Are Figs Produced on Old Growth or New Growth?

Are Figs Produced on Old Growth or New Growth?

Do fig trees produce figs only on new growth, or do they produce figs on the old growth as well? This is a question we get all the time, especially from new or potential backyard fig growers. The answer can be a little complicated, but we'll do our best to make sense of it all.

The Breba Fig

First we need to define a "breba" fig -- pronounced bray-bah. These are figs that are formed on the old growth, aka last years new growth, of a fig tree. Not all fig varieties produce a substantial crop of breba figs, but some of them do.

Breba figs are easy to identify because they'll be formed below any new leaves or stems as the fig trees start to awaken in spring. You'll often find breba figs right below the new leaf development in the spring, and they'll be considerably larger than the tiny main crop figs that are just starting to form.

Breba figs usually ripen 30-40 days before the main crop of figs and traditionally are not as abundant or flavorful as the main crop. However, they are a nice treat to have in early spring while you're waiting on the main crop to arrive.

Common fig varieties that produce breba figs are called "bifara" varieties because they produce both a breba and a main crop of figs. Varieties that don't produce breba figs and only have a main crop are called "unifera" varieties.

The Main Crop

The "main" or primary crop of figs will form on the new growth of the tree, above the locations where breba figs were formed. The more new growth you're able to promote, the larger the main crop should be. If you're experiencing a drought and not able to sufficiently water your fig trees, the main crop will likely be substandard.

We've seen a huge difference in our fig orchard since adding an automated irrigation system. Our sandy soils don't hold water well and the figs in our climate are quite thirsty in the late spring and summer months. By providing them with an abundance of water, we can maximize new growth and the main crop of figs that forms on that new growth.

 Factors Affecting Breba Production

As mentioned above, not all common fig varieties will produce breba figs. But for "bifara" varieties that do produce breba figs, that are things you can do to maximize your breba fig production.

Since breba figs form on last years wood growth, heavy pruning will likely result in a lower number of breba figs. Pruning can be advantageous to improve airflow and make figs easier to cover in the winter if you're in a colder climate, but it can also remove much of that growth from the previous year.

Additionally, if your figs trees die back to the ground each year, you're probably not going to get any breba figs. This emphasizes the importance of covering trees in climates with colder winters or growing them in pots so they can be protected from harsh winter temps. If all your new growth is "burnt" to the ground by cold temps every year, you'll never maintain any of that growth for breba production the following year.

If you live in an extremely warm climate (zones 10-11), you'll probably also never get breba figs. In these zones fig trees usually never go dormant, and will continuously produce main crops of figs. So while you may get an early spring harvest of figs in these zones, they'll be considered "main crop" figs since they're forming on new growth.

Breba figs are most predominant in mild to moderate climates where fig trees experience dormancy throughout the winter months and retain the previous years growth through the winter months. This is what happens where we are located in south Georgia. Fig trees start losing their leaves and go dormant in late November and will start forming Breba figs and new leaf growth as soon as February some years.

Back to blog