Tropical regions are probably more problematic to grow figs than cold regions. That may sound like an exaggeration, but in cold areas, at least you know exactly what’s going on with your fig tree, and the climate is more predictable. In topics, you play rainfall roulette with your fig trees every growing season.
Fig trees can grow well in tropical climates if certain climate conditions, like heavy rainfalls, are avoided. Knowing a specific tropical micro-climate can help prevent rain-related problems by choosing fig varieties that ripen in the time frame when rainfall can’t damage the fruit.
That said, I will discuss all the problems figs experience in the tropics, not only the abundance of water, to hopefully help you choose the right techniques and a fig variety for your growing conditions.
Why Are Tropical Climates Difficult To Grow Fig Trees In?
Fig trees experience many problems in tropical regions. They are primarily the plants of subtropical and temperate climates.
Fig trees would flourish in the tropics if not for high humidity. Not only do they not like high humidity, but humidity attracts some diseases and pests more than other climates.
All of the above forces fig growers to sometimes adapt to unusual techniques and care for fig trees with much more effort.
Common problems fig trees experience in tropical regions:
- No fruiting or spoiled figs due to high humidity
- Frequent leaf rust disease and other fungi
- Malnourished fig trees due to nematodes and sandy soil
- Ripening periods coinciding with the hurricane/rainstorm season
- Lack of true dormancy
Do Fig Trees Go Dormant in Tropical Climates?
In temperate climates, fig tree dormancy is pretty straightforward. Weather events are clear enough for the tree to start the chain reaction of signals to cease all growth processes.
Those signals are not as clear in tropical regions because the temperature and the amount of sunlight don’t fluctuate as much between warmer and colder seasons.
In most tropical regions, fig trees don’t experience true dormancy but rather a temporary cessation of their growth process.
My usual emphasis on temperature isn’t to say that cold weather is solely responsible for inducing fig tree dormancy, but rather that temperature plays a significant role in what I believe to be the actual dormancy.
Rather than photoperiod or even light spectrum, temperature appears to be the most important component in determining a tree’s biological processes.
Sap flow and transpiration are particularly hampered and decreased at lower temperatures, resulting in a bottleneck effect on the tree’s physiological processes. The tree’s ability to transfer nutrients is drastically reduced with lower temperatures.
As a result of the bottleneck, there are signals in the tree’s organism to stop certain functions, such as buds’ growth and development.
Induction of dormancy, or at the very least a period of inactivity like it happens in most tropical regions, may start by any bottleneck, whether water supply, quality of light, the intensity of light, or temperature.
These bottlenecks and signals they induce can vary from tree to tree, even among the same fig variety.
However, I believe that temperature serves as a master controller for chemical processes since it is the quantity of energy accessible to a system. The amount of energy in a system and the pace at which chemical reactions occur decrease when the temperature drops.
Temperatures lower than 70 degrees Fahrenheit reduce a tree’s capacity to manufacture sugar. A significant portion of this drop is due to decreased enzyme activity, as seen in the tree’s leaves.
I went into details about the interaction between dormancy and temperature because my research showed that the magnitude of fig tree dormancy in tropical regions is closely related to the lowest temperatures in a certain area.
For example, a tropical area that has the lowest temperatures of barely under 60°F will have fig trees that go into short periods of inactivity. In contrast, you can find truly dormant fig trees in tropical areas where temperatures fall much lower.
All other factors appear only to affect marginal temperatures between the two hypothetical example areas mentioned.
The lack of true dormancy can be an issue if the fruiting period is removed from its regular time frame.
A great example is how growers in some southeast Asian countries train their fig tree fruiting cycles before allowing them to go into large-scale production.
There is some ability of fig trees to have a learned repetition of its yearly cycle that can become more resistant if kept stable at a young age.
Probably related to their growth “stubbornness,” I like to mention from time to time.
How Much Rain Is Too Much For Figs?
In tropical rainforests, the weather is always hot and humid. Rainfall in most rainforests is substantial, averaging between 80 and 180 inches (200–450 cm) per year. The yearly rainfall in certain places might reach up to 1000 cm (400 inches).
Figs prefer an annual rainfall in the range of 700 – 1,500mm (27-59 inches), but they will tolerate 300 – 2,700mm (12-106 inches).
From my experience, anything more than 2000mm is already way too much if you plan to have figs consistently.
An even bigger issue is how annual rainfall is distributed throughout the year.
Figs prefer more rain during winter, with the peak rainfall until the end of the spring. It’s best to keep them as dry as possible during the summer.
I found the best fruit in terms of quality grows when there is literally no water from mid-June to mid-August for mid-ripening varieties or up until mid-July for early ripening ones.
If there is constant rain during those periods, a fig tree will experience many difficulties in properly ripening its fruit. Splitting and spoiling of figs are only a few problems during the ripening season if a fig tree is exposed to too much water.
Since tropics have pretty consistent rain all year long, you must have fig varieties that can resist humidity. There are several factors about fig fruit that makes them humid-resistant.
I will discuss the important ones later on about the best fig varieties for tropical climates.
Tropical regions also experience periods of increased rainfall, humidity, and storms. These periods are not the same in every tropical area around the world, but they happen close to the end of summer in most places.
It’s best to grow fig varieties that ripen at a different time than the rain/storm season hits your tropical area.
How To Prevent Fig Tree Nematodes in Tropical Regions?
Nematodes are a serious problem in tropical regions. They are tiny pests that infest the roots of fruit trees, and they like fig trees especially.
Research has shown that nematodes are more likely to spread through sandy soil found in the tropics. Not all soil is sandy in the tropics, of course, but there is enough that nematodes can grow large colonies. Then it’s easy for them to spread to other soil types as well.
They spread so easily because most soil types in tropical regions are rather coarse, which makes them easy to burrow through.
Nematodes are nearly impossible to get rid of, but they can be prevented. Certain symbiotic plants repel nematodes, but they are difficult to grow in the tropics.
The best solution I learned from fig growers who have lots of experience with tropical figs is to plant the tree about 1.5 feet deep. That means the tree must be grown in a controlled environment first to establish a proper tree trunk that can survive deep under the soil until the roots catch on.
Nematodes rarely infest roots deeper than 1 foot.
On the other hand, fungi like leaf rust are impossible to deal with in tropical areas unless you use highly toxic substances. But luckily, all you need to do is keep them away from the fruit by removing infected leaves around them once they are close to ripening.
Best Fig Varieties for Tropical Climates
Those weather changes I mentioned before make mid-ripening fig varieties difficult to grow in tropical regions because they ripen exactly when the storms hit. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if not because figs are the most sensitive to water during the last 7-15 days before fully ripe.
Your best bet is growing fig varieties that don’t coincide with heavy rainfall periods. I always prefer early ripening varieties when dealing with high humidity. The shortened time frame allows for fewer things to go wrong.
Among early ripening varieties, I always choose the ones that are either resistant to humidity or have great drying capabilities. However, because it’s difficult to avoid unexpected heavy rain in the tropics, fig varieties with the shortest “hang time” seem like a great choice.
“Hang time” is the period from when a fig starts swelling up to when it’s fully ripe. It’s basically the very last days before it’s ready to be picked.
In that period, a fig absorbs the most water and swells up. If there is too much rain or humidity in general, figs can easily get spoiled or swell too fast, preventing them from properly ripening.
I know people had lots of success in the tropics with water-resistant and short hang time fig varieties. However, you shouldn’t expect growing them to be as easy as in temperate climates.
Best water-resistant fig varieties with good drying capabilities:
- Verdino del Nord – It’s great in humidity, decently early ripening, and a top from that it doesn’t have a long hang time. Seems perfect on paper, but unfortunately, I haven’t heard that anyone actually tested it in the tropics. Although, I’m sure it would do great because it checks all the boxes.
- Nerucciolo d’Elba – Very similar capabilities to Verdino del Nord. It may give worse results taste-wise when grown in tropical humidity because it has a weaker taste, to begin with.
- Improved Celeste – Several people tested it, and it grows well in the tropics. It’s known to be a very resistant fig variety, including to pests such as nematodes. It’s an obvious choice because it grows so well in the very south of the states.
Low hang-time fig varieties:
- LSU Champagne
- Golden Celeste
- Iranian Candy Fig (Raasty Northern Persian)
All of these three varieties have been grown in tropical regions. From what I know, Iranian Candy Fig was the most successful.
Alternatively, you can always get a Ficus Palmata variety, which is often grown in tropical regions. Although, you will be limited to a very narrow spectrum of flavors that are not nearly as good as Ficus Carica varieties produce.
They are still worth getting, especially considering how much easier they are to grow in tropical climates.
Crucial Techniques To Grow Figs in Tropics
If you are an experienced grower, you might have already realized which techniques are crucial for growing figs in tropical climates or humid weather in general.
You should start right by planting your figs on the elevated ground so that the water from the rain doesn’t pool beneath the fig tree. If you live in higher altitudes, then it might not be necessary.
The most important techniques are the ones that control the water, especially above the ground. Trees in the tropics tend to grow very vigorously. You want to counter that by pruning treetops to stay open for airflow. In this situation, having fewer fruiting branches is actually better.
To maximize fruiting potential on fewer branches, it’s important to know how to stake them to spread them apart and then pinch them to form multiple smaller fruiting branches and stimulate fruiting altogether.
Nutrients are as important to fig trees as in any other climate, although due to more vigorous growth in the tropics, you may need to fertilize more often. Make sure to understand your tree’s needs and learn to read the signals it gives you.
Lastly, propagation. It’s not really necessary, but it’s a perfect skill to ensure success. Tropics are difficult to grow figs in, but tropical climate makes it really easy to propagate fig trees. Cuttings root in less than two weeks and have an amazing success rate when planted.
Propagating your fig tree from the start can be a backup if the main tree fails to grow or produce figs for any of the reasons mentioned above.
Indoor Fig Growing in Tropical Climates
Like in the coldest of fig growing zones, tropical climates can make indoor fig growing a viable option. It has its pros and cons, of course, but unless you can get your hands on a fig variety that grows well in the tropics, it might be your only option.
Fig trees can be only partially grown indoors. However, then they need to be smaller potted trees so they can be moved around with ease.
Bigger trees would require a shelter specifically made for them, something like a greenhouse.
The pros are obviously very easy water and humidity control. However, the con is that it’s difficult to ripen the fruit well. You will need to use artificial grow lights.