Figs come from warm, Mediterranean climates and will thrive in a sunny and sheltered position with well-drained soil.
Although figs can cope with dry conditions, drought can cause fruit to drop prematurely. Water plants regularly during the summer season, but do not give them too much or water them erratically while the fruit is ripening, as this may cause the fruit to split.
Feed in early spring by spreading 70g (2oz) of a balanced granular fertiliser (such as Growmore or Fish, Blood and Bone) over the ground, and cover with a thin layer of well-rotted manure. When the fruit appear, feed weekly with a high-potassium liquid plant food (such as tomato fertiliser).
Figs give the best quality and quantity of fruit when roots are restricted. For this reason they are well suited to container cultivation. Plant in a large, 30-38cm (1ft-15in) pot filled with gritty compost (John Innes No 3 with 20 percent extra grit by volume is ideal).
You can grow figs in a bed, or against a wall, just make sure you restrict the roots. Prepare a bed as follows:
- Dig a 60cm (2ft) square planting pit in the ground
- Line the sides with paving slabs, allowing them to protrude 2.5cm (1in) above the level of the soil
- Line the bottom of the pit with a 20cm (8in) layer of broken bricks or mortar rubble to improve adequate drainage
- Place the fig in the pit and fill the hole with loam-based John Innes No 3 compost
Even though some figs are hardy down to -10°C (14°F), the tips of branches that carry fruit are vulnerable to frost and a potential crop can be ruined during cold weather. Protect figs in winter by covering the bare branches with a few layers of horticultural fleece, or by packing the fan-trained branches with straw. Remove the fleece or packing by the end of May.
In tropical regions (and under glass) figs bear three flushes of fruit, in Mediterranean areas they crop twice, but outdoors in the UK and other cool temperate regions they only usually produce on useable crop a year.
In late spring you will notice embryonic pea-like fruits that will swell over the summer months until ripe and ready for picking, usually in late summer or early autumn.
You can tell when figs are ripe and ready for harvesting by giving them a gentle squeeze to see whether they are soft. Splits appearing near the stalk end or a drop of nectar appearing at the bottom of the fruit are signs that they are ready.
Sometimes, in late summer, a second crop of embryonic fruit appears. Larger, more developed fruits are unlikely to either ripen this late in the season, or to survive until the following year so can be removed. However, if the smaller pea-sized embryonic figs developing in the leaf axils survive the winter (see above for how to protect figs in winter), they will ripen and be ready for cropping next year.