Except for the farthest northern portions of the Midwest, fig trees can grow just about anywhere in the United States, although the farther north you go, the more care you’ll have to take with them. And of course, wherever you’re growing fig trees, you’ll need to know about the diseases that can affect them, to ensure that you’ll be able to enjoy their delicious fruit.
By knowing what to look for and how to deal with it, you can be sure to have healthy fig trees producing great fruit for jams, ice cream toppings, and other sweet treats in home-cooked meals.
Keep reading for information on fig tree diseases, from diagnosis and treatment to ongoing care.
Understanding Fig Tree Diseases
Several types of diseases can affect fig trees, including anthracnose, fig rust, fig mosaic, limb blight, and root-knot nematodes. A more detailed look at these diseases appears below.
For now, though, it’s enough to learn that some fig tree diseases are fungal while others are viral. Fungal diseases are caused by fungi, living organisms that invade the plant. Viral diseases are caused by parasites that must find living tissue, such as your fig tree, to thrive.
Prevention and Early Detection of Fig Tree Diseases
As with the other trees and plants in your home landscape, preventing fig tree diseases starts with basic good care, including proper watering and pruning, and keeping an eye out for early signs of problems.
As you watch your fig trees, some of the most easily recognizable signs of fig tree diseases are discolored or misshapen leaves, fruit, or stems. Less immediately obvious signs of fig tree diseases can include growth that is not progressing as expected or diminished fruit production.
Preventative measures can include keeping the area around your fig tree clear of weeds and yard debris that might harbor diseases that could find their way to the tree. You’ll also want to be sure not to overwater your fig tree so that its leaves, limbs, and fruit dry quickly, depriving diseases of a foothold.
Diagnosing Fig Tree Diseases
If you suspect your fig tree is infested with some disease, numerous online resources, including this post, can help you identify the problem you might be dealing with.
But you should also consider getting more localized advice, perhaps from your hometown garden center or the local agricultural extension office.
Main Classes of Fig Tree Diseases
Fig trees are subject to several diseases, both fungal and viral. Fungal diseases are caused by fungi, living organisms that invade the plant. Viral diseases are caused by parasites that must find living tissue, such as your fig tree, to thrive.
In addition to fungal and viral diseases, fig trees can be subject to damage from nematodes, microscopic roundworms that live in the soil and feed on roots, including fig tree roots.
Read on for a look at some of the fig tree diseases your tree might face, along with suggestions for treatment.
Anthracnose is a fungal disease that can damage your fig tree’s leaves, fruit, and stems. Caused by the Colletrotrichum gloeosporioides fungus, anthracnose typically appears during warm, humid weather.
Signs of Anthracnose
If you see small, circular, fluid-soaked spots on your fig tree’s leaves that get larger and turn brown or black, anthracnose is a likely cause. Further indications of anthracnose infestation can include the development of sunken spots on your figs. The fruits also will have a soft, mushy texture if infected by the fungus causing anthracnose.
Eventually, an anthracnose infestation will cause your fig tree to stop producing fruit, and the tree will eventually die. If you notice any signs of anthracnose in your fig tree, removing affected parts of the tree can help reduce its spread.
As with most fungal diseases that threaten trees and plants in the home landscape, preventative steps are the best defense against anthracnose. You can protect your fig trees from anthracnose infestation by proper watering, adequate fertilization, and, most importantly, by keeping a close eye on your tree to detect an infestation as early as possible.
Anthracnose thrives in humid conditions, so one way of forestalling the disease is pruning your fig tree to improve air circulation among its branches. Also, unless you water your fig trees early in the day so that water has ample opportunity to evaporate, you should think about using drip irrigation to keep moisture away from leaves and fruit.
Fungicides containing copper or sulfur can be used against anthracnose. However, they should be applied as a preventative rather than a curative measure and should be used before any signs of disease are seen in your fig tree.
Finally, consulting with a horticulturist or tree specialist can provide more specific guidance for dealing with anthracnose in your area.
Another one of the fungal fig tree diseases is fig rust, caused by the fungus Physopella fici. Left unaddressed, fig rust will result in the disfiguration and loss of your tree’s leaves, weakened overall tree health, and reduced fruit production.
Signs of Fig Rust
If your fig tree is suffering from fig rust, you can notice symptoms as early as the spring, although the disease can also show up through the summer months. If you see small, yellow spots on the upper surfaces of your tree’s leaves, that’s an indication of fig rust. If those spots get larger and turn reddish-brown, you’re certain to have fig rust infesting your tree.
Treating Fig Rust
To prevent fig rust in fig trees, avoid watering the trees directly unless water collecting on leaves and other parts of the tree can evaporate quickly. As an alternative, water only the ground under your tree.
Pruning your fig tree to ensure adequate airflow among its branches can also be an effective preventative measure against fig rust and many other fig tree diseases.
Fungicides are an option for dealing with rust, but you should know that few fungicides are available for fig tree diseases. If you use a fungicide, it will only work as a preventative measure. Being applying it during the tree’s dormant season with follow-up treatments every few weeks.
Yet another of the fungal fig tree diseases is limb blight, caused by the fungus Botryosphaeria dothidea. As its informal name indicates, limb blight damages the tree’s branches and stems.
Signs of Limb Blight
You’ll typically see limb blight appear during periods of warm and humid weather. Initially, limb blight manifests as small, circular, watery lesions appearing on branches. As with other fungal fig tree diseases, these lesions will get larger and turn brown or black as the infestation progresses.
Infected branches may also exhibit cankers and wilt and die back as the disease continues. As this happens, the overall structure of the tree is weakened. Also, fruit production is negatively affected by limb blight.
Treating Limb Blight
Fungicides containing copper-based compounds or thiophanate-methyl can help control limb blight. However, you’ll need to check to see if there are any fungicides approved for the treatment of edible figs in your state.
As always, a better and safer approach to dealing with limb blight, or any other fig tree diseases, is to have a preventative mindset. With regard to limb blight, regular pruning helps, both by opening up air circulation in your fig tree, reducing moisture, and ensuring that branches and limbs are separated to impede the spread of the disease.
One of the viral fig tree diseases is fig mosaic, which is brought into contact with the trees by tiny spider-like creatures called mites. While you can watch out for mites on your fig tree, spotting fig mosaic disease can be difficult as symptoms may vary with the severity of the infestation.
Signs of Fig Mosaic
Early symptoms of fig mosaic disease include yellow or greenish-yellow markings on leaves that appear in a mosaic-like pattern. Infected leaves may also exhibit a mottled appearance, with irregular light and dark green patches.
Fig mosaic disease does not typically cause serious damage to the tree itself, but it can impact the quality and number of figs the tree eventually produces.
Treating Fig Mosaic
Regarding treatment, your best bet in combating fig mosaic disease is attacking the mites with some horticultural oil such as crop oil or citrus oil, and spraying it directly on all parts of the tree. The oil will cover mites and their eggs, suffocating and killing them. Once it has dried on the tree, the horticultural oil will not affect the mites.
Root Knot Nematodes
Nematodes, microscopic roundworms that live in the soil and feed on plant roots, are responsible for “root-knot,” one of the most serious fig tree diseases. Eventually, a root-knot infestation will result in the death of your fig tree.
Signs of Root Knot Nematodes
An initial sign of root-knot is the appearance of bumps at the tree’s root, accompanied by a stunted and unhealthy look in the above-ground section. As the infestation progresses, additional root damage is incurred, further inhibiting the tree’s ability to move nourishment from the soil into the main body of the fig tree.
Treating Root Knot Nematodes
There is no specific treatment for root-knot nematodes once they have infested a fig tree, although you can try heavy fertilization to encourage new root growth. That could give the tree enough healthy roots to continue growing and bearing fruit, but it’s far from an optimal solution.
There is, however, something you might be able to do to prevent root-knot in any future planting of fig trees in your home landscape. First, send a soil sample from the area where you want to plant your new fig tree for testing, either by your agricultural extension service or a soil-testing laboratory.
If it turns out that the area does have nematodes, there are nematicides like Vapam® that can be used to eradicate them. But you’ll need to check to see whether your state allows using your chosen nematicide.
Maintaining Fig Tree Health After Treatment
Maintaining the health of your fig tree after treatment requires proper irrigation, pruning, and maintenance. Ongoing monitoring and early detection are critical in preventing the recurrence of fig tree diseases and keeping the tree healthy.
With the proper care, your fig tree will thrive for years.
Wrapping up Fig Tree Diseases
As a fig tree owner, you can proactively prevent and treat fig tree diseases with help from the advice presented in this post.
Check out the Fig Trees page on our website for more information about fig varieties and how to grown your own. Also, if you have tips for other readers dealing with fig tree diseases, please share them in the comments section for this post.