Lack of mature figs could be watering problem

Q: Can you tell us why our figs did not mature and what we might do to have a better result next season? Last year there were perhaps a dozen figs that never got larger than a small grape.

These did not emerge until November and never grew to full size. The tree was fertilized with 16-16-16 commercial fertilizer and had plenty of water.

A: The usual problem is not watering frequently enough. When watering you have to make two important decisions: how much to apply and when to apply it. If you miss one water application the plant registers that as “not enough water” and a series of plant responses to that threat happen.

There are three fig crops each year here. The third one in the fall never seems to make it. This third crop will get button sized and fails to develop because of winter weather coming in.

I would mulch around the tree with about 4 inches of wood mulch and cover the soil to a distance of about six feet from the trunk. Water in a basin around the trunk about 6 feet in diameter.

The basin should be able to hold at least 2 inches of water but 4 would be better. Fill the basin with water each time you irrigate. Water once a week now, twice a week in May, three times a week in June, back to twice a week in September and once a week mid-October.

Once the leaves fall off in winter you can water about every 10 to 14 days. Fertilize once in February with a fruit tree fertilizer or four fertilizer stakes per tree, one in each quadrant of the irrigation basin.

Q: I have a 4-year-old Meyer lemon tree in a huge pot. Last spring, it had massive flowers and lots of little green buds followed. Then every single one of those buds turned black and dropped off. The plant is fertilized twice a year. It gets moisture and hasn’t dried out.

A. Sounds like you had post bloom fruit drop. Fruit drop can also occur during summer months and just before harvest. The usual reasons for post bloom fruit drop is some sort of stress or excessive growth.

Four years is getting up there for being in the same pot without repotting. You might consider repotting and adding some new soil to the mix.

I know you said it had adequate water but if it went through just a few hours of drought during or just after pollination, fruit drop may occur. If we have some freezing weather during or just after flowering, that can cause the fruit to abort, too.

When watering, make sure about 20 percent of the water that you apply runs out the bottom of the container each time you water. This is important for flushing salts from the soil. Excessive salts in the soil would show up as leaf tip burn, leaf margin burn, discoloration of the leaves and fruit drop.

Another possibility in containers is overheating. If containers are in direct sunlight and the outside of the container gets too hot and transmits this heat to the soil, this can cause stress and cause root death and fruit drop.

Proper fertilization is important. Overfertilizing fruit trees, excess nitrogen, can cause fruit and flower drop. And finally less commonly some insects such as scale or mealybug infestations can cause fruit drop as well.

Make sure your container, the soil volume, is big enough to handle wide swings in temperature and water. Monitor both closely. You might find a houseplant moisture meter to be helpful.

Keep the outside of a plant container out of the hot sun. Double potting a container is helpful and keeps the soil temperature down. Watch for freezing temperatures at bloom time.

Water the soil just before the heat of the day. Wet soil heats up more slowly than dry soil. If we have any frost during bloom it will affect fruit production.

Bob Morris is a horticulture expert living in Las Vegas and professor emeritus for the University of Nevada. Visit his blog at Send questions to


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