Fig Trees - Planting and Care Guide
The best variety of fig tree to go for is Ficus carica 'Brown Turkey', whose fruit ripen in late August, and have a reddish-brown skin, red flesh and a sweet flavour.
A fig tree will succeed best in a sheltered position in full sun. A south or south-west facing wall is ideal for growing and training a fan-shaped fig - use horizontal wires fixed to the wall 45cm (18in) apart. It is essential that the roots are contained and not allowed to spread. If left to its own devices, the tree will make vigorous growth at the expense of a good crop of fruit. There are two ways to restrict the root run.
Grow the tree in a 45cm (18in) diameter pot of soil-based compost. Keep the top of the soil 7cm-10cm (3in-4in) below the rim of the pot to allow an annual spring top-up with compost, as well as to facilitate watering and feeding.
Either plunge the pot into the soil against the wall or keep it above ground. That way, you have the advantage of being able to move it to a sheltered spot during severe weather. Alternatively, plant into the soil at the base of the wall where the root run is restricted to a planting pit that is 60cm by 60cm (2ft by 2ft) and 60cm (2ft) deep. Dig the hole directly in front of the wall, bearing in mind that it involves a lot of digging and several barrow-loads of soil. Line the three open sides of the hole with 60cm (2ft) square concrete paving slabs stood upright, so, with the wall, they form a 60cm (2ft) square box. Add 15cm (6in) of broken bricks or clean stone to the base of the hole for drainage. Fill the pot or planting hole with soil-based compost or sterilised topsoil with a layer of well-rotted farmyard manure or compost in the base, and plant the fig at the same depth as previously grown. With the roots of the fig confined to a small area it will be essential to water the tree, especially during summer when the fruit is swelling and remember to net the tree early, to prevent birds stealing the crop. The figs are ready to pick when the fruit droops on its stalk and the skin is well coloured. If the skin cracks open it is fully ripe and you may notice a drop of nectar.
Prune established trees in June, shortening all the side shoots back to five leaves from the main framework of branches. In September, remove any fruit larger than small pea size. The remaining tiny, embryo fruit towards the ends of the shoots will over-winter and, providing they have protection from icy blasts, will ripen the following year.
Prune the tree in late spring, removing shoots and buds that are pointing inwards, as well as those pointing directly out from the wall, and any growths damaged by late frost. Remove debris and pruning, and apply a 10cm (4in) deep layer of farmyard manure over the root area.
When the fruit starts to swell apply a high-potash liquid feed such as tomato fertiliser weekly.