Looking After Fig Trees
Figs require little watering until growth starts in the spring, but give them a good soaking then, especially if the spring is a dry one. Thereafter, until the fruit begins to ripen, water heavily, about every four days in dry, hot weather or if theis a shallow one; otherwise, once a week will be sufficient. However, once the fruit begins to colour, gradually decrease the frequency with which you water, although you should not let the soil dry out. It is important that you give sufficient to maintain growth. After harvesting you can stop watering them altogether.
Fertilizing and mulching
In the second and following years, feed the tree with a good, balanced compound fertilizer at the rate of 60 g per sq m (2 oz per sq yd) over the area to which the roots extend. Apply this in late winter or early spring. If you have a particularly well-drained soil, you should also add a second dressing in early autumn.
Put down a mulch of well-rotted manure, garden, or moist peat in late spring to help retain moisture. It can alternatively be put on in early autumn after the second fertilizer dressing (if added) and the remains of it lightly forked in at the end of the winter.
In their natural habitat, in warm Mediterranean-type climates, the fig produces two or even three crops per year. Outdoors in temperate climates, however, you will only get one. A second crop begins to form but does not get time to ripen.
The fruit is borne at the tips of the shoots on one-or two-year-old wood. If you look at a shoot in the autumn, you will see large fruits on the two-year-old wood at the base of the tip (these are the season’s crop and should be left).
Beyond these are smaller, slightly developed fruits on the one-year-old wood, and beyond that tiny embryo fruits, hardly recognizable as figs at all. These embryo fruits are the next year’s crop and should also be left. The slightly developed fruit on the one-year-old wood, however, which would have produced another crop in warmer climates, will never develop to maturity outdoors in temperate climates. Instead they will be killed by the winter frosts and should be removed in the autumn. Their removal stimulates the production of embryo fruits which can survive the winter to form next year’s crop.
Harvesting and storing
The best-flavoured figs are allowed to ripen on the tree. When they are fully ripe they droop and crack slightly, producing a small drop of moisture at the ‘eye’ at the base of the fruit opposite the stalk.
Pick them carefully—a ripe fig is thin-skinned and delicate. Try to handle only the stalk to avoid bruising.
Figs are most delicious when eaten immediately after picking but, if your tree produces too many for you to cope with all at once, you can preserve them in syrup. Skin them first, if you prefer, then bottle them in syrup to which a teaspoon of citric acid per litre (2 pts) has been added.
Protecting against frost
Although figs can withstand quite severe frosts while they are dormant during the winter, if the temperature falls quickly the young shoots, and the embryo fruit buds in particular, may be damaged. To protect them, intertwine straw or boughs of spruce or bracken between the fig branches in early winter, removing them when frost danger has passed in early spring. Intertwining with spruce boughs is probably the best method. The spruce needles gradually fall during the winter, increasing the exposure of the fig as the spring progresses.
Alternatively, you can take the tree down from the training wires, if it is fan-trained, and lay it on the ground in the early winter. It can then be covered with straw or sacking. Pot-grown trees, of course, can be brought indoors during the winter.