a coating of dust on them ... and I'll never wet leaves in the evening, no matter what. Water less if plants are grown in shade, and more often if plants are grown in full sun.

Just mix equal volumes of the four main soil ingredients, provide the correct culture, and your plants will do just fine.

    Bookmark   September 13, 2007 at 7:58PM
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Hi, i have repotted my brown turkey fig in a very large plastic container and mixed the soil 50/50 mirical grow and jon inners no'3. is this o.k?
brought about 2yrs ago, had some crop but nothing worth eating or keeping so i put in the ground, now moving house i dug it up and put it in a container. stands about 4ft to the tallest branch and the trunk is about 2 1/2" round, any idear of age?

    Bookmark   March 15, 2009 at 1:48PM
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