How to Grow Figs
Figs grow on their own roots without the need for a rootstock and can be propagated either from heeledor by . Take cuttings in early spring. They should be short jointed, about 23 cm (9”) long, and have been taken from shoots formed during the previous growing season. Insert about half the cutting into a peat/sand mixture, preferably with bottom heat. Fig cuttings root quite readily and you should be able to pot them on in early summer. Dig them up with as much root as possible and pot them into 15 cm (6”) pots, and plant out in early summer.
Figs are probably more easily propagated by layering. Take a strong, young shoot, and peg it down to thewith the tip turned upwards. Then put a notch in the stem where it touches the ground. There should be a bud or leaf- joint opposite the notch, on the upper side of the stem. This notch stops the flow of sap and it is here that the roots will form.
The layers should have rooted sufficiently by the autumn for them to be severe-½ and planted out separately from the parent tree.
Figs make excellent pot trees because the pot effectively restricts the roots. Obviously only a smallish tree, say up to 1.5 m (5’), can be produced in a pot, but if treated well it should produce a moderately heavy crop.
Use a 25-30 cm (10-12”) pot and a fairly rich potting. You can use a rich compost as the roots are so confined in a pot. Fill the bottom with broken crocks to a depth of 4 cm, half-fill the pot with compost, and then spread the roots out inside, using the handle of a trowel to firm the compost between the roots as you slowly 3 fill the pot up.
Prune the tree in the same way as you would bush figs grown in the soil, but in addition pinch out the growing tip of the shoots after they have developed six to eight leaves in the early autumn. This will ensure that the new wood ripens properly before the tree becomes dormant. Unripened wood is more likely to be damaged by frost.
As the roots of pot-grown trees are so confined they should be watered a little more frequently than soil-grown trees. You may need to give them a little additional food as well. If the crop is large, or if the tree has been watered heavily and fertilizer is likely to have been leached away, give an extra dressing of fertilizer in early summer as well as the one given in the spring. For this second dressing, use a good balanced fertilizer at a rate of 30 g (1 oz) per pot with a second application three weeks later. Alternatively, you can just add extra compost. Put the compost around the edge of the pot but not next to the tree trunk, so that the trunk lies in a small depression.
If you have a greenhouse with artificial heating, you should be able to get two crops per year. (With a lot of heat and care it is possible to get three crops but the effort is hardly worthwhile; while in an unheated greenhouse you will probably only manage one). The first crop, obtained from the embryo buds produced in the autumn, should be ready for picking in early summer; the second crop, produced from the small fruits which are disbudded outdoors, should be ready in early to mid-autumn.
Start the plants growing in late winter. Heat up the greenhouse, not letting the temperature fall below 10°C (50°F), water the plants and damp down to keep the greenhouse humid. Once the leaves have started to unfold syringe them daily until they are fully open.
Figs like it hot—up to 33°C (91°F)— so although the greenhouse should not be allowed to become muggy, only fully open the ventilators in the hottest days in mid-summer and then close them down again before dusk to retain warmth for the night.
As far as pruning is concerned, treat greenhouse figs in the same way as outdoor figs, although you should not disbud them in the autumn. You should also water more frequently— twice daily watering may be necessary in hot weather—but reduce your watering to half while the first crop is ripening. In addition, as the tree is producing more fruit than an outdoor fig, you should give it more food. Top-dress with garden compost or rotted manure in early spring and feed weekly with liquid manure once the fruit has begun to swell. Finally keep the soil moist through the winter.
To get the best crops, you should reduce your watering and feeding while the fruit is ripening; but remember that while the first crop is maturing, the second is still only in the embryo stage. When the fruit begins to change colour, indicating that it is ripening, reduce watering but do not let the soil dry out. Stop feeding altogether. Then resume normal feeding and watering as soon as the first crop has been picked. Finally, once again, reduce watering and stop feeding when the second crop begins to mature.
Exhibit figs when they are fully ripe. Six fruits are the usual number and you should aim for large, uniform, well-coloured fruits with an undamaged bloom. To ensure this, handle them only by the stalk when picking, and transport them carefully, protecting them with tissue paper. Splitting, however, is a sign of ripeness and is not a fault.
Pick the figs as late as possible before the show. When you get there, place them neatly on a plate or in a basket. They look particularly attractive if they are displayed on a bed of their own leaves in a basket.
Pests and Diseases Affecting Fig Trees
Although figs suffer from some of the common fruit tree troubles, they are generally pest and disease free. Frost damage is a far greater problem. Scale insects: this is the most common fig pest. The small brown insects, which are about 2 mm (3/8”) long, suck the sap from the bark and leaves; they are usually to be found on the under surface of the latter, close to the main vein. Scale insects are often also associated with a black, sooty mould which grows on the sticky substance (honeydew) which the insects secrete. As soon as they are seen, spray the tree thoroughly with malathion; repeating perhaps twice more at 10 day intervals.
Red spider mite: speckled, yellow or grey/green leaves, sometimes with fine webbing on their undersides, are a symptom of the attack of this common pest. With a hand lens you can see the small, pale red insects on the undersides of the leaves. In severe cases the leaves wither and fall. Red spider mites are more of a problem in dry, hot weather and they dislike damp conditions. To prevent their appearance, spray the tree with water daily, especially in dry weather.
Mealy bug: mealy bugs feed in a similar way to red spider mites. They are small bug-like insects which are coated with a white or grey, somewhat fluffy substance and live on the bark and leaves, sucking the sap of the plant. The best cure is to spray the plant with derris; but use a wetting agent or the spray will not be able to penetrate the fluff of the insect, as this has a waxy coating.
Coral spot: this fungus enters the tree through wounds and, having done so, can then kill whole branches. It is easily recognized by the cushion-like mass of pinkish or reddish spores, but you will not see thesse until it is too late, after the branch is dead. Prevention is therefore better than cure. Cut out all dead wood every year and paint all wounds over 1.5 cm diameter with a proprietary wound sealing paint.
Canker: another disease which enters the tree through untreated wounds is canker. It is most common in humid, airless greenhouses. The bark cracks and peels away, leaving deep gnarled wounds. In serious cases the branches may die. Pare off all diseased bark and, if badly damaged, cut completely back to healthy growth. Dress all wounds with a proprietary wound sealing paint.
Mosaic: fig mosaic virus appears as yellow-green specks anywhere on the leaf surfaces or as pale green spots or bands near large leaf veins. Nevertheless, the leaves are never deformed and in cold temperate regions the disease is not serious.