up to 50 fruits per tree in a warm summer
Fresh figs are delicious, sweet 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, such as against a wall. Figs are well worth the effort to grow, and their attractive foliage makes a great addition to the garden, too.
Only a few fig varieties are hardy enough for outdoor cultivation in the UK. Choose varieties like ‘Brown Turkey’ and ‘Brunswick’, both hardy varieties bred to thrive in the British climate.
How to grow figs
Fig trees are native to Syria and Persia, and the idea is to trick them into thinking they are growing on a rocky hilltop in the eastern Mediterranean. Grow figs in a warm, sheltered spot in full sun. It’s thought that figs do best when their roots are slightly restricted, so plant them in pots or use rubble or submerged paving slabs to restrict root growth when grown 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.
More on growing figs:
Find out how to grow figs in our detailed Grow Guide, below.
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
If growing your fig 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. Water well.
Alternatively, plant your fig in a pot, which will have the same effect of restricting root growth.
Caring for fig trees
Figs produce small fruits in spring that 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 protecting over winter. 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 years.
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.
Watch Monty Don prune a fan-trained fig tree, in this clip from Gardeners’ World:
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.
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 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.
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 net your tree to protect it.
Watch our Quick Tips video to find out what causes fogs to stop fruiting:
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