Grow Your Own

Figs

To grow figs successfully outdoors in cooler climates, it is important to choose the correct hardy cultivar, plant it against a sunny wall and provide winter protection. Figs grow exceptionally well in containers and are ideal where space is limited. These spend the summer outdoors and are overwintered in a cool, frost-free place. Fruit develop without flowers (they are inside the fruitlets) or, in Britain, pollination - even a single plant provides a successful crop.

Figs ripening

Grow

Move figs growing in pots into a sunny location, outdoors, once there is no danger of frost.

In spring, apply a general-purpose granular feed and mulch around the base of fan trained plants, with well-rotted organic matter, to retain moisture and suppress weeds.

Once the figs appear, apply liquid tomato fertiliser every two to three weeks during the growing season, until they start to ripen. Water well during summer.

Dig around the outside of a planting pit every couple of years with a sharp spade to ensure that no roots have escaped.

Figs can produce fruitlets in late summer and spring or summer. Only the tiny pea-sized fruitlets produced in late summer survive winter and are sufficiently well advanced to flower the following summer. Fruitlets produced in spring may ripen in greenhouses but seldom outdoors.

Remove larger fruits that are not mature enough to ripen at the end of the season, leaving the tiny embryo fruits at the shoot tips, to ripen the following year.

Winter protection outdoors: protect fan-trained figs in winter. After leaf fall, pack a fan-trained plant with straw, bracken, or even bubble wrap and then cover with horticultural fleece. Remove the insulation during late spring, from May onwards.

Winter protection in containers: In autumn, move plants that have been grown in pots into an unheated greenhouse, shed or porch.

Training and pruning

Train figs on walls outdoors or in the greenhouse against horizontal wires 30cm (12in) apart or hang 15cm (6in) netting 30cm (12in) away from the glass.

The sap is an irritant. Wear protective gloves, start pruning from the bottom of the plant and work upwards.

Fan-trained figs: in June pinch out the growing tip of every other young shoot carried on the main framework to encourage lower, bushier growth. As shoots develop, tie them into the wires.

Containerised figs: In late March, cut out dead stems and weak branches before growth starts. Mid June: remove the shoot tips from the new growth, leaving four to five leaves.

Read more advice on fig cultivation

Plant

Soil should be moisture retentive and free draining – figs thrive in any soil with good drainage.

Allow enough space to train the fig as a fan. The height and spread at maturity can be up to 2m (6.5ft) x 3–3.5m (10–12ft) wide.

Although container-grown plants can be planted at any time, spring is ideal as there is a full growing season for them to become established.

Restricting root growth encourages fruiting. Either dig out a planting pit or grow figs in containers on the patio, or plunged into the soil. Prepare a planting pit by digging a hole 60 x 60 x 60cm (2 x 2 x 2ft). Line the sides with vertical slabs, with 2.5cm (1in) higher than the surrounding soil to prevent the roots from spreading outwards. Add a layer of rubble or broken bricks and crocks 10–20cm (4–8in) deep, in the base.

Plant 20cm (8in) away from the base of a sunny south or south west facing wall or fence. Backfill, using garden soil, (improved with well rotted organic matter if necessary) or with John Innes No 3 compost.

For figs in containers, plant ideally March-April into a pot one size larger than the original. Start them off in 30cm (1ft) pots and re-pot every two years in March using John Innes No 3 in a pot about 5cm (2in) larger each time. Leave a gap of at least 2.5 cm (1in) between the soil and the rim of the pot, to allow for watering.

Read more information about growing fruit, including figs, in containers.

Problems

Glasshouse red spider or two spotted mite: Leaves become mottled, pale and covered in webbing, on which the mites can be clearly seen; leaves also drop prematurely.

Remedy: They thrive in hot, dry conditions, so mist plants regularly. Use sprays based on soft soap, plant oils or extracts. Use the biological control Phytoseiulus persimilis in the greenhouse.

Birds: Fruit such as berries are a magnet to many birds, who will strip the fruit from plants or peck holes in them.

Remedy: Either grow plants under a fruit cage, or wait until flowers have been pollinated then cover the plants with special, fine gauge bird netting.

Harvesting

Figs grown in an unheated greenhouse usually produce two crops per summer, but those growing outdoors crop once.

Figs are ready for harvesting when the skin is soft, occasionally a tear of sugary liquid is secreted from the ‘eye’ at the base of the fig. They also split when gently squeezed.

Eat them sun warmed, from the tree. Figs can also be preserved by drying them on trays in the airing cupboard, turning them once a day for a week.

Varieties

‘Rouge de Bordeaux’: One of the finest for flavour. Needs a warm, sheltered site or conservatory.

‘Osbourne Prolific’: Delicious dark purple fruit. For greenhouse cultivation - except in warmer climate.

‘White Marseilles’: Large fruit with sweet, translucent flesh. Ideal for growing in containers and outdoors, it produces two crops per year under glass.

‘Brunswick’: Hardy and good for growing outdoors, with large, sweet fruit.

‘Brown Turkey’: The classic fig for British gardens, heavy cropping, producing a mass of tasty fruit. Outdoors or in containers.


Do now

  • Harvest mature fruit
  • Feed with liquid tomato fertiliser every 2-3 weeks

Month by month

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Sow
Plant out
Harvest

Advertise here