Fresh figs are delicious, nectar rich treats, a real taste of sunny climes.
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, against a wall. They’re worth the effort, and the attractive foliage a good addition to the garden, too.
Discover how to grow figs with help from this guide.
Fig tree foliage and fruit
How to plant a fig tree
As with most trees, figs are best planted outdoors in the autumn, when the soil is warm. Only a few fig varieties are hardy enough for outdoor cultivation in the UK.
They need a sheltered, sunny spot, ideally against a brick wall so they can soak up the summer heat. Fig trees benefit from having their roots restricted. Ficus carica is native to Syria and Persia, and the idea is to trick the plant into thinking it is growing on a rocky hilltop in the eastern Mediterranean. This allows the tree to concentrate of making fruit, rather than growing leaves.
Dig a planting pit, fill it with well-composted manure and rubble, possibly lined with paving slabs too, to really restrict the roots. The same effect can be achieved by growing figs in containers.
Find out how to plant a fig tree in the ground.
Looking after fig trees
Figs produce small fruits in spring that’ll ripen over a hot summer. Fruitlets that appear in late summer can be left on the tree over winter to ripen into edible fruits the following year. When fruits start appearing, feed with a liquid tomato feed every couple of weeks.
In some areas, fig trees will need protection over winter. When the leaves have dropped, cover with horticultural fleece, or if your tree is fan-trained, packing straw around the branches will do the job. Move pot grown fig trees into a cool shed, or covered area.
In spring, remove the protection, give the tree a good feed and mulch with well composted manure.
For pot grown fig trees, move back outdoors when there’s no chance of any further frosts. Container figs should be repotted every two years.
Fig tree against a shed
Training and pruning a fig tree
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.
Watch Monty Don prune a fan-trained fig tree.
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. Look for soft, almost squishy skin, that may split when squeezed gently.
If you’re growing your fig in a greenhouse, you might get two crops during the summer months, with the previous year’s fruitlets ripening earlier.
Check out this video advice on how to tell when a fig is ripe.
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 for eating later on.
Preparation and uses of figs
Fresh figs are delicious on their own, but also make a great accompaniment to cheese. Take a look at some more ideas for eating figs, as suggested by our friends at Olive Magazine.
Figs ripening in the sun
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 net your tree to protect it.
A good mulch of well-composted manure at the base of the tree in spring will help to retain moisture and keep weeds at bay.
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
- ‘Brunswick’ – another hardy variety that will grow well outdoors in the UK. The sweet fruits have green skins and yellow and red flesh
- ‘White Marseilles’ – has large fruits and can be grown in containers and outdoors. It’ll crop twice a year in a greenhouse
- ‘Madeleine des Deux Saisons’ – a hardy heritage variety, with sweet, delicate pink flesh. It’ll produce two crops per season during hot UK summers
- ‘Osbourne Prolific’ – dark purple fruits, but can only be grown in a greenhouse in the UK