Figs come from warm Mediterranean climates and in southern regions 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, especially if the developing fruit suffers from lack of water early in the growing season. 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. Container grown plants are more vulnerable to lack of water.
Figs grown on fertile soils seldom require additional feeding in spring but when fruits appear feed weekly with a high-potassium liquid plant food (such as tomato fertiliser). If grown on poor soils and/or with root restriction, weak trees may benefit from an early spring application of 70g (2oz) of a balanced granular fertiliser (such as Growmore or fish, blood and bone). Overfeeding can lead to excessive vegetative growth at the expense of fruiting.
Weak growth may also be due to lack of water caused by root restriction. Where this appears to be the case, mulch with 2.5-5cm (1-2in) of garden compost or composted bark.
You can grow figs in an open bed, or against a wall. Restrict the root run when planting figs. This will help to control the size and improve fruiting, as the fig will put more energy into fruiting instead of growth. Prepare as follows:
- Dig a 60cm (2ft) square planting pit in the ground. For wall planting aim for the tree to be about 45cm (18ins) from the wall so the tree gets the full benefit of rain
- Line the sides with paving slabs, allowing them to protrude 2.5-5cm (1-2in) above the level of the soil
- Line the bottom of the pit with a 20cm (8in) layer of broken bricks, large crocks or rubble to provide good drainage, but discourage large roots growing through
- Fill the pit with soil you dug out enriched with 10% by volume home-made compost or soil conditioner. Alternatively, refill with loam-based John Innes No 3 compost. Firm and level, make sure you leave 2.5-5cm (1-2in) watering rim.
- Plant your tree and firm, then water in. Plant no deeper than the plant was in the original pot
Burying a large sturdy container 50-60cm (20in-2ft) wide and deep with drainage holes is also an option. As with the lined planting pit the container should protrude 2.5-5cm (1-2in) above the ground. Fill the bottom of the container with 5-10cm (2-4in) of crocks or rubble. Smaller pots would be prone to drying and too restrictive for reliable cropping.
Figs are well-suited to container cultivation. The container by definition automatically restricts the plant's roots.
Plant in a large pot, at least 45cm (18in) diameter, filled with gritty compost (John Innes No 3 with 20 percent extra grit by volume). If starting with a smaller plant pot up gradually, from smaller to larger pot sizes over a number of growing seasons.
Repot about every three to five years when dormant (leafless) in winter. Once the final size of the pot is reached, remove about twenty per cent of the compost and cut away larger roots from the outside of the rootball. Pot up in the same pot filling the gaps with fresh growing medium.
Container grown figs need regular watering and feeding. During spring and summer feed every week. Alternate between a high potassium fertiliser such as tomato food and a general-purpose fertiliser. Water regularly; do not let the compost dry out.
The mature wood of some figs is hardy down to -10°C (14°F) or more. However, the tips that carry the embryonic fruit are vulnerable to frost and a potential crop can be lost during cold weather (the figs produced on the current season's growth seldom ripen in the UK). Protect figs in winter by covering the bare branches with a few layers of horticultural fleece, or by packing fan-trained branches with straw or bracken. Remove the packing by the end April and remove fleece by the end of May.
If possible move container-grown figs to a frost free place such as cool garage or unheated greenhouse, otherwise position in a sheltered spot. Keep the compost slightly moist. Cover the outside of the pot with bubble wrap or hessian (indoors only) to protect the roots and cover the top growth as for soil grown figs.