Desert King Fig: At Home in the Pacific Northwest

Desert King Fig: At Home in the Pacific Northwest

fresh picked dessert king fig

Desert King Fig: It’s big, green, sweet and easy to grow.

There’s nothing like a fresh fig, especially if  perfectly ripe and dripping with nectar (see blossom end of above photo). And of all the figs you can grow in the Pacific Northwest, Desert King (a name that belies its happy habit in a cool climate) is one of the earliest and least fussy varieties I know of. It ripens about the first week of August, but you have to act quickly as they all seem to ripen en masse within a week to ten days. If you wait too long to pick them, the birds will make an easy breakfast, lunch and dinner of them.

homegrown ripe dessert king figs

Desert King figs before their brief encounter with sweet cream and shortbread cookies

It’s most entertaining to feed a fresh fig to an unfamiliar diner. It’s a texture, consistency, and wallop of sweetness not duplicated in any fruit. Most fresh fig neophytes take pause before making some odd faces. One of my favorite recipes for fresh figs is the cheesy fig bomb. (What’s not to like: figs stuffed with goat cheese wrapped in bacon and broiled. Was that an angel I heard singing?) Whether you enlist these juicy gems for sweet, savory or fresh eating, the Desert King fig is a reliable choice for the home orchard. Saveur.com has some nice fig recipes, too, but chances are you’ll never look at  fig newton the same way again.



54 thoughts on “Desert King Fig: At Home in the Pacific Northwest”

  • Cheesy fig bombs sound delightful. I will certainly try putting that together when I see figs beginning to overflow the supermarket shelves. Seductive pics!

  • I can’t wait until mine is producing – do you have any idea how many years it takes? I just put it in this year, along with the potted violetta. Now I guess I need a Peters too…

  • Annette, the Desert King produces usually in the second or third year — yeah! I have another new favorite I’ll blog about soon: Negronne, a gorgeous black fig of notable flavor. Only got one this year — but one was enough. -tc

  • Oh my I need an orchard. Can the Negronne go outside year round? Or do you have to bring it in during winter?

    I’ve been obsessed with the idea of growing an avocado tree here as well. What do you know about that? I think I need to dismantle the kid’s fort and build a greenhouse there…

  • Negronne grows outside beautifully here, no need to bring in and ripening in late August.
    As for avocado, strickly a greenhouse plant here. I grow lemons, limes and oranges but bring them inside to the house’s south facing windows in the late autumn and return outside in pots in late spring.

    • I live in Surrey Bc, I have fig trees but all figs dropping before rippen, Anyway, I plant couple “Desert king” 2 months ago, and I am hoping that I will get some sweet figs next year.

      Do you know what is black sweet figs for our area?

      Thanks for your time.

      • Hi Tommy, I think you’ll be happy with Desert King; it’s my most prolific producer. As for black figs, I have the best luck with Negronne or as it’s also known, Violette du Bordeaux. Here’s a post about it: http://tallcloverfarm.com/363/violette-du-bordeaux-or-negronne-fig-two-names-for-one-exceptional-fig . I’ve also had a few figs from a young tree called Vashon Violet, or as it’s known in a broader sense, Brunswick, but it’s a little harder to find. Good Luck Tommy!

        • Hi Tom:
          Thanks for your reply, I will wait for this year for sweet figs from my “Desert king”, I did more home work, I find that there are one variety of fig tree beat “Desert king” in our area, it calls “Granthams Royal” with grey/red figs, it tastes better than “Desert king” with same high production of figs.
          This fig tree can be find in USA but very hard to find it in Canada, I might need 2 years to find it.

  • Hi: Enjoyed this info with pix. I have a 10+ year old Desert Kig fig tree in my Seattle backyard. Had > 300 figs this year: 200 went to the happy birds and bees, 100 went to me and ahppy neighbors. Love fig jam, especially in appetizers and cookies.

    • Hi linda,
      I was browsing the comments I saw yours. You said that you have a fig tree in your back yard.I’m wondering if you could some leaves from your tree ,because I want it for some medications please.
      If it is ok I will appreciate your help .if not thank you for your time.
      Regard
      Khadija

  • BJ, mine are just now coming out of dormancy, quite late I’d say. You’ll probably have fruit by the end of August, maybe a little earlier.

  • Thanks Tom. I would recommend the Desert King to anyone this side of the Cascades. It does very well, gives a lot of fruits and is super sweet.

  • Great site Tom….any tips for planting Desert King Fig in PNW. The spot I’m thinking of is a fairly protected Southern Exposure.

  • Thanks BJ,
    And Hi BethT, your Desert King fig will be very happy with a southern exposure. Of all the figs I grow, Desert King is the least fussy.

    As for tips, remember figs produce off of last year’s growth, so if you plant a young tree that is one long stick, prune the top, that is the growing tip to encourage branching. The more branches the more figs. Figs have soft wood and are easy to prune. So in addition, prune out any dead wood and I suggest a couple bags of composted steer manure as top dressing each spring as figs are pretty heavy feeders. Good Luck!

    And here’s how to tell when they are ripe, http://www.tallcloverfarm.com/351/how-to-know-when-a-fig-is-ripe-and-ready-to-pick

  • WOW My Desert King is a giant and taller , way taller than my house and this year is covered with hundreds of lovely figs and they are sweeter this year than ever before,, So wonderful to know what kind of fig tree I have in this great city of Eugene, Oregon,,, Joy to the World,,,, This is truly God’s nectar,, Namaste’

  • Thanks Lynda, what a gift you have in that tree. I just had a fresh fig, goat cheese, prosciutto pizza ….uummmmmm, just in case you need a use for them.

  • I live in Bellingham WA. We have desert king figs which is like having tropical fruit in a temperate climate. I wonder about a stepover espalier. Have you tried doing this with your figs?

  • Hi Joy, I find figs are happier or maybe I’m happier letting them grow as they wish with a little pruning help from me. I find the wood brittle and not well suited for espalier, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Just don’t prune out too much of last year’s wood which has the fruiting buds.

  • I live in Hillsboro, OR and I bought one of these trees for my back yard a couple years ago. It is taking a while to actually pick up and grow so I haven’t gotten much out of it but what I do get is amazing.
    I see you say it is good to prune the top but when is the best *time* of the year to go about pruning them for best results?

    • Deidre, I tend to prune my fig trees after I pick the fruit. Then any new growth becomes the fruiting wood for the next year. I also water the tree if particularly dry to encourage midsummer growth.

  • Hi, that is a wonderful picture. Is your DK from One Green World? I know you have trees from them. Have you considered trying their variety called Stella? I’m on the fence about it, unsure if I could ripen it.

    See you

    • Forrest my DK is from a local Vashon nursery, but I do like One Green World a lot. What’s this…Stella…a fig I don’t have? Well maybe I’ll have to correct that this bareroot season. Portland is warmer though, but I think it would be worth a try here in the Puget Sound area in a very sunny location.

  • I was just in Portland and a 2′ STELLA was being offered for $5.00 on Craigslist. Still there!! I bought 2-Negronnes 3′ tall for $10ea at a small Portland nursery off I-5 just over the WA. border. Plan to grow them in containers .Each had 3 or 4small figs on them. They are sticks so when should I clip the topsto get them to branch out?!?

    • Hi Chuck, sounds like you made quite the haul. Since the figs will be growing in planters, I’d wait until the trees are dormant (winter or early spring) and prune the tip at the 2-3 foot level. Good Luck!

  • I’m thinking of cutting some 8″ scions from my Desert King NOW, refrigerate (or freeze) for 2-wks and plant indoors in small containers?
    Will this lead to signs of life in December? OH!! I have an
    under sink instant hot water tank that stays nice and toasty on top to promote root growth.
    -Chuck

  • I got a ton of fresh horse manure delivered. I’m planting fig scions in the warm, moist pile about 8″ deep. Some are vertical; others horizontal. Hope I see some signs of rooting!!

  • I would like to plant a desert king fig tree to also serve as a shade tree for our south facing bedroom window. I wonder what would be a good distance from the south facing wall of our home in Portland? I don’t want leaves in the rain gutters, and we hope to also use the tree as a shade tree with a small patio around it made of porous pavers and sand with a tree ring around the tree, say about 4′ in diameter. It will be the center piece for our back yard and it will be pruned carefully to make this something special.

    • Hi Russ, sounds like a great idea. Fig trees are lovely shade providers and desert king is a good choice for you in Portland as it will produce nice figs. I would keep the tree at least 15 feet away from the house. This way it has good air circulation and won’t crowd next to your house while keeping the leaves out of the gutter. At first it will seem ridiculously far away, but as the tree matures it will fill in the space nicely. Good luck, Tom

  • What a ninny I am! We have a beautiful Desert King in our yard that I have left unharvested two years in a row now. I didn’t know what I had! I actually kept wondering why the figs never ripened and left them hanging on the branch. I grew up with black figs from my dad’s imported trees and never knew a fig could be green and still be ripe. Once again Tom, you have enlightened me! One more reason to look forward to August.

    • Lola the same thing happened to me many years ago when I saw my first Desert King fig. Thank goodness my neighbor chided me for not picking them, the ones hanging over the fence.

  • I planted an avocado pit two years ago that is 4 ft tall now. I keep it in the garage during the winter. Apparently, it has to be grafted with a fruit-producing grafts to grow small avocados.
    Do you know where to find such grafts? I still wonder if any avocado fruit will actually ripen on this tree in SW of WA.

    • Eva, your question is out of my climate zone and know-how. 😉 I would love to grow avocados. I’ll do a little research and see if there’s any avocado variety that can tolerate freezing temps. or at least produce in an unheated greenhouse. We can dream can’t we.

  • Hi there, The house we purchased last December came with a beautiful fig tree. I think it is a Desert King. It produced so many figs that I placed an ad for free figs. My question is when to prune. I heard late winter. I noticed that our tree is trying to produce a second crop, which are smaller and do not look like they will ripen. Is this normal?

    Thanks!

    • Hi Laura, Desert King is one of the best producing fig trees in the Puget Sound area with one giant first crop (called the breba), and then a second crop (called the main crop). In our area, the second crop rarely ripens, quite normal here. Here is a pruning video that I find to be really helpful. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RB0D_tuKgtQ And yes, you should prune it when it’s dormant, as the sap is sticky and caustic if you prune when leafed out, plus you can better see the structure of the tree. I usually prune mine in late winter say February or March. Good Luck and keep growin!

  • Hi Tom, I got many fig trees this years, only have black mission and Purple Jordon figs, Purple Jordon is big figs with very good taste, I have Desert King from cuttings with 4-5 FT tall, I am hoping that it will bear some tasty figs for me next year, I am hoping other fig trees bear some figs for me as well.

    Do you have Celeste fig tree? I am wondering that this fig tree bear fig in PNW or not? My friend have them for 5 years without figs.

    • Tom I don’t have the Celeste fig, nor do I know anyone around here who grows it. I do grow Stella with pretty good results and it pretty close to tasting like a Celeste fig. Purple Jordan figs, eh, that’s a new one for me. I’ll have to check it out. cheers!

  • Is it possible to grow this fig in a large pot? I am in zone 7 (Grandview,Wa) which is east of the Cascades but am renting and do not want to disturb the tree much if I move. Thanks for any advice!

    • Yes, it is Kathryn, just consider it will watering regularly to survive hot summers. They don’t thrive on neglect like some plants. I water mine in pots in the greenhouse everyday. Just get a largish pot, good potting soil and keep the tree trimmed to the height you desire and it will branch out and become more shrubby which is good for growing figs in pots. Good luck! Tom

  • Thanks much to Tom. It looks like he won the “Running of the Bulldogs race”. My mysterious green fig tree that is about eight feet tall and has 15 large figs is probably a Desert King. I was conned into a fake name by some well meaning people who didn’t know. NW Arkansas can have some very cold temps (North end of zone 7). The young figs may freeze back to the ground until they have a better wood. My large Brown Turkey has froze back to the ground at least once over the last seven years. For all you folks who want to save the figs from the birds- get a fruit tree net and use your hoe to gently get it over the top of the bush.

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