Brown turkey fig tree

Creative Commons Flickr photo courtesy of RuTemple

By Julie Christensen

Fig trees are heat-loving plants and most of them are hardy only in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 through 11. Brown turkey fig tree (Ficus carica ‘Brown Turkey’) is a cold-hardy variety that grows as far north as zone 6.

Growing a Brown Turkey Fig Tree

Besides its cold hardiness, brown turkey fig tree is an easy tree to grow in almost all aspects. Like most fruit trees, it grows best in full sun. It prefers loose, well-draining soils and is often found in the sandy soils of coastal areas. Brown turkey fig can reach heights of 20 feet or more, but the tree responds well to pruning, so there’s no need to let it get so large. Instead, prune it back in winter so it stands about 8 feet tall. At this height, you can easily harvest the figs without a ladder. Brown turkey fig can be grown as a single-trunk tree or as a multi-branched shrub. You might notice suckers emerging near the trunk of the tree in the summer. Prune these back to the ground or clip them and propagate them to make new trees.

Brown turkey fig trees are easy to propagate. Simply stick the end of a young sucker into some rooting hormone and then place it in lightweight potting mix, perlite or sand. Keep the potting mixture moist and place the sucker in full sun. Within a few weeks, you’ll notice new leafy growth, as well as new root formation. The cutting can now be planted in a pot and later planted directly in the ground. Brown turkey fig trees have shallow, invasive roots. Avoid planting them near plumbing pipes or a septic system.

Care and Maintenance

Brown turkey fig trees need a rich soil and regular fertilizing. Amend the soil with compost and manure before planting. You probably won’t need to fertilize the tree its first year after planting. Fertilize established trees with 1 cup 10-10-10 fertilizer spread in a 6 foot circle around the base of the tree. If the tree is in a fertilized lawn, it might not need additional fertilizer. Slow growth, pale leaves and inadequate fruit are signs that the tree needs more fertilizer.

These adaptable trees can tolerate some drought, but they’ll grow better with slightly moist conditions. Mulch the trees with wood chips or bark and water them every week or so during dry conditions. Plant brown turkey fig trees near a south-facing wall if you live at the top of zone 6. This protected planting ensures the tree’s survival during cold winter conditions.

Harvesting Your Brown Turkey Fig

Young figs are green and small, but the figs ripen in summer to a purplish brown hue. One brown turkey fig tree provides more figs than your family can probably eat. Fortunately, the birds are only too happy to help. As the figs mature, you’ll need to harvest them daily by clipping them from their stems. Overripe figs drop to the ground where they can stain hard surfaces. The overripe fruit also attracts flies, so stay on top of picking.

Pests and Diseases

Brown turkey fig trees, like most trees in the ficus family, have several insect pests and diseases that might affect them. Fortunately, healthy trees can usually fend for themselves. The most common insect pests you’ll observe are the leaf-sucking variety, including aphids, scale insects and spider mites. You might notice spidery stipling on the leaves or honeydew, a sticky substance secreted by aphids on the trunk and ground. Ants are attracted to honeydew, so you might notice those, as well. A steady stream of water is often enough to dispatch these enemies, but try spraying both the tops and bottoms of the leaves with insecticidal oil if the problem gets out of control.

Rust, leaf spots and blight disfigure the attractive green leaves, but they rarely cause serious harm. Clean up leaf debris immediately to minimize these problems.

For more information on fig trees, visit the following links:

Growing the Brown Turkey Fig Tree from You Tube
Figs from the California Rare Fruit Growers Association

Julie Christensen learned about gardening on her grandfather’s farm and mother’s vegetable garden in southern Idaho. Today, she lives and gardens on the high plains of Colorado. When she’s not digging in the dirt, Julie writes about food, education, parenting and gardening.

What Is A Brown Turkey Fig: Tips For Growing Brown Turkeys

If you are a fig lover, you might be tempted to grow your own. Some varieties of fig are strictly suitable for tropical to sub-tropical zones, but Brown Turkey figs are adaptable to temperate regions. What is a Brown Turkey fig? Brown Turkey fig trees are easy to prune to manage height, adaptable to many soils and prolific fruit producers. As an added bonus, Brown Turkey care is negligible, and the plants can be trained to single or multi-stemmed plants, adding beauty and shade to the garden.

What is a Brown Turkey Fig?

Brown Turkey figs (Ficus carica ‘Brown Turkey”) are sweet, delicious fruits that have rusty red to purplish skin and richly toned pink flesh. The trees are suited for a Mediterranean climate and produce prolifically, which in some areas makes them invasive. Brown turkey fig trees are quite commonly available, as they have a zone tolerance of USDA 7 to 11. Even gardeners with relatively short growing seasons should be able to harvest some of the candy-like fruits.

Brown Turkey fig trees get about 20 feet (6 m.) in height, but you can keep them pruned to a shorter plant quite easily. Mature trees get silvery-gray bark and interesting gnarled silhouettes. The large 3-

to 5-lobed leaves are slightly hairy and darker green above than below. The flowers are not showy and develop at the ends of the branches, with subsequent fruit ready for harvest at the end of summer or into early fall.

The beautiful trees have shallow roots which can be invasive and cause tripping hazards. It is best to situate the plant where it is sheltered but receives full sun. One of the more interesting ways of growing Brown Turkeys is as a bonsai. It takes some serious training and root pruning, but the elegant little plant can still produce a few fruits!

How to Grow Brown Turkey Figs

Brown Turkey fig trees can be grown in containers in cooler regions. Set them on casters so you can easily move the plants indoors when freezing temperatures threaten. Some gardeners say the plant can be grown in USDA zone 6 if the root zone is heavily mulched and the plant is in a location with some protection from northern winds and freezes. Early season frosts may require the tree be draped with a blanket or other cloth to protect fruits as they are ripening.

Growing Brown Turkeys from cuttings is quite easy. Clip off a sucker from the base of a mature tree. Dip the end into rooting hormone and place the cutting into moistened sand. Keep moist and once you notice new growth, repot the new plant in potting mixture.

Brown Turkey Care

Fig trees are very stoic unless you relocate them. Transplanting can cause leaf drop and the plant is slow to recover, but with good culture it will rebound the next season.

Brown Turkey fig trees can tolerate drought for brief periods of time but they will produce best with consistent moisture. Top dress around the roots annually with compost to help richen up the soil. If slow growth or pale leaves occur, fertilize the plant with 10-10-10 fertilizer worked into the soil around the root zone.

The most common issues are going to be sucking insects. Use neem oil sprays early in the season to get the majority of the insects. Some moderate fungal diseases can occur. As part of routine Brown Turkey care, clean up leaves at the end of the season so diseases and insects that such debris can harbor are minimized.


Fig trees (Ficus carica) make nice additions to Maryland landscapes. They can be pruned to a shrub or tree form, grown in containers or in-ground, are virtually pest-free, and can produce abundant crops when the proper cultivars are selected and carefully managed. Gardeners in warmer areas (Eastern Shore, Southern Maryland, and Baltimore City) tend to have the least difficulty over-wintering plants and harvesting figs before the first frost.

Celeste, Brown Turkey, Hardy Chicago, Brunswick, Marseilles, and Osborne are some of the most winter hardy cultivars which perform well in Maryland. All are seedless, producing their fruits parthenocarpically (without pollination or fertilization).

Purchase plants from a reputable nursery or propagate from spring divisions or summer cuttings from mature plants. Root suckers from established trees can also be pulled and planted in the spring. Pliable branches can also be pegged to the ground and tip rooted or layered. Once rooted, sever the new plant from the mother plant and transplant into a container or into the ground.

Site Selection and Planting

Select a sunny, protected location for planting in the ground. Next to a south-facing wall is ideal. Figs need full sun and do very well on a wide range of soils. Soil pH should be in the 6.0 to 6.5 range. Figs are usually planted in the spring after danger of frost but can be planted in the early fall. Space plants 6-8 feet apart. Cut back the top of your new plant to force lateral growth.

Figs benefit from the incorporation of compost or well-rotted manure prior to planting. Confining or pruning the root system can invigorate the plant and hasten the harvest. Do not cultivate the soil under your plant because much of the extensive root system is directly beneath the soil surface.
Fruits form in the leaf axils of the current year’s wood. The fruits form from the shoot base towards the tip. Fig plants usually begin to bear in the second or third year after planting.

Overwintering Ground-grown Plants

Unprotected fig plants are often winter killed back to the crown in Maryland. Sustained temperatures below 10° to 15°F kill above-ground wood. New shoots will spring readily from the roots. In some cases, a plant killed back in the winter will still produce a modest crop the following summer. In most cases, however, the plant will require 2 to 3 good growing seasons to return to normal production. Here are suggestions for winter protection:

  • Figs grown to a bush or shrub habit are easier to protect than those in a tree form;
  • Pliable branches can be pinned to the ground and covered with burlap, old blankets or tarps;
  • Some growers encircle their fig plant with chicken wire and fill in with insulating leaves, and straw. The top of the plant can be covered with a plastic tarp to shed rain, sleet, and snow; and
  • In the spring, remove the winter protection after all danger of frost.

Each spring, prune out ground suckers and remove all dead or weak wood. Mature plants usually have 3 to 8 main stems. Your skin may become irritated from contact with the milky, latex plant sap.

Container Fig Culture

You can achieve satisfactory production in small spaces by growing fig plants in half whiskey barrels or other large, suitable containers of about 30-gallon size. Casters on the containers greatly increase convenience, because your figs should be moved into a protected area, such as a garage, for the winter. The root restriction resulting from this type of culture may improve yields and reduce the days to harvest. Most cultivars will perform well in containers, and anecdotal reports suggest that the cultivar ‘Petite Negri’ may be particularly well-suited.

Potting into a container

  • Your growing mix should be loamy and well-drained with lots of compost or well-rotted manure; You can lighten heavy soils by incorporating a soil-less growing mixture containing peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite;
  • Keep fig containers in full sun and water regularly; and
  • When fruits begin to form apply 2 to 3 gallons of water each day.

After fig leaves drop in the fall

  • Shape your plant by removing suckers and heading back long branches; and
  • Move to a protected area, such as a garage.


Figs are adored by many animals, not just people. Without netting to throw over your bush, you may find that squirrels and birds will dine first on your crop. Figs ripen from mid-September through frost. They do not ripen off the plant and so should not be picked until fully-colored and slightly soft.

Additional Resources

  • Maryland Grows Blog – The Elusive Fig

A big thank you to Ryan and Chantal, aka The Horticult, for letting me publish this article about figs. Yes, it’s early Fall and that means those little beauties are ripening in abundance. I have figs soaking in balsamic vinegar this very moment which makes for a lovely salad dressing or dipping sauce. Enjoy the post and their lovely pictures!

Figs Varieties To Try This Fall

Is there a fruit more loaded — with innuendo, with mythological baggage, with outrageously potent nectar — than the fig? Cleopatra fancied them, and Bacchus wore them on his head. Its flowers are actually inside its “fruit.” They were the very first Olympic prize, given out as laurels during the ancient games.

Up until now, Ryan and I have only flirted with figs. You know, a proper recipe here, a drunken drizzle of balsamic there. But this season a few cultivars have been luring us into a more serious commitment.

Those varieties are ‘Panache,’ ‘Diana,’ ‘Osborne Prolific’ and ‘Kadota.’ They’re a colorful departure from the ‘Black Mission’ and ‘Brown Turkey’ figs that we’ve cooked with in the past and that the supermarkets here in Southern California sell in heaps when they’re in season. (There’s typically a burst in the spring — known as the “breba” crop, when fruits grow on last year’s shoot growth — followed by a greater abundance that ripens in the late summer and fall.) It wasn’t until our fateful trip to the farmer’s market with Yovana “Rawvana” Mendoza that we really began to explore this new world of Ficus carica fruits. It was at the farmer’s market that we discovered these lesser-publicized cultivars, each with its own unique flavor, figs you can eat on the fly. No prosciutto wrap necessary.

We bought them from Koral’s Tropical Fruit Farm, which sets up shop every Sunday at the Hillcrest Farmer’s Market. Koral’s was out of Brown Turkey and Black Mission (widely considered the tastier of the two) that day, but we figured we would find those at the store. Alas, the fruit was nowhere to be found anywhere we called.

“We’re done for the season,” one supermarket reported.

But this article about figs’ early 2013 arrival also says some crops are expected to hang on through December. What the fig is going on?! we wondered.

In a last-ditch effort, we called Whole Foods again for the 20th time yesterday…and paydirt! They had just gotten in a delivery of Brown Turkeys. In person, a staffer in the produce department did confirm fig season has been “weird” this year. Delivery of the fruit has been spotty, he said, noting that in past years “we’d have them through Thanksgiving.”

Long story short: Check your local farmer’s market. And if you’re planning a fig-based recipe, you might want to have a Plan B in your back pocket. If you encounter any Panache, Diana, Osborne Prolific or Kadotas, here are our tasting notes. We also included our take on Brown Turkey; as for Black Mission, we’re still on the hunt…

1. Osborne Prolific 2. Diana 3. Panache 4. Kadota 5. Brown Turkey

Osborne Prolific: With purple-brown skin more delicate than tissue paper, this variety has a darker, more serious, more vegetal taste. It’s the most savory of the bunch, but it’s not without a subtle sweetness.

Diana: The sweetest of our group, this golden drop is also notably refreshing and watery, with a tropical character that hints at banana and pineapple.

Panache: A jammy kiss from the gods, this fruit’s exterior — bold green stripes on canary yellow — is a worthy preview to the spectacular magenta flesh inside. It tastes the way we imagine a ruby would taste: like strawberry jelly with a hint of melon.

Kadota: The pert green skin gives way to a heart of amethyst. The taste is appealingly complex; “green beans,” “grapes,” “apricot” and “vanilla” were the notes we blurted out between bites.

Brown Turkey: The most fibrous of the five, we found the taste of this variety insipid — not necessarily a bad thing if you’re using it to support stronger flavors like blue cheese. When we tasted the flesh separately from the skin we were pleasantly surprised by a strong suggestion of watermelon.

Our favorite? The Panache, hands down. While entertaining, we’ll serve that variety for dessert alongside Dianas and Kadotas, mixing both whole and halved fruits on a vintage serving platter.

What kinds of figs have you been eating this fall?

by – Ryan + Chantal = The Horticult

About The Horticult:

The Horticult is a site dedicated to where gardening intersects with culture, design, food and drink. Founders Chantal Aida Gordon and Ryan Benoit live in a succulent- and fruit-filled space that they designed near the beach in La Jolla, CA, where they cover hort happenings ranging from botanical fashion to cactus care to DIY modern plant habitats.

Meet Ryan and Chantal, with me in the middle, in their beautiful garden in La Jolla, CA

Fruitscaping with Fig Trees

Figs are one of the easiest, most problem-free fruits you can grow. They’re a great choice for organic gardeners as the few problems they do encounter can always be overcome without the use of harsh chemicals.

Figs come in a wide array of flavors, textures and ripening seasons. Some have thin skins with delicate, juicy centers reminiscent of maple syrup. These are perfect for eating fresh from the tree. Whilst others have a natural rich, sweet texture that lends itself well to drying or for making preserves.

Small by nature, the fig tree is ideal for use in the shrubbery border. Their distinctive leaves make an excellent accent or specimen tree. Try mingling the broad, deeply lobed leaves of the fig with the willowy pomegranate and fine- textured, misty blue tones of the blueberry. Tie it all together with a lush ground cover of strawberries for a never-ending cycle of flowers, fruit and fall color. The smooth, limber trunk of the young fig is perfect for training into espalier or twisting into odd specimen trees. Lay the trunk flat against the ground and the new vertical shoots make an instant hedge. Small-space gardeners take note. The root restraint of container growing brings extra-bountiful crops from the fig.

Recommended Fertilizers

  • Starter Fertilizer: Plant with Espoma Organic Bio-tone® Starter Plus. This will increase root mass and help avoid transplant loss in difficult planting conditions.
  • Fertilizer to Maintain: Our varieties of Fig Trees work great with Espoma Organic Citrus-tone Fertilizer.

Growing Guide

View Full Fig Tree Planting and Growing Guide

Interesting Facts

Fig Eyes: Figs can’t see, but they do have eyes. At the bottom of the fruit is an opening known as the eye. Water or insects can pass through this opening and cause fruit rot. Varieties with a long neck or peduncle allow the fruit to droop, preventing moisture or pests from entering the eye. While we would love to sell only closed eye figs, there are so many great varieties out there that we give the “eye” information when available.

Birds: If birds are a problem in your area, select the light-skinned fig varieties. Birds have a built-in notion that ripe figs are supposed to be dark. They think the yellow-skinned fruits aren’t ripe yet and leave them alone.

Brown Turkey Fig

The Brown Turkey Fig has long been debated because of the dozens of names that have been associated with it through the years. As far back as the early 1700’s, names like Ashridge Forcing, Common Blue, Italian Large Blue and Lee’s Perpetual are but a few of the many names associated with what has become known as the Brown Turkey Fig.

Most fig varieties found their way here from Europe at one time or another. Fig wood cuttings, with their ability to be kept for long periods, allowed many varieties to come with immigrants as they made their way to the new world. The famous Black Mission Fig is just such an example brought by the early Spanish missionaries.

The Brown Turkey is first cited as being brought into Britain in the late 18th century. At first figs were not appreciated and quite often not even accepted by the lower-class society. In time though they were accepted and sought after.

In 1826, the Royal Horticultural Society at Chiswick had as many as 75 different cultivars of figs. Many of these, including the Brown Turkey, would slowly make their way to the United States.

The Brown Turkey fig came to the United States sometime in the early 1800’s. It gets confusing, because there are even more names became associated with the Brown Turkey, such as: Aubique Noire, Negro Largo and San Piero.

Though known to be planted all over the United States, the Brown Turkey was brought to the California Experimental Station by W.B. West from Boston in 1853. With another group of cuttings coming in 1883, brought by John Rock from England, undoubtedly from the research station in Chiswick.

Still to this day, confusion lies between the Brown Turkey and the Texas Everbearing. Both are almost identical with the difference being the closed eye of the Texas Everbearing and the open eye of the common Brown Turkey.

The Brown Turkey is not terribly cold hardy, but by protecting the crown it can die back to the ground and come back the next season to produce a main crop. A natural dwarf because of its bush like habit, the Brown Turkey requires hard pruning to keep its wide spreading nature under control and promote a heavy main crop each season.

In prime fig growing regions, Brown Turkey will produce a good early Breba crop as well as a main crop. One of the best to espalier; which was popular in Europe to protect them from the winter cold. It is one of the best for containers grown for patio décor and is able to be brought in for winter protection.

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