Growing Figs Against Walls

The fig is the least hardy of all the fruits grown outdoors in Britain and the northern States. It is at the limit of viability, and needs all the help it can get in the way of a sunny, sheltered, south-facing wall, if it is to produce and ripen its fruit. It does well in the south and west, but in the north it needs the protection of a conservatory or a lean-to greenhouse to produce ripe fruit. A poor soil is necessary to encourage the fig to produce fruit instead of masses of vegetation. A thin loam over chalk, or sand, is ideal.

In fertile or rich soil a planting hole must be provided, by digging out a 90-cm (3-ft) cube of soil, lining the hole with brick or rubble, and filling it with soil made poor by the addition of sand or lumps of chalk, or both, plus a little bone meal. Figs should be fan-trained, allowing a space 4.6 m (15 ft) high, and the same, or more, across – mature figs can spread 4.6m (15 ft) either side of the trunk. The varieties grown in Britain are all self-fertile. ‘Brown Turkey’ is the most popular: it is the hardiest, and gives a high yield of brown-red figs. ‘Brunswick’ is bigger, green and brown when ripe, and needs slightly better growing conditions. ‘White Marseilles’, which is later fruiting, is less suitable for wall training.

Growing Figs Against Walls

General care: Start with a two-year-old tree, planted in November. Set horizontal wires 37.5 cm (15 inches) apart on the wall and tie the fig to them, in a fan shape, as it grows up. Figs form their embryo fruits at the tips of the current year’s growth, so once they start producing, new wood must be encouraged by pruning away about a quarter of the old wood each November. At the same time remove any half-sized, unripe figs left on the branches: these will come to nothing. The following year’s figs are the tiny, bud-like embryos at the tips of the shoots. Water newly planted figs if the weather is dry, and give the ground a mulch. Mature fig trees also will need water in a dry summer to help the fruit to swell. Most people over-feed figs, resulting in lush vegetation, shoots with long intemodes, and no fruit. Feed only if they are showing dear signs of starvation by producing very short intemodal growth and failing to mature the fruit. Frost and cold can kill figs, especially young plants. In the north figs must be given protection, by covering the shoots and the embryo figs with straw, sacking or bracken as a matter of routine. The same must be done in the south in hard winters.

Propagation: By layering in the summer, separating a year later; or by striking semi-ripe cuttings in a 50-50 peat and sand mixture.

Pests and diseases: Figs appear to have no predators. Failure to water in a dry summer will cause the fruit to drop before they are ripe.

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