What to Do With your Fig Tree!

When we moved to our Devon house, although beautiful and clearly at one time very well cared for, the garden was overgrown and neglected. Hacking our way through the undergrowth we eventually reached the far end of the garden where, to our great delight, we discovered we were now the proud owners of a (totally out of control – and nearly uncontrollable!) fig tree.

Of course, the fig is one of the oldest fruits known to man, and its leaves formed his first clothing – think Adam and Eve here! It’s actually a native of western Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean, although it has been transported and naturalised much further afield, in particular a garden in south Devon!

As usual, I rushed straight off to the library to discover all I could about our triffid-like specimen and found some interesting snippets about the history of figs. Did you know that fig seeds are commonly found on old Roman sites in Southern England? Historians agree however, that the fig almost certainly disappeared from Emglish shores during the Dark Ages, but were reintroduced in the 16th century, the first being planted by Cardinal Pole in the garden of the Archbishop’s Palace at Lambeth in 1525.

The fig is hardy in southern England, and is traditionally said to do best when grown within sight of the sea to take advantage of the mild maritime climate. Given that we have banana trees just along the coast in Salcombe, then this does seem to make sense.

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My book then went on to tell me that the fig is a very vigorous tree. Hmm, think I’d already realised that. It was important that I got to grips with this though as excessive vegatative growth is at the expense of fruiting. Help!! Figs were traditionally grown in a brick box with a free-draining base that restricted the plant’s root run and stimulated fruiting. Outdoor trees apparently were normally trained into a fan or espalier against a south wall. Well, our tree was against a south wall, but no sign of any earlier training or indeed a brick box remained. I gathered from friends that we were unlikely to achieve ripe figs in this country, so wasn’t too concerned as I think the foliage is wonderful anyway. Nevertheless, I read on ….

Figs in England produce two crops a year, but unless grown under glass, only one crop will ripen. The successful crop starts as an embryonic fruit produced in the late summer of the previous year, near the tips of the current season’s growth and are pea-sized (and coloured). If they do survive the winter they will swell rapidly in late spring and be ripe between July and September.

Any fruit produced in the spring will not ripen unless we experience a particularly warm and sunny summer. The book recommended removing them in late summer to concentrate the tree’s energy into producing the following year’s fruit. To produce short, strong shoots with embryonic fruits at their tips ready for next summmer, then the tips of young shoots should be pinched out when they’ve made 4 or 5 leaves, ie by early June. (Huh, right, first locate them in the tangle). Old fruiting stems should be cut back to one or two leaves after fruiting. Tie in new extension growth and remove surplus shoots back to their bases. Tidy up the tree in late April and as the tree matures, remove a proportion of the old branches each year.

Well, this seemed quite complicated for fruit that may or may not ripen, so we decided to simply give our tree a good tidy up. When revealed, its trunk proved to be the ideal strength and thickness for Mike’s hammock rope, with the other end attached to a handy apple tree. Now he snoozes all summer long with a glass of cool lemonade (or something stronger) close to hand. He’s not troubled by falling figs (they never ripen), but is often disturbed by an elderly mongrel struggling to clamber in on top of him. It’s quite a sight to come across them both snoring gently with Polly, our giant black Newfoundland dog, stretched out in bliss on the grass by their side.

Happy pruning everyone!

Ellie Dixon lives in deepest rural Devon, England in an old farmouse with husband Mike, and an assortment of other animals! She is passionate about vintage illustrated children’s books and loves to restore and edit them for today’s kids to rediscover.


Visit Kids of Character“, a unique range of beautiful illustrated books and fun activities all designed to help parents grow responsible, trustworthy kids of good character, or for even more great books visit Scruffy’s Bookshop, Ellie’s main website.

Article from articlesbase.com

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