One of the fruits that has always fascinated me is the fig. There are so many hundreds of varieties, and so much to know about them, that one could make a major study and hobby out of fig culture alone. Many do. There is also a deep history of commercial fig growing around here, so much that you can occasionally spot remnants of those days driving around the back roads and coming across now-wild fig trees. Its also common to see tall and thick-trunked trees around the neighborhood growing healthy and tall and laden with fruit in their season. Figs make many folks very glad.
My history with figs has been long but not glamorous. I mention it in other posts, but I currently have one successful mature fig tree, a delightfully scented Celeste. It is just now, after 11 years, beginning to fruit reliably. It used to be known as my cursed fig tree. Now its a blessed one, but not a super fruitful tree yet. I actually pinched some buds today to re-direct some energy in the plant toward more branching and fruiting instead of all-out stem growth. I’m glad the tree is healthy and strong now.
I have some other fig trees in pots and an Ischia Fig in the ground in my back yard, its doing great!. I will be planting a 2 year old Texas Blue Giant and a pair of tiny rooted Marseilles figs when they arrive here. One may show up tomorrow if the tracking number proves accurate. I have the location for the Blue Giant prepared already.
But that’s not the best part. I’ve also bought some fig tree cuttings. The fig tree is an easy plant to propagate by cuttings. These are basically six to eight inch sections of a woody stem or branch, trimmed and wrapped in a moist towel, shipped in plastic bags. They can remain dormant in a refrigerator for over a year, so its a good way of preserving and perpetuating a fig variety you love.Of these 30 cuttings I have, one strong tree of each variety will be kept, the other little trees sold off to fund more gardening and propagating equipment.
I’ve studied the many methods of rooting fig tree cuttings; there are so many it can make your head spin. I was discouraged at first, everyone did something different. The first method I chose was a water bag method. I am doing an experiment with pre-rooting some of my own Celeste cuttings made from the pruning leftovers with this method. They are currently showing signs of sending out white, tiny roots and little green buds. This method isn’t the best in terms of success-to-failure ratio. I’ll describe it more in the future if it works.
I chose a more involved method that is more reliable for the latest cuttings I have acquired. This method is the “Three Cup Method” made clear to me by Doug on the Ourfigs.com Forum. I am doing this as my first try. You get to learn alongside me. We do real gardening here, successes and failure, I will report them all. So lets give this one a go. Here are the supplies you will need:
The method uses three 18oz. Solo cups, two clear, one black. A quarter-inch hole is made in the bottom of one clear cup with a hot soldering iron. The soldering iron is definitely the cleanest, easiest way to go for perforating these cups, and its satisfying to do. The single hole in the bottom cup will end up on top, for this cup gets inverted and forms a humidity retaining lid. I took a second cup and put 4 holes in the bottom and 12 holes evenly distributed on the sides, also using my soldering iron. This vented cup will be the pot for the growing media, and the many holes will insure oxygen circulation. Fill the cup with moist – but not wet – root-starting mixture. I used Miracle Grow Seed Starting Potting Mix like the guy I learned from. It is, basically, Sphagnum moss and vermiculite. You can make your own media if you like, there are several recipes out there. Wet the media and knead it like dough until it feels like a dampened sponge. Not dripping, not merely moist, but in between. Fill the lower clear cups (the ones with all the holes)
I used a pencil to make a hole for my cutting. I used my shears and cut off a few millimeters from the lower end of my cuttings, just above the original cut, so that I had clean, fresh new wood. I dipped that end into a root stimulating gel. I used Quick Clone Rooting Compound, but some folks make their own if they are going to do hundreds of cuttings. The cuttings were placed in the hole in the media, the whole thing tapped lightly to settle everything, and the humidity cup was taped over the top of the soil cup with a couple of small pieces of duct tape. This forms a “pod.” That’s the best thing I could think of to describe these little cocoons. The clear cup pod was then placed into the black solo cup to keep light out of the rooting area, and the cups were all placed in a container so I can easily move them around.
Now here’s where it gets unclear for my region and season (Zone 9a, coastal Texas, already humid and warm). The originator of this method uses a full sun, southerly-facing window. But his cups are kept indoors where temps are easy to control. I do not have a southward facing window that gets much sun, and my daughter would protest if I filled up her desk anyway. But if I simply leave them outdoors in full sun they will dry up and bake in the high heat. I have a grow light set up that is more than able to handle my 24-36 cuttings, but its in my garage where it gets to be 100+ degrees already, and as the days go on that temp will climb to 135-140 in the late afternoon (direct sun on a dark metal garage door is like a radiator). My solution then is to keep the cups under grow lights from morning until the next mid afternoon, then move them to the shade of my front porch for the hot part of the afternoon. Since I actually office at home and usually spend a large portion of my day in my garage office, this is convenient for me. My hope is that this should give them a relatively good and stable environment. After all, my Celeste fig cuttings seem to be pre-rooting after a couple of weeks in just plain water on the front porch, and they have been left there night and day for all this time. I should have no trouble if I start cuttings in February next year.
After things get growing and I see a lot of roots in my cup, the number of holes in the humidity cap will be increased to get the plants acclimated to the ambient humidity, which, in my area, is fairly high already. When they have gone through a period of adjustment, I’ll remove the humidity cap. Some days it is 90% humid here. As I write this, its 94% humidity according to my gauge. I really don’t need the cap, but it shouldn’t hurt.
This is a very enjoyable experiment, on that I hope will end in a 90% or better success rate. I’ll keep updates coming as I see progress. I’ll update if I fail. Please comment if you have thoughts on these methods
As for varieties that I am rooting, I have purchased and rooted the following cuttings (updated 4-24-17):
- Hunt – A Medium to large elongated fig, tan in color, very sweet and delicious. My stock comes from a tree originally sourced from KT Nursery in Opelousas, Louisiana, so I hope it does well in the south.
- Smith – A medium squatty white fig – The Smith Fig is an heirloom Louisiana variety that was introduced by Becnel Nursery near New Orleans, Louisiana. Again, southern fig, ought to do good here.
- Flanders – This is said to be a strong flavored long necked, greenish yellow fig with violet stripes and amber-pink flesh. Said to be a strong grower suited for home gardeners. It was introduced by Professor Ira. J. Condit in 1975.
- Black Greek – Small/medium black figs a with red interior that are very sweet and delicious. One of the better dark figs.
- Ronde de Bordeaux – A delicious fig with a full richness, slightly complex sweet flavor. A reliable producer, fast growing, and a very beautiful leaf shape and plant form. This French variety produces a round, purple fig that is red on the inside. This variety is Pierre Baud’s personal favorite, and this plant lineage originates from Baud’s Nursery, France.
- LSU Gold – A large, squat, golden yellow fig that is said to be very sweet and delicious with a drop of honey in the eye. Parent tree came from James Robin at KT Nursery, Opelousas, La.
- Italian Black – Medium to large black figs that are very sweet and delicious.Parent tree came from Durio’s Nursery in Opelousas, La.