Fresh, roasted, dried, stewed or preserved, figs are delicious. There are a range of varieties including brown turkey, black genoa and preston prolific but the most common type is the adriatic fig or symrna fig. They are available to buy from late summer, but can be expensive and are not always top quality. Luckily, growing fig trees is easy!
Here’s our expert guide on how to grow a fig tree.
When to plant fig trees
The perfect time to plant is during the autumn and winter, so the trees can establish themselves while it’s cold.
You can buy figs as bare-rooted stock or in pots at the nursery.
They will tolerate a wide range of climates, but fruit best in areas with a relatively dry summer and little to no frost during winter. Young trees are susceptible to frost and should be protected during their first and second winters. However, once established, fig trees are frost hardy.
Plant in full sun, in a spot protected from strong winds.
Fig trees will grow in almost any type of soil, but it must be well-draining for best results. Before you plant, you should enrich the soil with compost and manure, which will encourage strong and healthy growth. If growing your tree in a pot, use a good-quality potting mix such as Yates Premium Potting Mix.
You don’t need a large garden to grow figs. They’ll happily grow in small spaces, such as a pot or small, contained garden bed. This restricts the spread of their roots, which most plants don’t like, but it encourages fig trees to be more fruitful as well as limiting their size. Fig trees are small, reaching a height of 6 metres, with a 5 to 6 metre spread.
“Figs can also be trained to grow horizontally across a wall taking up very little room at all,” Angie says. “This can help make the most of a bare spot and even camouflage a less than attractive fence.”
Dig a generous-sized planting hole for the tree, twice as wide as the root ball and a little deeper. If your soil is strongly acidic (below pH 6), add a little lime to the soil as you backfill. Water the new tree thoroughly, spread a layer of organic mulch over the surface and water again.
To ensure your crops survive, you can cover the tree with netting, as birds are quick to swoop in on the sweet fruit.
Make sure young plants are well watered, especially during hot, dry periods. A general rule is 2.5 to 4 centimetres of water per week either from rainfall or irrigation. If you have noticed the leaves of your fig tree turning yellow and dropping it's likely you're overwatering.
Caring for fig trees is fairly simple with little work required. In spring, apply a complete slow-release fertiliser such as Osmocote Plus Trace Elements Fruit, Citrus, Trees & Shrubs. During the growing season, you can also feed with a high- potassium fertiliser, like Yates Thrive Soluble Flower & Fruit, to promote fruit production.
Fig season in Australia is late summer. For juicy, sweet figs, let them ripen on the tree as unlike many other fruits, figs will not continue to ripen after they are picked. You can tell when it’s time to pick a fig as the fruit necks wilt, the figs hang down and they come away from the tree with ease. Each type of fig becomes a different colour when ripe, ranging from green to dark brown. Once you know your variety you will know what to look out for. No matter what variety you grow, wear gloves when harvesting, as the sap in the stems can be a skin irritant.
You can expect to start harvesting your figs around 2–3 years after planting and most varieties produce two crops a year.
“Prune a fig tree in winter by cutting off any dead branches, if the centre part of the tree looks like it has become congested also remove a few inside branches,” Angie says. “Old fig trees can be given a more thorough prune by removing half the length of each branch, which will encourage fresh new growth.”
Want to increase your harvest? Fortunately, figs can be easily grown from a cutting.
“For the best results I recommend using cutting taken during the winter months,” Angie says.
Fig Rust, leaf blight, mosaic virus and endosepsis are the main diseases seen in figs. Stem borer, mealy bugs, fruit fly, aphids and scale can also affect fig trees.
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