The fig has been cultivated from time immemorial. It may well have originated in Western Asia, spreading to China where it was grown in the 14th century. The Romans grew at least 6 varieties and probably introduced the fruit to Britain during the occupation, together with the apple and the cherry. Figs were not planted to any real extent in British gardens until the 17th century. Then, as now, the dense shade cast by the foliage in summer was undoubtedly much appreciated. The flowers of the fig are contained in a hollow ‘vessel’ and never see the light, yet they develop perfectly and ripen their seeds. Other plants of which we eat the undeveloped flowers include globe artichokes, cauliflowers and pineapples.


Figs grow best on their roots either as bushes or as fan-shaped trees against south or south-west walls. Walls can be painted white or whitewashed to catch the reflected light.

Choose a sunny, well-drained position. Figs are perfectly hardy in the British Isles and even when cut back by severe winter frosts usually grow again from the roots. They are seldom damaged by late spring frosts. If planted in shade the crop will be smaller and the fruits less agreeable. Rich soil is detrimental as it encourages excessive growth at the expense of fruiting. No manure should be added when planting, but mortar rubble, lime or ground chalk may be incorporated.

Brickbats or stones are often mixed with the soil to restrict root growth, since this encourages fruiting. One well-known nurseryman recommends a floor of stone or concrete set 2 ft. below the roots. Potash in the form of bonfire ashes, wood ashes or sulphate of potash is always helpful. Plant wall trees 15—18 ft. apart, and bushes about the same distance. If the trees become very dry in summer, water thoroughly. June is the critical month when the fig must never be allowed to suffer from lack of moisture. Though figs produce 2 or 3 crops each year in warm countries, the only satisfactory outdoor crop in this country is that which develop in spring where the leaf joins the stem. Figs formed in summer and autumn rarely develop into worth-while fruits. Bearing in mind these factors, pruning should consist simply of removing overcrowded branches once the tree is established. The ends of the leaders may also be tipped. The best time is in spring when the buds start to break.

How to Pick Figs:

Figs must always be ripened on the tree. They should not be picked until they are dead ripe, otherwise they will be woolly and tasteless. Ripeness is evident when the side gives slightly as a result of pressure of the juice. It is advisable to peel the fruits before eating, as the taste of the skin is not very pleasant.


This is carried out in early autumn. Cuttings should be about 12 in. long and taken from well-ripened one-year-old wood. Before planting the cuttings in a sunny, sheltered (but not shady) spot, remove the bottom buds as with cuttings of red and white currants.

Choice of Varieties:

Brown Turkey, Brunswick and White Marseilles are probably the best varieties for outdoor cultivation.

Pests and Diseases:

The fig is comparatively free from pests. Scale insects and red spider may sometimes appear, but these can be controlled by a combined derris/oil emulsion during summer.

Canker. Symptoms: The fungus attacks the branches, usually entering through pruning wounds. Infected branches may ultimately die.

Treatment: Remove and burn all cankered branches, painting the wounds with white lead paint.

Grey Mould Die Back. Symptoms: The young shoots wilt and the fruits usually rot and fall off, though sometimes they dry up, become ‘mummied’ in much the same way as with brown rot on apples, plums etc., and remain on the tree throughout autumn and winter. The following spring, spores which cause further infection are produced.

Treatment: Remove and burn infected shoots and fruits immediately attacks are noticed.

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