How Much Water Do Fig Trees Need?

How Much Water Do Fig Trees Need?

I recently attended a fig swap event in Watkinsville, GA that included fig hobbyists and growers from Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Alabama. While talking to some of the growers at the event, I was surprised at how few of them used an irrigation system on their fig trees. So I thought I'd use this blog to explain why our fig tree irrigation system is so integral to our orchard, and why a system like ours may not be as essential to some growers.

1. Fig History

Figs originated in the Mediterranean where the summers can be pretty hot and dry. As a result, figs are drought-tolerant and many older trees will still produce delicious figs in dry conditions. Older fig trees have extensive root systems which allow them to capture soil moisture in a wide band around the tree.

But even though they are drought-tolerant, they will benefit from regular watering. We've seen this firsthand in our orchard over the years. We get significantly more growth on our trees when we water them regularly. And as we've discussed on a previous blog, main crop figs are produced on new growth. The more new growth you can promote, the more figs you'll likely harvest.

Regular watering is also extremely important with newly planted fig trees in the ground. It can take a full warm season for the roots of a young fig tree to establish in their new soil. Before we had our irrigation system in place, we'd often lose a couple new trees each year due to inadequate irrigation. But with an automatic watering system, we can ensure these small trees get all the water they need.

LSU Gold Figs Ripening

2. Watered Down Figs

Some growers note that excessive watering will cause figs to have a "watered down" taste and that the natural flavors of the figs will be dampened. A prime example of this is with honey figs like LSU Gold. During periods of heavy rain, these figs can lose some of their distinct honey flavor for day or two.

I have noticed this happening on rare occasions when we've gotten six inches or more of rain in just a few days, but it's pretty rare for us. I haven't noticed that our figs taste "watered down" solely from regular irrigation. There's not much we can do about excessive rainfall, but I've never felt like I've compromised the flavor of our figs by overwatering.

3. Fig Splitting

When figs grow and expand too fast as they're ripening, they can split and ruin. This occurrence is more prevalent with some varieties than others. I've never had a big issue with fig splitting, but that could have something to do with our soil type.

We have sandy loam soils that drain very well -- almost too well. I've never seen a puddle of water in our fig orchard because the soil soaks up the water so fast after a rain. The thirsty, established fig trees in our orchard also help to quickly absorb any excess soil moisture.

It seems like fig splitting is more common with fig trees that are planted in heavier soils. If you have clay soils that don't drain very well, you probably will have some splitting during periods of heavy precipitation. But if your soil drains well, I doubt you'll ever have to worry about any significant splitting.

Drip Irrigation System for Fig Trees

What's Your Soil Type?

As noted by the examples above, the amount of water your fig trees will need can vary greatly depending on your soil type. If the ground around your trees stays soft and soggy days after a good rain, you might not benefit from an irrigation system. But if you have sandy, porous soils like we have in south GA, you'll definitely benefit from an irrigation system.

Another reason I think so fewer growers have irrigation on their in-ground trees has to do with tree organization. If your fig trees are scattered randomly around your property, it's going to be difficult and expensive to design an irrigation system for them. But if your trees are planted in a linear row, the irrigation install is simple and easy.

If you're new to figs and foresee that you'll want more trees down the road, I'd highly recommend planting them in a linear row. It will save you a significant amount of time and money when you do decide to install an irrigation system. An irrigation system will pay huge dividends via increased tree growth and fig production. On a future blog, we'll explain our fig orchard irrigation system with links to specific pieces.

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