Summertime figs

Summertime figs

Ripe figs are a deep shade of pink to purple. Larger green figs will ripen in a few days. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson

Summer is full of simple pleasures—afternoon rainstorms, living in flip flops, and cooling off in a backyard pool. Among these, one of my favorites is walking out my door and picking handfuls of figs right from the tree. Before we planted our tree, my only prior experience with the fruit was a Fig Newton—I’d never eaten an actual fig, much less one picked fresh. Now, they are my favorite fruit.

Native to Asia Minor and the Mediterranean, figs were introduced to Florida in the 1500’s by Spanish explorers. Spanish missionaries introduced these relatives of the mulberry to California a couple hundred years later. Figs are best suited to dry, Mediterranean-type climates, but do quite well in the southeast. Due to our humidity, southern-growing figs are typically fleshier and can split when heavy rains come through. The biggest threats to the health of the trees are insects, disease (also due to our more humid climate) and root-knot nematodes.

Fig trees can grow quite large and produce hundreds of fruit each year. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson

Our tree started out just a couple of feet tall, but 15 years ago we replanted it along a fence in our back yard. It grew so large (easily 25 feet tall and equally wide) that it hangs over our driveway, making it handy to grab a few as I head out for a walk or hop in the car to run errands. The tree is in full sun at the bottom of a slope, and seems to be a satisfied recipient of all the runoff from our backyard. This position has resulted in a thick layer of soil and mulch in which it thrives. In the last year, we pruned it down to an arms-reach height so that we could actually get to the figs being produced.

We usually see small green fruit start to appear in early May, becoming fat and ripe by the second half of June. The tree produces steadily through early August, when the leaves turn crispy from the summer heat and there’s no more fruit to bear. The common fig doesn’t require a pollinator, so only one tree is necessary for production. The fiber-rich fig is also full of calcium, potassium, and vitamins A, E, and K. As it turns out, the “fruit” is actually a hollow peduncle (stem) that grows fleshy, forming a structure called a synconium. The synconium is full of unfertilized ovaries, making a fig a container that holds both tiny flowers and fruit in one.

The insides of a fig show the small flowering structures that form the larger fruit. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson

With the hundreds of figs we’ve picked, my family has made fig preserves, fig ice cream, baked figs and of course eaten them raw. We typically beg friends and neighbors to come help themselves—and bring a ladder—because we can’t keep up with the productivity. The local birds and squirrels are big fans, too. Often you can tell you’re near our tree from around the block, as the aroma of fermenting fruit baking on the driveway is far-reaching.

No matter what you do with them, I encourage planting these trees in your own yard to take full advantage of their sweet, healthy fruit and sprawling shade. As Bill Finch of the Mobile (AL) botanical gardens has written, “fresh…figs are fully enjoyed only by the family that grows them, and the very best figs are inevitably consumed by the person who picks them.”

 

Gardening in the Panhandle: LIVE !

Gardening in the Panhandle: LIVE !

During these unusual times, the Gardening in the Panhandle Team has been working to bring you quality remote content through this online newsletter. In that vein, we have developed some new educational programming for our loyal readers.

Our next Gardening in the Panhandle Live is on July 23th and will continue every two weeks throughout the months of  July and August.  We are providing one hour “Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE!” sessions on Zoom. These will occur during lunch hour, from 12:00 to 1:00 CDT. They will also be hosted on the Gardening in the Panhandle Facebook page and recorded if you can’t participate live. So, whether you are at home or work, bring your lunch up to your desk (or smart device) and enjoy Gardening in the Panhandle Live!

Click on the topic below to pre-register and submit your questions one week in advance.

Archived videos with closed captioning are linked to topics about one week after event airs.

The schedule follows below:

Date Topic Panelists 12-1pm CDT
May 28 Vegetables Gardening Matt Lollar, Evan Anderson, Matt Orwat  
June 11 Lawn and Turfgrass Larry Williams, Daniel Leonard, Beth Bolles, Daniel Leonard  
June 25 Ornamental & Landscape Sheila Dunning, Matt Lollar, Stephen Greer, Matt Orwat  
July 9 Butterfly Gardening Mary Salinas, Julie McConnell, Beth Bolles  
July 23 Prepping for the Fall Garden Matt Lollar, Danielle Sprague, Molly Jameson  
August 6 Open Ended Q&A Mary Salinas, Evan Anderson, Beth Bolles, Matt Orwat  
August 20 Gardening for Pollinators Dr. Gary Knox, Mark Tancig, Mary Salinas  
September 10 Fruiting Trees and Shrubs Dr. Xavier Martini, Danielle Sprague, Trevor Hylton  
September 24 Gardening in Florida Soils Ray Bodrey, Matt Lollar, Pat Williams  
October 1 Planting Trees and Shrubs Larry Williams, Ray Bodrey, Beth Bolles, Stephen Greer  
October 15 Cool Season Gardening/Cold Protection Mary Salinas, Matt Lollar, Larry Williams  
October 29 Landscape Pests (insect & disease) Matt Orwat, Evan Anderson, Dr. Adam Dale  
November 12 Selection and Care of Holiday Plants Matt Orwat, Larry Williams, Sheila Dunning, Stephen Greer  

Pawpaw – A Fruit with an Identity Crisis

Pawpaw – A Fruit with an Identity Crisis

The pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is a native edible that is often overlooked and misunderstood.  Not only does it produce a delicious fruit that looks like a mango and tastes like a banana, but it is also an aesthetic landscape plant.  This fruit is slowly gaining popularity with younger generations and a handful of universities (Kentucky State University and the University of Missouri) are working on cultivar improvements.

A pawpaw tree in the woods.

A pawpaw tree growing in the woods. Photo credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

The pawpaw is native to the eastern United States (USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5-8), however it’s closest relatives are all tropical such as the custard apple, cherimoya, and soursop.  The pawpaw, along with these fruits, are known for their custard-like texture which may be a unpleasant for some consumers.  Pawpaws are relatively hardy, have few insect pests, and can still produce fruit in partial shade (although they produce more fruit when grown in full sun).

Pawpaws perform best in moist, well-drained soils with a pH between 5.5 and 7.0.  They are found growing wild in full to partial shade, but more fruit are produced when trees are grown in full sun.  However, pawpaws need some protection from wind and adequate irrigation in orchard settings.  Trees can grow to between 12 feet to 25 feet tall and should be planted at least 15 feet apart.  In the Florida Panhandle, flowers bloom in early spring and fruit ripen from August to October depending on variety and weather.

Young pawpaw fruit

Young pawpaw fruit growing on a small tree. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension at Santa Rosa County

A number of improved cultivars of pawpaws have been developed that produce more fruit with more flavor than native seedlings/saplings.  The University of Missouri has conducted trials on the following pawpaw cultivars:  ‘Sunflower’; ‘PA Golden’; ‘Wells’; ‘NC-1’; ‘Overleese’; ‘Shenandoah’; ‘Susquehanna’; and ’10-35′.  Most of these cultivars performed well in southern Missouri, however yields may differ in the Florida Panhandle.  The full results of the trial can be found in the “Pawpaw – Unique Native Fruit” publication.

Pawpaws can be propagated by seed or cuttings.  Unlike most fruit trees, pawpaws are usually true to seed meaning that saved seed produces a tree with similar characteristics to the parent tree.  To save seeds, place fresh seeds in a bag of moist peat moss and refrigerate for 3 to 4 months before planting.  To vegetatively propagate, take cuttings (pencil thin in diameter) in the winter and store in a refrigerator until early spring.  Cuttings should be chip budded onto seedling rootstock during the spring.  Please visit this publication from the University of Nebraska for more information on chip budding.

Pawpaw fruit are ready to harvest when they are slightly soft when gently squeezed.  Fruits picked prior to being fully ripe, but after they start to soften, will ripen indoors at room temperature or in a refrigerator.  Already-ripe fruit will stay fresh for a few days at room temperature or for a few weeks in the refrigerator.  To enjoy pawpaw fruit throughout the year, scoop out the flesh, remove the seeds, and place the flesh in freezer bags and freeze.

Whether you want to add more native plants to your landscape or you are a rare and unusual fruit enthusiast, pawpaw may be the tree for you.  They can be utilized as a focal point in the garden and provide delicious fruit for your family.  For more information on pawpaw or other fruit trees, please contact your local Extension Office.