I would say knowing which ripens earliest is one of the most important things when choosing a fig variety to plant. Especially if you live somewhere with cold winters and short growing seasons. Having early ripening fig variety in areas like those means you won’t lose the crop to the sudden cold in September.
There are, however, so many less known varieties that ripen quickly. It would be pointless to discuss each and every one of them, so I will focus on the ones better known to me.
Main Crop or Breba Figs
As you probably know, many fig varieties can produce two crops in a year. We need to establish what we can consider an earliest ripening fig variety and how brebas differ from the main crop.
The first one, called brebas or brevas, grows on the previous year’s growth and ripens in June or July. These figs are usually not as high quality as the main crop. However, some varieties are known for high-quality breba figs.
The main crop of figs produced by every edible fig variety ripens from August to October. There are situations where some variety’s main crop ripened in July. Although, I would say this is more of an anomaly, and it depends heavily on the weather.
I think breba figs can’t be considered when talking about the earliest ripening among all fig varieties. In addition, them being early ripening doesn’t have too many benefits.
Based on my experience, the only advantage is that early ripening brebas allow the main crop to develop easily. Mainly because the two crops don’t overlap as much, meaning the development of brebas doesn’t take energy from the main crop’s development.
Before we go onto the varieties, it’s important to mention that only warm areas succeed in growing breba figs consistently. Currently, I live in USDA zone 6. I focus on the earliest main-crop fig varieties because brebas are not worth the effort here. Instead, I pick them before the main crop even starts to form, so the tree diverts all of its energy into it.
Earliest Main Crop Figs
The list is based on varieties that I have experience with. It’s not exhaustive.
Ronde de Bordeaux
The country of origin is France. Exquisite in every way. Although most fig collectors agree that the flavor is excellent, others disagree. Assumedly hardy in the cold. Possibly down to about 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
This cultivar has exceptional growth potential. It will grow six feet in the summer. However, I think it isn’t as tough as most of the cold-hardy figs in America. The French believe it to be exceptionally hardy. However, the French definition of cold-hardy is much different from the American definition.
My Ronde de Bordeaux is outside, but it’s in a very safe area, protected from cold winds. I’ve had ripe figs from it as early as the 6th of August, and on average, around 10th. It has a lot of potential to grow in zone 6 and 5 with decent protection.
For almost a century, Celeste has been a gold standard for cold-hardy figs. A Celeste that does not shed its fruit during its first several years of life was the goal of the fig growers at Louisiana State University (LSU). The goal of this fig’s breeding was to make a superior Celeste.
Some people believe that the Improved Celeste is not what it appears to be. However, I disagree.
For the last few years, I’ve only had one of those in my possession. I’ve got it as a 3-year-old tree. I have kept it indoors for the first cold season because I didn’t know what to expect. During its second cold season, it proved to be quite a winter hardy.
This year, figs ripened on the 9th of August, which is quite early, as I hear from other growers. The average ripening seems to happen around the 20th of August.
Florea and Ronde de Bordeaux are, as far as I can determine, the earliest fig varieties to ripe in the northwest. Florea always ripens in the first week of August for me. Usually on the 3rd of August.
For example, in my case, Danny’s Delight and Marseilles Black are two weeks behind in ripeness. Florea was brought to the United States from its ancestral home in Europe. Once it’s grown, it’s believed to withstand temperatures as low as minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
Some American producers of this fig claim that it doesn’t taste as delicious as in Europe. I wouldn’t know for Europe, but here I believe it to be among average in taste.
There may be a correlation between the soil’s lime content and how dry the area is throughout the fig’s ripening period. Planting Florea fig on a huge mound of 50/50 sand and compost and a lot of lime is recommended if feasible. When growing in a place that experiences a lot of rain in the summer, use slit cups instead to maximize drainage.
It’s a long-time favorite in Connecticut’s zone 5b/6a. This variety is known for its ability to withstand freezing temperatures.
A nice, sweet, and consistent fig fruit. Even during a chilly summer, this Sal’s EL can produce excellent delicious figs. Hardy Chicago appears to be confused with Sal’s EL. The two figs have even been referred to by nursery owners as the same variety in some cases.
I have grown Sal’s EL and Hardy Chicago side by side for seven years, and I do not think they are the same plants. Sweet and nutty, Sal’s El is one of the best ELs on the market.
Sal’s EL ripens earlier than Hardy Chicago. Usually around the 10th of August.
If you’re looking for a fig that ripens early and tastes like a fig rather than a berry-like Hardy Chicago, then this would be the fig to plant in cooler climates.
It is a dark Mediterranean fig native to the island of Malta. Early-ripening and weather-resistant, this fig became one of my favorites.
First of its figs ripened on the 9th of August this year. Its cold resistance is average, but it is extremely resistant to high amounts of water and humidity.
Even though the leaves of Malta Black resemble those of Mt. Etna (Chicago Hardy) varieties, this variety is not related to them. It’s actually one of the varieties from which the popular Celeste fig originated.
Malta Black has a spherical body with a purple/black skin tone. There are sandpaper-like leaves on the tree. Malta Black figs are medium in size and may be harvested twice a year.
This variety, like most similar to it, seems unaffected by the most common fig tree problems. The bright crimson pulp within will explode with strawberry flavor and leave a delicious aftertaste.
Earliest Breba Crop Figs
I don’t have too much experience with breba figs because of where I live. However, I have some info from earlier years when I lived in Texas. I’ve also included some info shared with me by a few growers I know around the US. I compared their and mine notes and I’ve picked the earliest dated for varieties I have experience with.
|Fig Variety||Earliest Ripe Breba Figs|
How To Make Figs Ripen Faster
Figs can ripen faster by removing mulch so the roots can get warm from sunlight, pinching growing tips so the tree can focus on fruit growth, oiling the fig’s eye, removing late breba figs that won’t ripen before the main crop starts ripening, and pruning it in the right shape for the sun to reach all branches.
Pruning into a certain shape is more important in cold areas because you have to adapt it so the sunlight can penetrate all around the fig tree. You need to prune it into an open-top shape. Fig trees that grow straight up create shade on one side of the tree. Figs growing on that side will either ripen too slow or not at all.
I calculate if breba figs will be ripe before the main crop starts on fig trees that produce two crops. If I believe they will not be ripe in time and will interfere with the main crop’s growth, I will remove them off the tree. That way, all the energy is diverted to the main crop, and it will ripe faster.
Putting oil on the fig’s eye is most effective on already riping figs. Ripening hormone is kept within the fig instead of evaporated out of it, which I believe is how this works. Oiling won’t assist if the ripening hormone isn’t being generated. It may assist a little if a small amount is being made.
I would recommend pinching growing tips only on branches that already have lots of figs. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t believe it stimulates the branch to grow new figs. Existing figs will only ripen faster because all the energy will be diverted to the fruit, which is what we are looking for.
TL;DR If you are satisfied with the number of figs on the branch, pinch the growing tip, and they will ripen faster.
Mulching is great for cold weather. However, most people fail to realize mulching is insulation. Meaning, it keeps the warmth in winter, but it keeps the cold in summer as well. When the weather becomes warm and sunny, removing mulch means fig tree roots will get more heat, and the tree will have more energy to give to its figs.