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Figs are delicious, expensive and hard to transport – three excellent reasons to grow one in your garden. Linda Ross tells how it’s done.
Figs are adaptable so though their preference is for a climate with dry air, sunny summers and winter rains, they can be grown in most parts of Australia. Established trees will tolerate freezing winters and they will even put up with drought - though the fruit will drop. On the coast, heavy summer rain can cause the fruit to split - if rain threatens at harvest time get handy with a market umbrella to protect the fruit. Plant figs in full sun. They are not particularly fussy about soils, though in sandy soils they will need lots of water.
Left alone a fig will grow into a round-topped, spreading tree, up to six metres tall. Pruning will increase the harvest. Cut out any crossed branches and shape to a multi-trunked vase. Trim back runaway growth to keep the tree at a suitable size for harvesting without a ladder.
Figs set fruit on both new and old wood, depending on the variety. At the end of the growing season, small figs can be seen just as the leaves fall. They will swell up early in the next growing season. The new wood produces the main crop, which ripens later. Figs develop as the stem develops, so there is a continuous succession of fruit as the tree grows, giving an extended picking season.
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A feeding schedule bordering on neglect seems the best policy for maximising the fig harvest. My pot-grown fig is given controlled release fertiliser three times a year: in September, December and March. Ground-grown figs should be fed with fruit tree fertiliser and a liquid feed once a season.
Figs produce more fruit when root-bound so grow well in pots. Indeed some gardeners go as far as to construct figs in ‘fig pits' - square holes in the ground with walls of fibro or other old building materials to restrict root growth. Keep potted figs well watered, and prune hard each year. At the annual prune scrape away one-third of the soil from the top of the pot and replace with fresh potting mix.
White Adriatic: a large tree suited to warmer climates. Fruit is brown/green with deep-pink flesh and a wonderful flavour.
Black Genoa : a vigorous tree; large purple fruit has dark red, sweet flesh.
Brown Turkey: a hardy fig with purple/brown skin and pink sweet flesh.
White Genoa: yellow-green skin, amber flesh and a mild flavour. Grows well in cooler areas.
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- Deter birds by netting the whole tree, or using plastic snakes, owls or disco mirror balls as bird scarers.
- Hang a fruit fly lure.
- If high humidity causes fungus to attack the foliage spray with a fungicide.
- Spray EcoOil fortnightly for scale. Scrub bad infestations from stems with a toothbrush dipped in EcoOil.
- Harvest figs when the fruit develops full colour and a little softness. Fruit will be at its sweetest when it is just beginning to split. Eat immediately as the flavour fades in the fridge and figs don’t keep.
- One of the best times for propagating and planting figs is mid-winter, when they are dormant. They can be propagated easily from 30 -40 cm hardwood cuttings. These can be placed directly in the ground, buried halfway up the cutting.