How to care for fig trees

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How to care for fig trees
You can train a fig tree to grow along a wall or fence. (gpagomenos/iStock/Getty Images)

Fig trees are one of the easiest fruit trees for gardeners to grow. Figs thrive in sunny, sheltered gardens or in containers placed in a conservatory or greenhouse. One fig tree can produce enough figs for a family of four. Figs are self-fertile, meaning you only need one fig to produce fruit. Choose dwarf figs for container cultivation. If you have a small garden plant a fig tree along a wall or fence. Once established, fig trees need very little care other than continued watering and winter protection.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Shovel
  • Compost
  • Organic mulch
  • Pruning shears or secateurs
  • 8-8-8 commercial fertiliser or balanced fruit tree fertiliser
  • Polyester tree blanket or burlap
  • Container
  • Horticultural sand
  • General purpose potting soil
  • Broken clay pots, gravel or small stones

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    Garden fig trees

  1. 1

    Plant fig trees in late winter or early spring while the tree is still dormant. Choose a spot in full sun (fig fruit needs exposure to full sun to ripen) with well-drained fertile soil. Plant fig trees on the south side of buildings or fences. Space fig trees 4.5 to 6 metres (15 to 20 feet) apart and fig bushes 3 metres (10 feet) apart.

  2. 2

    Mulch your fig tree with 7.5 to 10 cm (3 to 4 inches) of organic mulch. Shredded bark, wood chips or well rotted manure all work well. Pull mulch 5 cm to 7.5 cm (2 to 3 inches) away from the trunk of the fig tree to prevent damage and spread to the drip line (the place where the tips of the branches reach). Replace or refresh mulch every autumn.

  3. 3

    Prune your fig trees every year for its first three years. Pruning takes place in autumn after harvest except for the removal of winter killed branches which takes place in spring after fig leaves emerge. Remove broken, dead or diseased branches. Remove branches that are growing into the centre of the tree. Prune to establish the shape you want the mature fig tree to take.

  4. 4

    Prune fig trees older than three years to remove broken, dead or diseased branches. If your fig tree has stopped producing fruit you can shorten the lateral branches by a third in mid autumn or early spring. Doing this may disrupt fruit production until the following year depending on the cultivar.

  5. 5

    Fertilise fig trees in spring but only if branches did not grow more than 30 cm (1 foot) the previous year. Use either a balanced commercial or organic fruit tree fertiliser, applying according to package directions, or use an 8-8-8 commercial fertiliser applying 450 g (1 lb) for each year the tree has been planted up to 5.4 kg (12 lb) in one year.

  6. 6

    Water your fig tree during the growing season (March to September). Keep the soil moist -- allow the top 7.5 to 12.5 cm (3 to 5 inches) to dry slightly before watering again. Your fig will need 5 to 7.5 cm (2 to 3 inches) of water a week.

  7. 7

    Allow fruit to ripen on the tree for more tasty fruit. Pick fruit while it is still hard and ripen it indoors to prevent early frosts from damaging the fruit.

  8. 8

    Protect your fig tree from cold winter temperatures by wrapping it in a polyester tree blanket or several layers of burlap.

  9. 9

    Wrap the tree as soon as it drops all of its leaves in autumn. Unwrap your tree after all threat of frost has passed in the spring.

    Potted fig trees

  1. 1

    Select a dwarf fig variety for container cultivation. Choose a decorative container (lighter coloured ones work best as they reflect sunlight keeping the roots cool) twice as large as the root ball. You will need to repot your fig every three years.

  2. 2

    Place your fig tree will it will receive eight to 12 hours of full sun a day. If you will be keep the container outdoors during the summer place the container so the container and soil is shaded while the fig tree receives full sunlight. The container needs to be shaded or covered to prevent the fig tree's roots from "cooking."

  3. 3

    Fertilise your fig tree once a month during the growing season (April to September) with a commercial or organic fertiliser formulated for fruit trees.

  4. 4

    Water your fig tree when the top 5 to10 cm (2 to 4 inches) of soil has dried slightly, usually every two to three days. Do not allow your fig tree's soil to dry out completely. Doing so will cause the tree's leaves to yellow and drop.

  5. 5

    Prune your fig tree in autumn after harvest. Remove crossing branches, branches growing into the interior of the crown and broken, diseased or dying branches. Prune your container fig to maintain its health and shape. You may not have to prune every year.

Tips and warnings

  • Fig trees can survive unwrapped down to -12 degrees C (10F). Colder temperatures will cause unprotected trees to die back to their crown.
  • If you don't have enough room in your house to overwinter a potted fig, allow it to go dormant in the autumn and store in a garage or outbuilding where temperatures will not fall below -12 degrees C (10F).
  • Giving your fig tree too much nitrogen will encourage growth, give you fewer fruit and cause the fruit to be smaller, harder to ripen, and lowers the quality and taste.
  • Figs have exuberant root systems. Plant them so that their roots will not interfere with underground pipes, irrigation systems and wires or creep into planting beds and gardens.
  • Sap produced from the tree at the point fruit is removed can cause rashes in some people. Wear gloves and long sleeved shirts or jackets while harvesting.

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