Fig trees are well known as sun-loving Mediterranean climate trees. That’s why they do well in states like California. But a question always appears, do fig trees like full sun, or should it be limited?
In my experience, the answer can depend on many things like the type of climate and the size of the tree. There are a few other things involved as well, which I will try to go over in detail later on.
Figs like to be in full sun, especially in the growing season. Sunlight is more important to them than most other trees. Due to the necessity of sunlight, they are highly resistant to high temperatures and dry weather. However, certain parts of younger fig trees can get hurt, even sunburned, by too much sun exposure.
Can a Grown Fig Tree Get Too Much Sun?
Maybe a better question to ask would be, “how hot is too hot for a fig tree?”. But there is also a phenomenon of too much sun in fig trees. This is funny because, a few years back, I would have sworn that there is no such thing.
Let me tell you a story of the 2021 summer in Texas. It happened to my cousin, who never wants to listen to any advice. A decade ago, when he was planting his fig orchard, I told him to make a ridge for each tree line, so the water doesn’t pool around trees.
In 2021 rainy days lasted longer than most years into the summer. And then one day, it just switched to sunny weather with extreme heat. It was like someone hit a switch. The problem was the soil under each tree in his orchard was
What happened was a heat shock. I’ve mentioned in my other articles that figs are sensitive to sudden weather and condition changes. But no one would’ve predicted a heat shock because fig trees love the heat. Leaves started turning yellow, and no matter how much water there was, they weren’t reviving.
He ended up with some of his best trees pruned back to a quarter of their size.
Based on what happened, I would advise everyone growing fig trees in US hardiness zones 8-10 to be extra careful with high amounts of water in dry high-heat weather. Heat stress is as serious as any fig tree-related issue.
Can a Fig Tree Grow in Shade?
A fig tree can grow in shade very well if the temperature is warm enough. However, it will not produce or ripen fruit to its fullest potential. Sometimes it may not produce fruit at all. The lack of sunlight can be mitigated by planting a fig tree close to a house wall that reflects sunlight.
I wouldn’t recommend wasting time and effort by trying to grow fig trees in the shade unless there is no other option. For a fig tree to succeed in the shade every other condition needs to be great, which is highly unlikely.
Can a Fig Tree Get Sunburned?
Yes, a fig tree can get sunburned in its early years. The bark is not thick enough to stop sunlight from drying the wood underneath when the tree is young.
The outer layer of new wood is called sapwood, and one of its jobs is to be a funnel for water going up the tree. If the sapwood gets dry from too much sun exposure, the whole tree can appear as it doesn’t get enough water.
There is even a higher chance of getting sunburned when fresh cuts are left exposed without any bark. That’s why I always repeat how important it is to choose when to prune carefully.
Larger trees never get sunburned, even when the wood is exposed, because there is always enough shade from the sheer size of the tree and an air stream to cool it off.
Fig Tree Cuttings Getting Sunburned
Fig tree cuttings require a section of their own. Probably not that many of you have grown fig trees from cuttings, but those who did, surely know how sensitive to weather conditions fresh cuttings are.
I wouldn’t have known this, but luckily before I tried planting cuttings, I read The fig: its history, culture, and curing, with a descriptive catalog of the known varieties of figs, by Eisen, Gustavus. He mentions in the book that planted cutting are likely to get burned by the sun and should even be covered with a thin layer of soil to shade them. Even when preparing fig tree cuttings for planting, they should be sheltered and all the cuts made in the tree’s shade.
I never tested it, but I’m guessing even a few seconds of sun exposure can damage the sapwood. I’ve followed Eisen’s advice from day one and had amazing success growing fig trees from cuttings.
I’ve even tried horizontal planting with an eye looking up and rising from the soil as it grows, which protects the cutting from the sun and grows roots on two sides. Also, something I’ve never known before I read his book.
Best Fig Tree Species for Extreme Heat
The criteria for determining if a species is good for extreme heat may not be the same for everyone. Some people may want species that grow large in heat only for the shade it provides. While some, like me, look towards the fruit only.
Here are some of the heat-loving fig tree species based on my experience:
- Napolitana Negra – A species so desperate for the sun it literally excels in coastal deserts of Arabia. I’ve seen them grow in Qatar. Personally, one of the most beautiful fig trees with large dark fruit. I don’t know how large they grow but I’ve seen them reach average fig tree sizes.
- Black Mission – I’ve seen lots of claims of Black Mission’s heat durability and I must agree. Probably the most heat resistant fig tree with velvet dark fig fruit. Grows to about 10-30 feet.
- White Sicilian – Very large tree with really long branches that grow quickly. One of the best trees for shade. Since it’s Sicilian species, it can whitstand a lot of heat.
- Brown Turkey – One of the best fruits if cultivated properly. Dark purple figs with pink-orange inside. Grows large up to 30 feet and loves the heat. In my opinion, one of the easiest fig trees to grow.
Even though these fig tree species perform amazingly well in extreme sun, until they grow a bit, they should be in full sun for a limited time to prevent sunburns. Same as any other fig species.