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Figs in the north: would you Adam and Eve it?

Another impulse, bargain buy to join the motley crew – fig Brown Turkey, the go-to variety for Britain, now known as the ’emo fig’ as it looks miserable and sulks. It can be grown indoors or out but I’m not taking any chances.

To grow figs successfully outdoors in our climate, they need to be planted against a sunny wall and have winter protection.

Oddly, fruits develop without flowers (they are inside the fruitlets) or, in Britain, pollination, so you can get a crop with a single plant.

In spring, apply a general-purpose granular feed and mulch around the base of fan-trained plants, with well-rotted organic matter. Soil should be moisture retentive and free draining.

Once the figs appear, apply liquid tomato fertiliser every two to three weeks, until they start to ripen. Water well during summer.

Figs like to have their roots cramped, which is why they do so well in containers (mine’s in an old coal scuttle).

If you have one planted in a bed, dig around the outside of the root ball every couple of years with a spade to constrain it.

Winter protection outdoors: for fan-trained figs, after leaf fall, pack the plant with straw, bracken, or bubble wrap and cover with horticultural fleece. Remove the insulation in May.

Harvesting figs

Emo fig reluctantly breaking dormancy as it wishes it was dead

Figs grown in an unheated greenhouse usually produce two crops, but those growing outdoors crop once.

Fruit is ready when the skin is soft, sometimes sugary liquid is secreted from the ‘eye’ at the base. They split when squeezed.

Figs can produce fruitlets in late summer and spring or summer – only the tiny pea-sized fruitlets produced in late summer survive winter and are advanced enough to flower the following summer.

Fruitlets produced in spring may ripen in greenhouses.

Remove larger fruits that are not mature enough to ripen at the end of the season, leaving the tiny embryo fruits at the shoot tips.

Suitable varieties:

  • Brown Turkey
  • Brunswick
  • White Marseilles
  • Osbourne Prolific (greenhouse)
  • Rouge de Bordeaux (greenhouse)

Pruning and training figs

Emo fig sulks outside on the chair during clear-out in October

Train figs on walls outdoors or in the greenhouse against horizontal wires 30cm (12in) apart or hang 15cm (6in) netting 30cm (12in) away from the glass. The sap is an irritant, so be careful.

Wearing protective gloves, start pruning from the bottom of the plant and work upwards.

Fan-trained figs: Allow enough space to train the fig as a fan. The height and spread can be up to 2m (6.5ft) x 3-3.5m (10-12ft) wide.

In June, pinch out the growing tip of every other young shoot on the main framework to encourage lower, bushier growth. As shoots develop, tie them into the wires.

Container figs: In late March, cut out dead stems and weak branches before growth starts. In mid-June, remove the shoot tips from new growth, leaving four to five leaves.

Restricting root growth encourages fruiting. Either dig out a planting pit lined with slabs, use a root restricting bag, or grow figs in containers on the patio.

For figs in containers, plant in March-April into a pot one size larger than the original. Start them off in 30cm (1ft) pots and re-pot every two years using John Innes No 3 in a pot about 5cm (2in) larger. Leave a gap of at least 2.5 cm (1in) between the soil and the rim of the pot, to allow for watering.