Figs tend to bamboozle gardeners – they can become far too vigorous and also seem to produce a lot of fruit that never makes it into our mouths. Correct pruning can help tremendously – but first, it is vital to understand that not all the fruit on a fig tree will ripen in this country outside. Figs grown in a greenhouse can have a longer period of fruiting, thanks to the extended growing season that an environment under glass can provide.
The figs that we can eventually eat form on the plant during August and September of the previous year – so it’s important to bear this in mind during the spring prune. The small figs, known as embryonic figs, that eventually ripen for eating in summer are on the plant during the winter and are no bigger than your thumbnail. Larger fruit that is hard and unripe generally drops off in winter so just ignore it or pick it off.
When it comes to pruning, during the spring, say the end of March, remove any deadwood and thin congested areas. Remove those stems that grow away from the wall or make the bush look unbalanced if growing in a pot or border, as well as a percentage of the oldest growth in order to encourage fresh shoots and rejuvenate the plant. Remove tips of some of the younger shoots to encourage branching; this prevents all the fruit being at the top of the plant.
Figs are best grown on a south-facing wall with restricted roots to help encourage fruit (planting into a three-sided “box” of vertical paving slabs in the ground will do the job). Fruiting is also helped by tying in the shoots more horizontally to create a fan shape with an open centre. Whether you are growing a fig as a bush or as a fan, keep removing suckers from the base of the plant; these will take over and become dominant if allowed to develop.
When it comes to very overgrown figs that haven’t seen a pair of secateurs for many years, remove one-third of the plant each year to rejuvenate the tree gradually to prevent shock; you want to avoid ending up with an overwhelming amount of whippy new growth. ‘Brown Turkey’ is a great one to start with.