In some seasons, a few of the ripening figs split on the tree. While this is damage to some degree, it is not a very bad one.
There seems to be a variety of opinions as to the cause. Some growers think that too many Blastophagas cause it, or, in other words, over-pollination; others believe it is due to too much watering.
The great Gulian Pickering Rixford, who wrote a book Smyrna Fig Culture, is assured that these are not the main causes but that the cause is largely climatic.
The two main reasons for figs splitting on the tree are excessive rain and variety, followed by culture and planting site.
Here are some factors that can affect the actual “splitting” of figs:
- skin thickness
- skin elasticity
- small or large eyes
- open or closed eyes
- the fig growth rate during ripening
- very wet soil/ground at the time of ripening
- sudden changes in weather conditions at the time of ripening
In this article, I will explain what our research showed about figs splitting on a tree and how to prevent it if possible.
Excessive Rain Is a Problem Because of Humidity
I had a conversation with my aunt a couple of weeks ago. When I told him I had issues with my figs splitting just before they ripened this year due to a few days of heavy rain, he asked, “do you water them frequently?”
He went on to say that if the trees are frequently and deeply watered, they won’t be so sensitive to splitting from excessive rain. I found an article to support this theory…
What made the fruit split like this? “Irregular watering,” says John Begeman, horticulture agent with the University of Arizona Pima County Cooperative Extension. When the trees are watered in an irregular pattern, or their watering cycle is abruptly changed, then splitting is more likely to happen, says Begeman.
But if I need to guess based on my experience, I would say:
Splitting: Excess soil moisture taken up by roots.
Souring: Extreme moisture in the air.
I sometimes grow in containers and some plants because various potting soil drains quickly and dries quickly. With that being said, some of my figs I will water every other day, and none ever split.
But some years back, we had 8 inches of rain over a few days, and they split.
It directs me to think it’s caused by rain and much humidity getting inside the eye of the fig and growing it too fast at once and splitting them.
Why Splitting Depends on the Variety and Culture
If your figs split too much, there’s a big chance your fig tree is the wrong variety for its area. Even though figs are grown global, there are specific types accommodated to more rain or hotter summers.
Figs need sun, or at least nine hours of direct sunlight a day, with early morning sunlight being especially important to dry the morning dew that can give it a disease.
Most figs flourish in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 through 11. However, varieties such as “Celeste” and “Brown Turkey” are more cold-tolerant, down through USDA zone 6 in a protected location.
Figs will grow in many soil types, with well-drained soils normally better for preventing cracking; ironically, heavier soils may also decrease splitting because soil moisture levels manage to stay constant.
Figs are highly sensitive to damage by root-knot nematodes, so make sure planting sites are free of this pest.
Look for help from your local garden center or area garden clubs before growing a new variety.
Also, make sure to contact your local agriculture extension office, which most probably has comprehensive information on the fitting trees for your area.
If your fig tree is planted and the fruit doesn’t regularly split, you may attribute the splitting to a season.
What varieties split for my family and me?
Back when I lived in Houston, Improved Celeste (ICON) did pretty well for most of the season, but I still got partial splits and pacman’d figs after heavy rains.
Some claim Scott’s Black as split-resistant. A lot of mine split. I should note that they’ve held together better in the last seasons in more moderate rain, but I got a decent number of pacmans this year.
I don’t know why LSU Tiger is meant to be so split-resistant. Mine has completely changed every time there’s more than just moderate rain.
I don’t think RdB and Florea are split-resistant. RdB popped open as the rains kept dumping more aggregate moisture. They held up decently well with minor splitting at the beginning of the season when the rain wasn’t quite torrential. Florea always opened its eye and at least somewhat split with every rain I got.
For my cousin in California, I-258 splits pretty frequently. Rockaway Green is apparently split-resistant, but his pacman’d in heavy rains.
Lyndhurst White had restricted splitting in the heavy rains. On the other hand, the eye opened up wide to provide an open insect invitation, and the flavor was quite watery for those that survived the insects.
Now that I’ve complained regarding some of the splitters, I do have some winners:
Smith does reasonably well at resisting splitting. I do get the particular splitter, but most of the figs appear to hold together decently well.
My Abebeirera and Soccoro Black are young trees that ripened perhaps a dozen fruit each, but none of them split in the rain. As far as I can tell, their eyes even held nice and tight. They did have a few get tapped off by storms, but the figs I found on the ground looked like they had splat damage rather than split damage.
Negretta did not split on me either, but it did open her eye after the rains. Since I only got like five fruit off a first-year cutting, I think for this baby is still too early to state any guesstimates about her split resistance.
With all that being said, I think there are some other environmental circumstances at play. For instance, my cousin’s in-ground RdB so far has had only partial splits in the bad weather, but his potted RdB appeared like a fireworks display.
Another case is Rockaway Green. Mine did have regular pacmans, but another RG tree less than two miles from me had its fruit grip together well.
Preventing figs from splitting
The fact that all these different factors cannot be separated and studied one at a time renders the present problem extremely difficult. For example, one of our investigations showed that high total evaporation is correlated with few sours. Yet, the station which showed the highest evaporation was second in percentage of sound figs because it had the heaviest soil of all. Then how can we explain splitting?
A study of our charts indicates that the greatest percentage of sound figs correlated with low humidity and high heat, particularly at night. The Merced station was particularly f favored by a warm, dry breeze during the night.
Is the answer to the figs that split in bad weather to cover the soil surface in plastic (as my cousin does)? Taking the same approach, SIPs could be more suitable for trees that tend to drop fruit if dry/stressed. Or is it just the enhanced humidity that provokes most of the splitting?
We can all agree that the remedy is to select a location where there is a warm, dry night breeze or reduce the amount of soil moisture or both. The temperature of the deeper soil mass and other factors that govern the water intake rate do not have as great a daily fluctuation as the above-ground factors that govern the rate of water loss. There is enough variation in the structural weakness of individual figs to account for the fact that hot all figs on any one tree are likely to split.
Figs have been found to split into all stages, from the immature half-grown state to the point after.