Submitted by Susan Randolph:
All figs in The Learning Fields fig trial except for a few were started from donated cuttings received from fig enthusiasts across the United States. If you are not familiar with fig propagation, the best way I can describe it is picture receiving cuttings that resemble a wooden pencil. No leaves, no roots, just pieces of wood taken from a dormant fig tree.
Fig growers in the northern United States and around the world may be able to use a mist bench or place the cuttings into a plastic tub with a lid, but that doesn't work in Arkansas. Arkansas has high humidity, which rots or produces mold quickly on cuttings. Here the best way to root is to place the cutting in an uncovered pot of lightly moist potting soil mixed with perlite or sand, out of direct sun and water once a day.
Once your cuttings grow into small trees, air layering can be used to start more trees. All fig cuttings started for the trial were planted at less than one year old. If you have the patience, the tree will do best if held in the pot until the second spring from the time it was started.
The best time for planting a fig tree in Arkansas is late spring after the ground has warmed up. Figs are fine to plant in the ground up to July 9th, but anything planted after that date risks not maturing enough to survive winter.
I do recommend anyone interested in figs join the Southern Figs Forum. This group has a vast knowledge of figs. Other groups, Figs 4 Fun and What the Fig, can be found on the net, and both are great, but members are from around the world, so their techniques will be different than what is needed in Arkansas. They may also have fig cuttings from trees that require the fig wasp. The figs grown in most of the United States are common figs and do not require the fig wasp. Arkansas doesn't have the wasp.
The Learning Fields trial received donations of common fig cuttings from Figs 4 Fun and cuttings from UC Davis thanks to Charlie Little. Without Charlie, the trial would have been 10-20 trees instead of 100.
SCHEDULED REPORT: Five Years Into the Ten-Year Fig Trial: By Susan Randolph
None of the trees in the trial have been pruned and shaped into one trunk trees. All trees have been left to grow as multiple trunks.
The following information comes from the trial and observation of trees in the state of Arkansas, river valley region.
LSU figs do well here. LSU: tiger, purple, gold, champagne, strawberry, ORourke, Improved Celeste are only a few of the many produced. LSU Champagne is a vigorous growing tree and is one of the best fig producers in the trial. Research the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center fig breeding program for more information.
Other figs that have done well in Arkansas: Paradiso JM, Unk Orangeburg Purple, Beal, Mead, Bensonhurst Purple, Stella, Italian Honey, Chicago Hardy, Unknown fig, Improved Celeste, Petite Negri, and all Sister Madeline fig varieties. Remember, if all else fails, a Brown Turkey fig will grow anywhere.
I've searched for trees of LSU Thibodeaux and LSU Dead Cat for years but so far, no luck.
Thomas Jefferson said "If you only have one fig, it should be a White Marseilles." The White Marseilles was planted in the trial spring of 2020, and I will let you know in a few years if Thomas was correct.
Submitted by: Susan Randolph Master Gardener 2000
Thank you for your time!
We hope you enjoyed this, and hope you'll decide to add some fig trees to your yard or garden. We'll keep you posted on the progress of this Fig Trial, and if you have any questions, just let us know.
If you haven't visited The Learning Fields at Chaffee Crossing, any season is a good season!