Big, leafy fig trees are often as coveted for their beautiful form as they are for their tasty fruit, which can be made into tarts, jams and bars. Fig trees (Ficus carica) grow well in U.S. Department of Agriculture zones 8 to 10, an area that includes much of Texas, where homeowners thinking of adding a fig tree to the garden might wonder when the figs will ripen.
For the most part, figs are produced on new parts of the tree that have grown that season. However, some varieties of fig trees will produce a few "bonus" figs earlier in the summer -- late May to late June -- on the previous year's wood, or growth. This extra, early crop is is known as a breba crop.
Some breba fig tree varieties do well in Texas. Ficus carica "Black Mission" is a large fig tree that produces an elongated, purple-black fruit with pink flesh and a rich taste. "Black Mission" often produces a heavy breba crop in early summer and a main crop in late fall. This is a suitable tree for parts of Texas with mild winters. Ficus carica "Texas Everbearing" fig tree produces a breba crop of its mild and sweet fruit in late May to late June and a second crop in late September to early November.
Non-breba trees that do well in Texas include Ficus carica "Celeste" -- a cold-hardy variety that produces a small, sweet purplish-brown fruit. While Ficus carica "Celeste" only produces one crop, that crop comes early, in mid to late June, generally before the main crop of other fig varieties. Ficus carica "Alma" offers a rich and deliciously flavored fruit that ripens from mid-July until the first frost. Ficus carica "Texas Blue Giant" is a recently developed fig tree producing large, purple figs that ripen in mid to late summer.
For the best-tasting figs, allow the fruit to fully ripen on the tree. You'll know the figs are ready to harvest when they turn from green to their final color, and when they droop on the tree, no longer perpendicular to the stalk on which they grow. A ripe fig will also be slightly soft. Be sure not to let the ripened fruit linger too long on the tree or it will spoil. Some gardeners prefer to wear gloves and long sleeves when harvesting figs to prevent skin irritation from the fig sap. The highly perishable fig fruit can be stored in the refrigerator for two to three days.