By: Raye Nilius
Grayson County Master Gardener
Seven years ago, when the sole fig in my backyard was two feet tall and fruitless, I had lower expectations. It was just little, I figured, and not ready to produce figs. I will wait. Now it is eight feet tall and as big as a Volkswagen and as she has grown, so have my expectations. This summer, as the scalding temperatures and bone dry days flipped over, one after the other, the figs were small, wrinkled, and never ripened. They just fell through her lush leaves, onto the mulch under her skirt. Petulant Fig didn’t deliver.
It was not a surprise because I knew about her diva ways. One year I erected a cattle panel trellis to grow long beans and ran a sprinkler to it. The trellis is next door to Petulant Fig, so she got a daily sprinkle too. She liked it so much that she responded by producing juicy one-inch diameter, purple figs all summer long, which we froze in gallon bags in our freezer. Apparently, without daily watering, Petulant Fig chooses life over figs, growing dozens of new branches and leaves throughout the season, in lieu of ripening her figs.
Because I love juicy sweet figs, and couldn’t rely on Petulant Fig, I went to the local nursery and began searching for another variety to complement her small, here today gone tomorrow figs. My selection was not based on research or any kind of intelligent decision making. It was based entirely on the name of the fig – the Texas Blue Giant. When I saw the name on the pot, I knew that’s what I wanted – the big ones.
The Texas Blue Giant came from figs that grow on the Island of Cyprus where it is known as Vazanata or Maxiles. It was introduced to the US by a well known San Antonio hybridist, Eddie Fanick. The Giant is self-fruitful and everbearing, with large, purple figs that are delicious fresh, frozen, or dried. Texas’ long, hot, dry summers and mild winters are similar to the climate in Cyprus, so the Giant is at home here.
The Giant is four years old now and growing in my front yard near a sprinkler head. She is easily my favorite fig of all time. Her figs are the largest I have ever seen and very tasty. Both Petulant Fig and the Giant have large, sandpapery leaves that you can use to make fig leaf tea. You can use your oven to dry your fig leaves, or you can do it the Texas way, by placing them in a shallow cardboard box and leaving the box in the back seat of the pickup for a week.
If you are extra thirsty and impatient, go out right now and pluck three medium sized leaves. Wash them in cool water, strip the veins out, and set the pieces of leaves in a two cup measure full of water. The veins make the tea bitter. Six minutes in the microwave makes delicious fig leaf tea. The tea is greenish amber and surprisingly smells of coconut, with a mild earthy flavor. Some studies have shown fig leaf tea has a variety of health benefits. If you were to buy fig leaf tea online, expect to pay about $6 for four ounces.
Because Giant was fruitful, and cooperative, I propagated three more from early spring shoots. It was easy. I selected four 8” spring branches that were emerging from the soil, prepped the end as the how-to’s recommended, and planted them in moist potting soil. They sat near the sprinkler head in dappled sun for three months where they sprouted root systems and grew leaves. Three of the branches survived, the fourth expired. Then I planted the infant fig plants in the ground.
Today I have four Texas Blue Giant figs, and one Petulant Fig. The Giants are more heat resistant than Petulant Fig and far and away more fruitful. I prune my figs during the dormant season to about 24” and that seems to keep them healthy. The leaves of both Petulant Fig and the Giant produce delicious fig leaf tea. They are also beautiful shrubs that are unaffected by any pest, with olive green leaves and a rounded habit.
If you are interested in growing figs for their fruit, their leaves, or their beauty, there are many varieties to choose from. Go online and pick out the ones you want, or visit a local nursery where you won’t have to pay shipping charges. Plant them next spring and enjoy the bounty they will bring. Happy gardening!