A fresh, properly ripe fig is a thing of great beauty. To grow figs successfully outdoors in the UK, it's important to choose a hardy cultivar and plant it against a sunny wall. In colder areas figs require winter protection; luckily they grow well in containers which is ideal where space is limited. These spend the summer outdoors and are overwintered in a cool, frost-free place. Even a single plant provides a successful crop.
Jobs to do now
- Harvest mature fruit
- Feed with liquid tomato fertiliser every 2-3 weeks
Month by month
Move figs growing in pots into a sunny location, outdoors, once there is no danger of frost.
In early spring, feed with a high potassium general fertiliser, such as Vitax Q4. Scatter one handful per square metre/yard around the base. 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.
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.
Figs growing in an unheated greenhouse usually produce two crops each summer, while those growing outdoors crop once.
The fruit is ready to harvest when the skin is soft, and occasionally a tear of sugary liquid may be secreted from the ‘eye’ at the base of the fig. They may also split when gently squeezed.
Figs are best eaten sun warmed, straight from the tree. They can also be preserved by drying on trays in an airing cupboard, turning them once a day for a week.
Birds, especially pigeons, can cause an array of problems including eating seedlings, buds, leaves, fruit and vegetables.
Protect the plants from birds by covering them with netting or fleece. Scarecrows and bird-scaring mechanisms work for a while, but the most reliable method of protection is to cover plants with horticultural fleece or mesh.
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.
They thrive in hot, dry conditions, so mist plants regularly. Use biological control in the greenhouse.
All tree fruits are prone to wasp damage. As their fruits ripen, the high sugar content attracts wasps, which not only damages the fruit but also poses a threat to gardeners.
Hang wasp traps in trees and harvest crops as soon as they ripen. Avoid leaving windfalls or over-ripe fruit on the ground.
The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.