How to Prune Figs

Fig ficus carica

One of the most common questions I'm asked when helping people out with their gardens is 'How do I prune the.........(insert plant)?' Pruning seems to be a subject which mystifies alot of folk, who are naturally often scared of doing the wrong thing and killing off their pride and joy. It would be disheartening to say the least to have nurtured a plant all season only to murder it with the secateurs.

 I thought I'd publish a series of articles on how to prune various common plants.  Recently, I've had a few people aske me hoe to prune figs, and I wonder if these delcicious fruits are becoming more popular to grow.

Fig varieties

 First choose your fig plant from a reputable nursery.  A decent plant will probably cost you around £20, so you want to make sure it's disease free, and a good nursery should provide disease free plants.

The fig species is ficus carica, and there are more than 40 varieties to choose from.  Probably the most popular is ficus carica Brown Turkey, which has large, brown fruits and is a heavy cropper, and thus gives more bang for your buck.  Brunswick is another good variety with large fruits and I think if you're new to growing figs it's a good idea to start with an easy, reliable one.

Cultivation

Figs are easy to grow, but to get a good crop you need to be a little unkind to your plant. Figs like soil which is not too rich, on the chalky side and are traditionally grown with their roots restricted. If they have rich soil and unrestricted roots, the plant will make alot of leaf growth at the expense of fruit, so you will have a poor crop, and it's the fruit your growing them for, however pretty the leaves are. Figs also like a sunny spot and a bit of extra warmth.

There are several ways to restrict the growth of your fig. You could try sinking a large container into the soil, such as a tub or a man-made sack, or maybe the drum from a tumble drier, although I have used mine to make a fire basket. Possibly the easiet way to grow fig plants is to buy a large container and put them in that.

Whatever method of root restriction you use, the plant should be grown against a sunny wall or fence, as then they will have a little extra heat radiated from that surface.

I bought myself a new fig this year, a ficus carica ?, from the bargin bin at my local garden centre, Jack's Patch. It cost a fiver and I have no idea what variety it is. It's still a baby, so will need to grow on for a few years before making any fruit.

 When you buy your fig plant, especially if it is the autumn, or winter, it may well have tiny fruits on it.  Don't be tempted to keep them in the hope that they will be next year's crop - they won't.  Rub off all fruits that are bigger than 2mm.  If you leave them they will sap all of the plant's strength, will not ripen into fruit and will inhibit the spring crop from forming.

How to Prune Figs

The time to prune a fig is in the late winter, just before the plant begins to start growing, so around late February. Only the mature, brown wood will fruit, so it's important to prune off all the green sappy growth, so that you're left with sturdy, jointed wood. It's important to use some decent, sharp secatuers.

Harvesting

 Figs are ready to harvest from midsummer.  Give them a gently squeeze and see which ones are soft, then gently twist them from the tree.  Some people like to eat fisg straight from the tree, warmed by the sun, but I like to keep mine on the kitchen windowsill for a couple of days to ensure they're really sweet and juicy.

Figs aren't just good to eat as a pud, why not try eating them in salads, for example: put some figs in an oven dish with lardons of bacon and some mild goat's cheese (such as Vulscombe farm), then when the whole is looking brown and syrupy, pour over a mixed leaf salad and enjoy with some crusty bread. 

Recipe Idea

Figs aren't just good to eat as a pud, why not try eating them in salads. 

For example: put some figs in an oven dish with lardons of bacon and some mild goat's cheese (such as Vulscombe farm), then when the whole is looking brown and syrupy, pour over a mixed leaf salad and enjoy with some crusty bread.  Delicious!

 

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