Roots serve both as a fig tree's anchor and its system to gather water and nutrients, including the oxygen necessary for the roots' growth. Given that the twisted branches of the Common fig (Ficus carica) extend as wide as the tree is tall, the fig root system is necessarily extensive. Most fig roots travel parallel to the soil surface, extending in several directions.
In summer, a fig's leaves are its most prominent feature. Deep green, lobed and longer than a ruler, fig leaves layer so thickly on the twisted branches that nothing grows in the deep shade of the tree canopy. In winter, the tree's impressive trunk and branches become visible. Fig trees grow as tall as 50 feet, although backyard specimens often stop at half that height. The fruit of the fig comes in two surges -- the spring "breba" and the fall "main" crops -- while the root system charged with supporting all this growth extends well beyond the tree's canopy.
Fig Root System
The fig tree develops a strong, deep taproot to anchor it in the soil, but most of the other principal roots are horizontal, running near the surface of the soil. The fig roots descend up to 12 inches before changing direction. An extensive, shallow root system allows the tree to profit from any available precipitation, but creates extreme sensitivity to drought stress. Homeowners protect fig trees by watering during dry spells and mulching heavily with straw or dried grass.
Fig Culture Requirements
Fig trees require ample sun, elbow room and well-drained soil. The sun enables a tree to produce fruit, while sufficient space prevents the quick-growing fig from invading or shading neighbouring plants. Well-drained soil benefits the fig's extensive root system. Soggy, compact soil impedes the horizontal passage of slender fig roots. Standing water also prevents the roots from obtaining oxygen from the air. A shortage of oxygen stunts root growth and can ultimately kill the tree.
The fig tree's shallow root system causes problems for homeowners who neglected to think through tree placement. Fig trees on property lines inevitably cause problems as the fig sends vigorous roots into the neighbour's garden, lawn or septic tank. Removal of the trespassing roots dooms the fig. If fig trees grow too close to a roadway, the passage of vehicles often injures the sensitive roots beneath. Advance planning prevents many of these issues.