Figs are long-lived plants, which originated in Persia. Figs need warmth and shelter to grow and crop well in the UK, although now that our winters tend to start later they are cropping more heavily.
When to plant
Container-grown fig trees can be planted at any time but spring is ideal as it allows them plenty of time to get established before the cold weather starts.
Where to plant
To grow fig trees in the UK you will either need to plant them against a warm, south-facing wall or grow in a container. A warm, sunny position is vital because the fruit needs warm sun to ripen. Fig trees can also be grown them containers. Make sure the pots are standing on pot feet to allow water to drain away. Fig trees planted in the ground should have their roots restricted to keep the size of the tree small but encourage heavy cropping.
You can also grow figs in a greenhouse, but it should not be heated over winter.
Looking after figs outdoors
Add a stout support system you can tie your tree to, as the branches can snap in gales due to their large leaves.
Figs are surprisingly hardy but winter protection is advisable - thick fleece is ideal.
Restrict the roots with wooden shuttering or paving slabs placed under the ground. This minimises the size of the tree and maximises the fruit crop. Normally the bottom of the containerised box under the ground is left open to aid drainage.
A nine-inch layer of rubble is recommended because figs are tap-rooted. They would be very miserable if they couldn’t get their roots down.
What to feed
Feed your figs with a general fertiliser like Growmore in spring and then mulch them with well-rotted organic material.
A seaweed feed applied in the growing season as directed will toughen up the foliage.
Once the fruits form, water on a weekly potash-rich tomato feed until August.
If you have restricted your fig it may be thirsty, water it well in the warm summer weather. If your fig drops its fruit in June, it’s thirsty.
Growing figs in containers
If you grow fig trees large pots always stand them on pot feet and move them undercover during winter because the roots are much more vulnerable to cold weather if grown in containers.
Keep the soil just moist during winter and then pot on in March to a larger pot, about two to three inches bigger in diameter, using John Innes no 3. Add crocks to the bottom for drainage.
When it crops
Figs are ripe when the stalk bends and the fruit hangs down and produces a droplet of sugar from the base. In theory it’s possible to get three crops on trees grown in warm greenhouses.
Container-grown figs will usually provide two crops in sunny summers if they are kept under glass between August and April. The over-wintering ones ripen in May and the later batch is in September.
Pots brought inside in late September will probably only crop once. Figs in the ground produce only one crop too - in late summer.
Remove any figs larger than pea-sized that haven’t ripened properly by August, but leave the pea-sized fruits alone: these will develop into your main crop next year.
When to cut back fig trees
In June you should pinch out the growing tip of every other young shoot on a fan-trained tree to encourage lower, bushier growth. As shoots develop, tie them into the wires.
For containerised figs you should cut out dead stems and weak branches in March before growth starts. Come mid-June, remove the shoot tips from the new growth, leaving four to five leaves.
Fig varieties that grow in the UK
The most successful fig for cool climates. Reliable and popular, this mid-season variety produces a profusion of large, pear-shaped, dark-skinned fruits with dark-red flesh.
Another very popular fig for outdoor culture in cool areas due to its hardiness. Midseason 'Brunswick' bears large fruits with yellowish-green skin and reddish flesh.
'Rouge de Bordeaux'
A gourmet fig for a very warm, sheltered site, or a conservatory or greenhouse. Deep-purple skin with red flesh.
'White Marseilles', syn. 'White Genoa'
Attractive, pale-green to white skin with pale, almost translucent flesh. A good variety for growing outdoors. Cardinal Pole introduced 'White Marseilles' to Lambeth Palace in 1525. His trees are still flourishing.