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(Species: Ficus carica - Family: Moraceae)
Fig and its origins
The common fig is an ancient deciduous shrub or tree and is prominently featured throughout both the Koran and the Bible, from the Garden of Eden onwards. It is the most widely planted fruit tree in grown in the Bible.
The fig grows wild throughout the Mediterranean and the Middle East and has also naturalised in parts of Europe.
The fig tree’s distinctive lobed leaves which appear comparatively late in spring and early summer are about the size of a hand. This fruit tree will not produce flower blooms, but they are concealed inside the fruit.
Figs can be green, brown or purple when ripe or even striped as in the variety Panachee. Brown Turkey is the most commonly grown variety that is tolerant of cooler climes, but it can also be grown in a greenhouse or conservatory; the fruits are brown, with sweet, deep pink flesh.
These fruit trees are perfect for use as decorative trees in the garden. They produce more fruit when contained and are an ideal choice for pots on the patio or in a courtyard. In the wild, fig is dependent on wasp pollination, but modern varieties can produce fruit without it.
Cultivars might be grown as a standard, with a protective cover of leaves; espaliered or fan-trained, single or multi-stemmed. The common fig can grow as tall as ten metres but cultivars are smaller and more garden-worthy.
How to plant a Fig tree
The best time to plant a fig tree is in spring. Look at where it grows in the wild to get a greater understanding of the best conditions for growth: poor, well-drained soil as well as rocky areas, inhospitable corners and in sunny climes. Plany a fig tree or bush next to a warm wall that faces the sun, or a warm, sheltered spot on the terrace, in a tub, which can be moved for winter under cover or into a greenhouse.
Its root system is aggressive, and if allowed to run free, will produce a large, leafy plant with few fruits, so when you plant one in the ground, dig deep and provide a base at least 20cm deep of bricks or rubble, and line the sides with paving slabs. Water well until established and through periods of drought too, as the roots are restricted.
In winter, unless the site is very warm, protect your fig tree by packing it with straw or similar and cover with horticultural fleece until late spring when it can be removed.
Figs in containers should be started off in a 25cm container, and potted on each year into a slightly larger container, ending with one approximately 45cm.
The fruits form at the tips of the branches, so to ensure a good crop the following year, cut back some of the other side shoots to a couple of buds in spring, to encourage more tips. They are ready to pick when the skin is soft, even splitting. A second embryonic crop of pea-sized figs appears in late summer, and if unaffected by cold winters, will ripen into fruits the following year. When all the fruit is harvested, pick off any that are un-ripened because these will not ripen or overwinter.
Prune the fig tree in summer, cutting back young shoots so that only five new leaves remain, to encourage new fruiting shoots.
Propagation of Figs
Take hardwood fig cuttings in midwinter, after leaves fall and before buds burst.
Choose healthy shoots from the current year, and remove the soft growth at the tip. Cut into pieces between 15-30cm, cutting at an angle above a bud at the top, to remind you which is the top end.
Cut straight across the bottom end, below a bud.
Insert several fig tree cuttings into a deep container of multipurpose compost mixed half and half with horticultural grit. Place the pots in a cold frame or greenhouse until the following autumn, and keep the compost moist.
Did you know?
Figs can live up to 200 years, so is often planted alongside the olive, another long-life tree. In ancient Greece, a fig tree, a vine and an olive tree, with a well of fresh water, were considered the riches of life, symbols of peace and plenty. Plato was named 'philosikos', which means 'lover of figs'.