How Often To Water Fig Trees

Fig trees are thought to be the oldest cultivated crops ever recorded. They originate from the arid climate of the Middle East and the Mediterranean and in the wild can often be found rooting on rocky terrain. Although generally considered to be low maintenance, how often to water your fig free can be tricky to give an exact answer to as many factors impact it. 

They strike a delicate balance of needing adequate water to ensure they bear plenty of succulent fruit against the almost drought-like conditions they thrive in. Add in where it is planted, local climatic conditions, the age of the tree, and the season and we start to understand just some of the complexities to consider.

How Much Water Do Fig Trees Need

As a very broad and simple rule, a fig tree needs around 1 inch of water per week, but this will vary through the seasons. There are now over 700 varieties of figs in the world all cultivated to withstand very different conditions so the variety and location your fig is planted in will also impact the exact answer. 

Stress Caused By Watering Issues

Getting watering requirements wrong is the most common cause of stress for fig trees and can cause fruit to fall off or stop growing. This is a survival response where your tree will conserve energy and nutrients rather than using it for producing fruit.

A lack of water will manifest as leaves turning yellow and starting to droop and too much water can cause root rot and fungus. 

It is important not to wait for these signs as a fig tree suffering from water-based stress is unlikely to deliver its full potential of fruit for that season and could lead to irreversible damage for future harvests.

How Often To Water A Fig Tree

The frequency of watering a fig tree will vary greatly depending on where it is located, the time of year and the age of the tree.

Ground-Planted Fig Trees

Most outdoor varieties of fig trees have a deep root system that harks back to the ancient fig that had to search out groundwater in arid ravines. As such most fig trees are excellent at drawing out water from the ground and atmosphere. However, if you want a good yield of succulent fruit, it be sure to include them in your garden watering schedule and mulch around the base annually to help with water retention in hot weather. 

In the height of summer, an established tree will require around 1 to 11/2 inches of water per week either from rainfall or watering. Keep a rough check on the weather and if there is reasonably regular rainfall and morning dew the tree should get what it needs. 

If, however, it is a hot summer or you live in a dry region with little to no rainfall, the ground will become very dry and your fig tree will require a deeper watering at least once per week.

A younger tree will require consistant watering until the root network is established fully. Aim to keep the soil around the base of your fig tree moist but not soggy.

A fig leaf
A fig leaf covered in rain droplets
Credit: Piotor Siedlecki CC0 by 1.0

Watering Fig Trees In Containers

A container-grown fig will need more regular water as the roots cannot seek out their own deep groundwater supply. But this is where the delicate equilibrium is so key as they do not like to sit in soggy soil.

In my experience, a pot-grown fig should produce more fruit than a garden-grown one as the roots do not need to work so hard to seek out water so all of the efforts can go into fruit production.

Where there is a lack of rainfall, you will need to water regularly and consistently to avoid the soil drying out. Exactly how often will depend on your region. 

Use the finger press test to check that watering is required! Simply insert your finger into the soil and if the first inch is dry then it is time for a drink. Water the pot thoroughly and deeply and allow water to seep freely through the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot.

If there has been heavy rain and your pot feels suitably moist when performing the finger test, then leave it until the test returns dry soil. 

Watering Fig Trees In Winter

Other than in our warmest States, most fig tree varieties will go into a period of dormancy over the winter. As the tree is not actively growing it will require less water.

Remember to cover the ground at the base of your fig tree with a 1 inch layer of mulch as part of the over-wintering process. This will not only help it to retain moisture in warm weather, but will also protect the roots from frost in colder conditions.

Problems Caused By Watering Issues

These are the most common problems exhibited by a fig tree that has received too much or too little water. 

Leaves turning black: This is an indication the tree has received too much water, starving the leaves of oxygen in the process causing the cells to break down carbon dioxide instead.

This is a common issue in pot-planted figs. If the damage is not tree wide you can remove the black leaves and repot the tree using a container with better drainage holes and using sandy loam soil to allow the water to flow through more easily.  

Leaves turning brown: Brown leaves are a sign the tree is suffering from root rot which is caused when the plant sits in soggy soil for too long. This mainly affects indoor-grown fig trees when there is limited fresh air circulation around the plant.

Root rot is often terminal for most plants as once the root network has been impacted it is hard to turn around. It can be avoided by again, using a pot with drainage holes, and sandy loam soil and popping the plant near an open window or occasionally outside in warmer weather to get some important air circulation. 

Leaves turning yellow: This is nearly always a sign of dehydration in your plant. The lack of water will also mean the fig has not been able to absorb nutrients through the soil.

If caught early enough, re-establishing a regular watering schedule and applying a liquid fertilizer should remedy it but it may have already started to impact your fruit yield and taste for this year.

Curling leaves: This can either be an indication of a lack of water or a fungal infection. Thoroughly inspect the affected leaves for other signs of disease such as brown spots, then remove the dead, curled leaves.

Diseased trees should be treated with a fungicide. However, curled leaves that are caused by a lack of water will need regular, consistant watering to restart fruit production or growth.

A fig tree suffering with leaf curl
A fig tree suffering from leaf curl

FAQ Watering Fig Trees

When is the best time to water a fig tree?

Morning is best to allow the warmth of the day to help circulate the moisture and ensure a potted fig is not sat in cold, water-logged soil all night, but the frequency of watering will always be more important than the exact time of day.

Verdict: How Often To Water Fig Trees

Although we know the fig tree is fairly low maintenance to grow, it is still imperative it receives the correct amount of water. It is hard to give a succinct answer as there are many factors that impact this question, from the type of fig you are growing, where it is, whether is it potted or being grown in the garden, and the season to name just a few… but we do know as a rule of thumb a fig tree requires around 1 inch of water per week in the summer.
An outdoor tree grown in the ground can use its extensive root network to seek out much of this whereas a pot-grown fig will need a helping hand to achieve this volume. When winter hits, the frequency can be halved to once a fortnight.  If you can master your watering schedule and follow the top tips and quickly identify any issues you should be rewarded with a great yield of tasty figs for many years to come.

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Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.