Native to the Mediterranean, figs are easy to grow and ideal for planting in containers. Unlike most fruit trees, they are not too particular about soil conditions and will fruit in poor, shallow soil as long as it drains well.
How to Grow
Figs need a warm, sunny site and do best trained on a south- or southwest-facing wall, where they can be easily protected with nets and fabric from pests and frost. Figs fruit best with restricted roots, so plant in a “fig pit.” Plant bare root trees in the winter, and container-grown trees at any time if well watered. Figs set fruit in late summer; they will overwinter and ripen the following summer. Remove any figs bigger than peas in late fall, leaving only tiny embryo fruits at the tips to over-winter.
Picking and Storing
It’s time to pick the figs once they are fully colored, slightly soft, and the stalks start to bend. Look for drops of nectar appearing at the base of the fruit, but don’t pick too early. They won’t ripen further. Eat soon after picking; figs don’t keep well. Varieties to try include: ‘Brown Turkey’, ‘Rouge de Bordeaux’, ‘Brunswick’ and ‘White Marseilles’.
Pruning and Training
Whether trained against a wall or grown freestanding, figs should be pruned in the spring to remove old growth, and again in the summer to encourage the formation of fruitlets. Fig sap can irritate skin, so wear gloves when pruning trees.
To prune freestanding trees in spring, select long, old stems that only fruit at the tips and cut them back to within 2–3 inches (5–8 cm) of the trunk or branch. Remove congested growth from the center and any dead or diseased wood. Also cut back frost-damaged shoots to healthy growth. In summer, pinch off growing tips once they have five to six leaves to stimulate new fruit production. This will also let in the sun to ripen last year’s fruit.
To prune established, wall-trained trees in late spring, cut back old, unproductive main branches to one bud. Prune half of all sideshoots growing from the trunk and branches back to one bud. Remove any dead or diseased growth, any crossing branches, and any wayward shoots. Tie in new growth. In the summer, pinch off sideshoots once they have five to six leaves to encourage fruit formation. Tie in new growth to the wires.