This summer, you’ve been so busy tending to your garden that it’s hard to believe that figs could be the bane of your existence. You’re not alone. Other fig growers have also wondered why their figs aren’t sweet.
There are 4 reasons why fig trees produce unsweet fruit:
- There is too much or too little water in the soil
- The tree is getting too few sun hours
- Insufficient fertilizing
- You have a fig variety that requires cross-pollination
- You have an inedible caprifig
However, sometimes it’s not as simple as going through the list of what might have gone wrong. Some solutions require deeper explanations about what and how things relate to each other during fig growth. So let’s dive in!
What Makes Figs Sweet?
Before answering the question of why some figs are unsweet, let’s first look into what makes figs sweet in the first place.
Figs get their characteristic sweetness from fructose and glucose, which are natural sugars. The sugar content in figs increases as the fruit ripens. So if you’re growing figs and they’re not as sweet as you’d like them, the most likely reason is that they are not yet ripe.
Whatever the state of the fig is, the main problem is that it lacks natural sugars. The goal of the fig grower is to get the fig tree to produce as much natural sugar in the fruit as possible.
How much sun does a fig tree need?
For figs to ripen and produce natural sugars properly, they need around 8 hours of sunlight per day. If your fig tree isn’t getting enough sunlight, it might not produce as much natural sugar, making the fig taste unsweet.
Can figs ripen and lack natural sugars anyway?
Figs can seem ripe but have very few natural sugars. That happens when the fig is immature and not ready to ripen. In this case, the fig will still taste like figs, just not as sweet.
The cause of this is often bad fertilization. For example, giving a fig tree too much nitrogen too late into the growing season will cause the fruit to set too late and miss its natural ripening period.
From my experience, the tree gives you figs swollen with water. They seem ripe but actually aren’t because they lack the sugars and other nutrients that ripe figs have.
How To Grow Sweeter Figs?
Now that you understand the basics of why figs might not be sweet let’s give you some solutions on how to grow sweeter figs.
GiveYour Fig Tree More Sunlight
As we mentioned before, fig trees need around 8 hours of sunlight per day to produce natural sugars in the fruit. If your fig tree isn’t getting enough sun, give the tree more sunlight, which will give it more time to produce natural sugars.
Plant new fig trees in full sun. If your fig tree is small enough, you can replant it to a better position in the late winter. It’s important to replant before it ends winter dormancy.
You can always move potted fig trees around, so it’s best to find a position where they will get the most sun hours.
Properly Water Your Fig Trees
It might seem obvious, but give your fig tree enough water! If you give the same amount of water to a large mature tree that you give to a young seedling, the larger plant will not be able to absorb it all. And when soil is too moist or dry, it can be hard for the fig tree to absorb water.
So give enough water but not too much. It should be fine if you give your fig tree water two times per week. The best time to give water is in the morning.
However, a fig tree could already be getting too much water in humid areas. There is nothing you can do about in-ground trees at that point except make sure as much water goes away from the tree as possible.
I like to plant in-ground fig trees on a ridgeline, so the water doesn’t pool underneath. For already planted fig trees, the best solution for me was to steer the water away from them by canals that lead away from the tree.
Switch to Phosphorus And Potassium Fertilizer Mid-Way Through The Growing Season
Phosphorus and potassium are essential for fig fruit growth and help to increase the natural sugar content in the figs. I found 4-18-24+ fertilizers extremely successful when used in late May and June. The one I used the most is Mr. Stacky’s 4-18-38 Tomato Fertilizer.
If you’ve been giving your fig tree too much nitrogen fertilizer too late into the growing season, a fig tree might focus on growing instead of fruiting. The fruit will grow but rarely mature fast enough to ripen before the winter.
Phosphorus helps fig trees stop green growth and makes them focus on starting figs because they are only closed flowers at the beginning of their formation.
On the other hand, potassium makes water go into the fruit, thus collecting and transferring many important nutrients to figs so they can ripen better.
Plant a Caprifig If Your Fig Tree Needs Pollination
Fig varieties like Smyrna figs or San Pedro need to be cross-pollinated. If you have a fig tree like that, the fruit will naturally fall off or never ripen completely.
The only solution is to plant a caprifig and hope that your area has fig wasps to do the pollination. However, it’s unlikely that you will find fig wasps outside California.
What To Do With Figs That Are Not Sweet?
If making figs sweeter on the tree is not an option, what do you do with the figs that are not sweet?
- Make fig jam – This is a great way to use figs that are not sweet because you can add as much sugar as you like to the recipe. And it’s easy! All you need is a large pot, sugar, lemon juice, figs, and jars.
- Make fig wine – Making your own homemade wines is fun! And it’s easy to do once you know how. It works with unsweet figs because you can add sugar to achieve proper fermentation in winemaking. If you’ve never made wine before or are new to winemaking, it’s best to get a winemaking kit that has all the equipment.
- Boil unripe figs – If your figs are not yet ripe, meaning they haven’t softened, the only option is to cook them in boiling water. Change water every few minutes until they are soft because you need to remove latex from unripe figs. Once they are softened by boiling, you can eat them with sugar or make a fig jam out of them.
Ripe Tasteless Figs – Difference, Reasons, and Solutions
Unripe tasteless figs are just unripe; there is nothing more to it than that. However, you can also have ripe figs with a bland taste. And I don’t mean sweetness, but the actual fig flavor.
Figs can have many different flavors depending on the variety. I’ve written an article about this which you can read here.
Ripe figs don’t develop flavor if they are spoiled by disease or split open from the rain. In every other situation, they will lose sweetness, but their taste will be there, even if a bit weaker.
There is a number of diseases that can spoil figs. The most common ones are fungi and bacteria carried by insects that crawl inside through the fig’s eye.
Because diseases are difficult to get rid of, making sure there are no pests to carry them inside the figs is easier. Almost none of the fig diseases attacks the fruit on their own.
Split figs will lose flavor in a matter of hours. My guess is the water takes it all away. But even if it doesn’t, they spoil quickly. Figs split from too much water, especially rain which they absorb through the skin and the eye.
By distinguishing the difference between loss of sweetness and loss of flavor, you can know if you are giving your fig tree too much or too little water.