up to 50 fruits per tree in a warm summer
Fresh figs are delicious, sweet treats, a real taste of sunny climes. Figs are well worth the effort to grow, and their attractive, scented foliage makes a great addition to the garden, too.
Fig trees are native to Syria and Persia, and while fig trees in Britain might not yield the same quantity or sweetness of fig trees in the Mediterranean, they can be grown successfully in a sheltered, sunny spot, such as against a wall. The idea is to trick them into thinking they are growing on a rocky hilltop in the eastern Mediterranean by keeping their roots restricted.
Several fig varieties are hardy enough for outdoor cultivation in the UK and should crop even during poor summers. Choose varieties like ‘Brown Turkey’ and ‘Brunswick’, both hardy varieties bred to thrive in the British climate. They’re suitable for growing in large pots (which restricts their roots), and compact and standard varieties make good trees for small gardens. They’re all self-fertile, so you only need one tree for a decent crop. Some varieties are only suitable for growing in an unheated greenhouse.
How to grow figs
Grow figs in a warm, sheltered spot in full sun. Plant them in pots or use rubble or submerged paving slabs to restrict root growth when growing in the ground. Keep pot-grown plants well-watered and feed weekly with tomato food once fruits start appearing. An annual mulch of well-rotted compost or manure will keep soil fertile while suppressing weeds around the fig tree. Harvest the fruits in autumn, once they’re hanging down and soft to the touch.
Growing figs: jump links
- Where to grow figs
- How to care for figs
- How to prune and train figs
- Fig problem-solving
- Fig buying advice
- Types of fig to grow
Where to plant a fig tree
Figs do best in a sheltered, sunny spot, ideally against a brick wall where they can soak up the heat from the wall at night.
How to plant a fig tree
The best time to plant a fig tree is late winter or spring – it will have plenty of time to establish before cold weather sets in. It will need a deep hole, as it has a long tap root. It’s thought that figs do best when their roots are slightly restricted. If you’re planting your tree in the ground, dig a planting hole, and then part fill it with well-rotted manure and rubble, to help restrict roots. If you have them, using paving slabs to make a wall around the roots to further restrict them. Back-fill with compost and firm into place. Alternatively, you can buy root control bags online. Water well.
Alternatively, plant your fig in a large, deep pot, which will have the same effect of restricting root growth. Put crocks at the bottom for drainage, then add John Innes No. 3 compost. Stand the pot on feet to allow any excess water to drain away.
Caring for fig trees
Figs can produce several stages of crop simultaneously but usually, only one crop will ripen in the UK climate, in September or October. The tiny, pea-sized embryo fruitlets formed in the autumn are next year’s harvest – they will overwinter to produce a crop of figs the following year. The figs that were produced in spring and early summer and have not ripened by October will continue to grow but won’t ripen in the UK climate. Remove these in late autumn.
When fruits start developing, feed with a liquid tomato feed every couple of weeks.
In some areas, fig trees will need protecting over winter, especially if the tree is young. When the leaves have dropped, cover with horticultural fleece, or if your tree is fan-trained, pack straw around the branches. Move pot grown fig trees into a cool shed, or covered area such as a greenhouse.
In spring, remove the protection, give the tree a good feed and mulch with well rotted manure, or move pot-grown figs back outdoors.
Repot container-grown figs every two or three years. When the tree becomes too big to repot, remove as much compost from the surface as you can, and replace with fresh.
Training and pruning fig trees
Outdoor figs can be fan-trained to help manage growth and create space and light for fruits to ripen.
Train against the wall on horizontal wires, tying in the stems to create a fan-shape. In early summer, pinch out half the growing tips on the main frame of the fan, to encourage growth lower down. Tie in the new shoots as they appear. In late winter, cut out any dead or crossing stems to keep the framework of the tree open.
Prune container-grown fig trees in a similar way, by removing dead and weak branches in late winter and new shoot tips in summer.
They’re also extremely vigorous, so require regular annual pruning to keep them in check. If your tree is growing too large for its space, you can prune it back hard – bear in mind that you will lose fruit for a time, however.
Do not prune fig trees in spring – it can cause them to bleed sap, which can weaken and even kill the tree. The sap of figs is an irritant, so wear gloves.
Watch Monty Don prune a fan-trained fig tree, in this clip from Gardeners’ World:
Most outdoor-grown figs are ready at the end of the summer. You can pick the fruits as they ripen through to the end of September. The fruits are ready when the stem bend and the fruits are hanging down – they may produce a drop of sugar at the bottom. The skin will be soft and almost squishy and may split when squeezed gently. Some varieties, such as ‘Madeleine des Deux Saisons’, fruit twice, in June and September.
The remaining tiny, embryo fruit towards the ends of the shoots will over-winter and will ripen the following autumn.
In this short excerpt from Gardeners’ World, Monty Don is harvesting figs. Even during a cold grey summer, there are plenty to choose from. Watch as he demonstrates how to tell when the figs are ripe and how to harvest them easily:
Figs are at their best when freshly picked and warmed by the sun. If you can resist temptation, the fruits can be dried in an airer or in an airing cupboard for a few weeks, for eating later on.
Growing figs: problem solving
Figs, like most fruit trees, are popular with birds and squirrels. They will demolish a crop if they have the opportunity, so use deterrents or cover your tree with net or fleece to protect it.
Wasps will be attracted to split fruit or windfalls, so pick fruits as soon as they are ripe and pick up any fallen fruits.
If your tree drops its fruit early, it could be a sign that your plant needs water.
A young tree may take a few years to bear fruit. There may be other causes too – watch our Quick Tips video to find out what causes figs to stop fruiting:
Advice for buying figs
- Figs ldo best in a sheltered, sunny spot, so check that you have the right place to grow your tree
- Check the ultimate size of the variety you are interested in. Smaller varieties and standards are available for smaller gardens
- You can buy figs at the garden centre, but for the best choice of varieties, visit a specialist fruit tree supplier or buy online
- If buying your tree in spring, check that your tree has plenty of dark green leaves and no signs of pests and diseases
Where to buy figs online
Fig varieties to try
- ‘Brown Turkey’ (‘Brown Naples’) RHS AGM – probably the most popular variety for outdoor growing in the UK, because it’s both prolific and reliable. Height x Spread: 3m x 4m
Buy Fig ‘Brown Turkey’from Thompson & Morgan
- ‘Brunswick’ – another hardy variety that will grow well outdoors in cooler parts of the UK. The large, sweet fruits have green skins and yellow and pink flesh, and ripen before ‘Brown Turkey’. H x S: 2m x 3.5m
Buy Fig ‘Brunswick’from Pomona Fruits
- ‘Violette de Bordeaux’ – a hardy fig variety found thriving in the gardens of the Palace of Versailles near Paris. The small purple/black fruits are sweet, fragrant and delicious. H x S: 3m x 4m
Buy Fig ‘Violette de Bordeaux’from Thompson & Morgan
- ‘Madeleine des Deux Saisons’ – the name of this heritage variety translates as ‘Madeleine of two seasons’ as it will produce two crops per season, in June and September, during hot UK summers. The fruits are round and sweet with sweet, delicate pink flesh. H x S: 3m x 4m
Buy Fig ‘Madeleleine des Deux Saisons’from Primrose
- ‘Dalmatie’ – a hardy, compact variety that’s perfect for smaller gardens. It produces large fruits with amber flesh. H x S: 2.5 x 2m
Buy Fig ‘Dalmatie’from Thompson & Morgan