By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
If you are a fig lover, you might be tempted to grow your own. Some varieties of fig are strictly suitable for tropical to sub-tropical zones, but Brown Turkey figs are adaptable to temperate regions. What is a Brown Turkey fig? Brown Turkey fig trees are easy to prune to manage height, adaptable to many soils, and prolific fruit producers. As an added bonus, Brown Turkey care is negligible and the plants can be trained to single or multi-stemmed plants, adding beauty and shade to the garden.
What is a Brown Turkey Fig?
Brown Turkey figs (Ficus carica ‘Brown Turkey”) are sweet, delicious fruits that have rusty red to purplish skin and richly toned pink flesh. The trees are suited for a Mediterranean climate and produce prolifically, which in some areas makes them invasive. Brown turkey fig trees are quite commonly available, as they have a zone tolerance of USDA 7 to 11. Even gardeners with relatively short growing seasons should be able to harvest some of the candy-like fruits.
Brown Turkey fig trees get about 20 feet (6 m.) in height, but you can keep them pruned to a shorter plant quite easily. Mature trees get silvery gray bark and interesting gnarled silhouettes. The large three to five lobed leaves are slightly hairy and darker green above than below. The flowers are not showy and develop at the ends of the branches, with subsequent fruit ready for harvest at the end of summer or into early fall.
The beautiful trees have shallow roots which can be invasive and cause tripping hazards. It is best to situate the plant where it is sheltered but receives full sun. One of the more interesting ways of growing Brown Turkeys is as a bonsai. It takes some serious training and root pruning, but the elegant little plant can still produce a few fruits!
How to Grow Brown Turkey Figs
Brown Turkey fig trees can be grown in containers in cooler regions. Set them on casters so you can easily move the plants indoors when freezing temperatures threaten. Some gardeners say the plant can be grown in USDA zone 6 if the root zone is heavily mulched and the plant is in a location with some protection from northern winds and freezes. Early season frosts may require the tree be draped with a blanket or other cloth to protect fruits as they are ripening.
Growing Brown Turkeys from cuttings is quite easy. Clip off a sucker from the base of a mature tree. Dip the end into rooting hormone and place the cutting into moistened sand. Keep moist and once you notice new growth, repot the new plant in potting mixture.
Brown Turkey Care
Fig trees are very stoic unless you relocate them. Transplanting can cause leaf drop and the plant is slow to recover, but with good culture it will rebound the next season.
Brown Turkey fig trees can tolerate drought for brief periods of time but they will produce best with consistent moisture. Top dress around the roots annually with compost to help richen up the soil. If slow growth or pale leaves occur, fertilize the plant with 10-10-10 fertilizer worked into the soil around the root zone.
The most common issues are going to be sucking insects. Use neem oil sprays early in the season to get the majority of the insects. Some moderate fungal diseases can occur. As part of routine Brown Turkey care, clean up leaves at the end of the season so diseases and insects that such debris can harbor are minimized.
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Brown Turkey Fig Propagation
Unlike the common fig, the Brown Turkey cultivar (Ficus carica “Brown Turkey”) tolerates frost. It grows from 10 to 30 feet in height with an equal spread, within U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 to 9. Brown Turkey figs bear a slight purple cast to their brown skin and have pink flesh. Easy to propagate from cuttings, fig trees are ideal practice for the beginning gardener.
Wait until the tree is dormant to take a cutting, anytime between late winter and early spring. You’ll need sharp, clean pruning shears. To avoid passing diseases to the Brown Turkey fig tree, disinfect the shears in a solution of 1 part water and 3 parts of household bleach before using them to take the cutting.
Choose a stem that's at least 2 years old and slimmer than your index finger. To determine the age of the stem, look for terminal bud scars -- growth rings around the stem. Choose a stem with two terminal bud scars. From the tip of the stem, measure back toward its point of origin and make the cut, at a 45 degree angle, so that the cutting is 10 inches long. Immediately wrap the cutting in a moist paper towel to keep it from drying out before it’s planted.
Tap out a dime-sized amount of rooting hormone powder onto a square of waxed paper or a small plate. Dip the cut end of the stem into water to moisten it to the first node. Roll the wet end in the rooting hormone, tapping it on the work table to remove the excess.
Wrap the cutting in a moist paper towel and place it in a plastic bag. Seal the bag, and leave it for two weeks in an area where the temperature remains above 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Pour moist, coarse sand into a nursery pot and use a pencil to poke a planting hole. Remove the cutting from the bag and the paper towel stick the cut end into the planting hole. Ensure that at least two nodes are buried in the sand. Set the potted cutting in an area that receives filtered sunlight, where the temperature remains at or above 70 degrees. Keep the sand moist until you plant the cutting in the garden the following autumn.
Ficus carica ‘Brown Turkey’
Plant does not fruit in January
Plant does not fruit in February
Plant does not fruit in March
Plant does not fruit in April
Plant does not fruit in May
Plant does not fruit in June
Plant does not fruit in July
Plant does fruit in August
Plant does fruit in September
Plant does not fruit in October
Plant does not fruit in November
Plant does not fruit in December
- Botanical name:Ficuscarica 'Brown Turkey'
- Common name: Fig
- Family: Moraceae
- Plant Type: Tree, Deciduous
Fig, Ficus carica, is native to Syria and Persia, and has been grown in Britain since Roman times. Only a few varieties are hardy enough for outdoor cultivation on warm walls, where they survive most winters unscathed – very hard prolonged frosts may kill all the top growth, but plants revive from below ground. They are best trained on wires for ease of management, with the roots restricted (container cultivation is always successful), otherwise plants make more leaf than fruit.
Ficus carica ‘Brown Turkey’ (‘Brown Naples’) is a prolific and reliable variety. The Royal Horticultural Society has given it its prestigious Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
The sap of fig plants can be irritating to the skin and cause a severe reaction in hypersensitive people and pets. Some people are allergic to the figs themselves.
How to Plant Figs
Growing figs is a simple process. If you follow these few simple steps, your figs should be great producers for years to come:
Figs do best when planted in USDA zone 7 or higher. If you live in an area that has prolonged single digits over the winter months, you can’t grow figs outdoors.
This doesn’t mean you must give up on figs all together. Instead, you can grow them in a container and move them indoors during the winter.
Be sure whether you plant in a container or outdoors, you plant while the tree is still dormant in early spring or late fall.
If you put the tree in its new home at the right time, it should do fine.
Planting in a Container
If you live in colder planting zones, figs won’t survive the winter outdoors. However, you can put them in a large container and find they should produce well.
When growing figs in a container, make sure you use a large pot or even a barrel cut in half. Figs have deep roots and need room to sprawl out.
Once you have the correct planter picked out, add well-draining soil to the container. Plant the fig tree in the soil as you would any other plant.
Make sure the roots are fully covered, and the soil is tucked snuggly around the base of the tree to prevent air from getting to the roots.
When this is done, place the container in full sun and leave it outdoors during the warmer seasons. As the cooler seasons move in, place the plant indoors where it still gets as much sun as possible.
Water the plant regularly. During the warmer months, be sure to fertilize the tree once per month. In the earliest stages of planting, water your fig tree one or more times per week.
If you live in a warmer climate, plant the fig tree in a sunny location with well-draining soil.
There are no pH requirements for the soil because figs seem to be able to adapt and thrive in most soil settings.
Dig a hole deep enough for the roots to comfortably sit inside of it and cover with soil. Be sure to tuck the soil around the base of the tree to deter air from getting to the roots.
Keep in mind, fig trees have deep roots. Be sure to consider this when planting near structures or other trees.
It’s recommended to put at least 20 feet of space between fig trees and other structures or plants.