Growing figs from seeds is a fun and easy way to start a new variety of figs. All fig seeds produce unique plants that may or may not be similar to their parents. Just like humans, fig seedlings are unique. If you are looking to grow a tree that you are sure will be a delicious fig it is best to look at clones made using cuttings. Without natural or selected seedlings though, there would never be new and better varieties of figs.
Unlike many other common plants you might have grown from seed, not all fig seeds have a chance of producing plants that will ripen figs in areas that don’t have special wasps that pollinate figs (only some areas of California have these wasps in the United States). Fruit that can ripen without pollination is called parthencropic. In order to get female (edible) parthencropic figs you need the male parent to be parthencropic, also called persistent. Our seeds guarantee this since all our male trees that ripen fruit are persistent (since we don’t have fig wasps in New Jersey, only persistent male trees ripen their fruit and produce pollen). Naturally occurring fig seeds are much less likely to have a persistent male parent.
The process of artificially pollinating figs is described in our blog post here. If you have purchased fig seeds from us, or otherwise collected fig seeds, this page will tell you more about the process we use to germinate and grow our seedlings. Fig seeds are not hard to grow and are in many ways similar to growing tomatoes. Some differences exist and not every technique works well for figs. We have tried several and failed at them. The technique described here is by no means the only way to grow figs from seeds, but it is a way that reasonably well and is not complicated.
There are a few important steps to successfully growing fig seeds.
- First, fig seeds have a natural protective coating that delays germination. You can speed up germination by soaking the seeds in hydrogen peroxide for 2-5 minutes (the 3% solution you can find at pharmacies). Without a soak in hydrogen peroxide seeds take 2-4 weeks to germinate, after a soak they take 1-3 weeks to germinate. In both cases have some patience as they are slower to germinate than vegetable seeds.
- Most potting or seed mixes can be used to start fig seeds. We use coco coir mixed with a small amount of slow release fertilizer. If you don’t add slow release fertilizer and your potting mix does not already contain fertilizer it is important to mix in some half strength fertilizer. Go easy on the fertilizer since small plants are susceptible to over fertilization. Even if you prefer organic gardening, chemical fertilizers such as Miracle Grow are useful here because you don’t want to encourage mold growth with organic fertilizers. Organic fertilizers are great when the plants start growing, but we have found that they are good food for fungus as well. The biggest cause of death for seedlings are fungal issues while they are small. Fig seedlings remain small for much longer than vegetables, so are more sensitive to damping off disease or other fungal diseases.
- You want to start with a potting mix that is damp, but not soggy. If you squeeze a handful you should be able to get only a few drops out.
- While the seeds are germinating the potting mix they are in can’t dry out. A humidity dome over your seeds makes this much easier. This can be a plastic bag over a pot or a seed starting tray like the picture above.
- Place the seeds 1/4″ to 1/2″ deep and cover lightly. Starting one seed per individual seed starting pots is convenient, but you can separate plants later if needed.
- Label your seedlings. It may take a month for them to germinate and weeks after that to mature, so label them to keep track of what they are. We use black paint marker on white plant stakes.
- Now you get to wait. With a humidity dome the potting mix should stay moist for a couple of weeks, but check the seeds daily. If the mix starts to dry out mist lightly with water till the top of the mix is dark. If you water your flats at this point you tend to make the potting mix too wet and encourage mold growth as well as disturb the soil. We have found misting to be a good way to keep the mix from drying out, while not making it soggy or disturbing the seedlings.
- Once the seeds start to germinate remove the humidity dome. At this point we start to bottom water the flats. This means adding about 1/4″ to 1/2″ of water to the bottom of the tray that the pots are in and letting the water soak into the potting mix from the bottom. The top of the mix should get darker after watering. If you can’t bottom water misting is a good idea while the seedlings are small.
- Allow the top of the mix to mostly dry out between waterings. This requires some attention since they seedlings can easily dry out at this point or be killed by molds that grow on the surface of the potting mix. Daily attention is required until seedlings are 2-3 inches tall. This takes longer than with vegetable plants.
- Enjoy! After the seedlings get to be 2-3 inches tall you will have to water a lot more frequently, fertilize with half strength fertilizer every 2 weeks, and up pot once the roots fill the initial container. Fig seedlings will grow quickly after they get established though and are fairly hardy plants.