Urban Gardening Project: Tips For Growing Figs In London
Figs have to be one of my top three favourite fruits. Every time we visit the Mediterranean in the summer, I always actively seek the freshest figs I can find! Most of the time, these just so happen to be on a tree outside the place I’m staying in; it’s such a treat!
I’ve often heard about people trying to grow figs in England, but almost all of the people I know who have tried have had little-to-no luck. My mother’s garden is overrun with brambles, so her fig trees are sadly covered by brambles and weeds - they don’t stand a chance. My friend’s parents have a beautiful tree in their garden but there’s a lot of shade, so the figs never really ripen properly. My neighbour has a fig tree hanging over his property, but doesn’t tend to the tree, and it’s a mix of green tips and small sized fruits - which I’ve never seen ripen. So, can figs be grown properly in the UK? Absolutely!
The important thing to remember here that location is key! Figs are warm-climate fruits. The thrive in hot conditions, and don’t do too well in cooler, wet and muggy summers ( similar to London’s climate). However, there are a few things you can do to put the odds back in your favour. Below are some photos of figs we’ve grown this season (2019).
Below: DT Brown’s ‘Brown Turkey’, a great all-rounder for a British climate. The green fig on the far right wasn’t grown by us - I brought it home and compared it with ours.
If you have a shady garden, figs probably aren’t going to grow well. If you have a north-facing small plot, your figs might not do well, as they need sun and warmth.
One way to combat the warmth is to plant them in a south-facing garden, where they’ll get sun all-day, in addition to this, planting them up against a wall means the heat bounces off the brickwork and onto your plant, creating a micro-climate that will really help develop and ripen your fruit.
We live in London and have a small garden, with an even smaller front garden (that receives a lot more sun than the back). In the gardens, we grow three types of figs.
Rouge De Bordeaux - gifted to us by my father-in-law. Although the tree is only 5ft, it’s around 15 years old (!) as it was sat in a pot in a shady corner of my father-in-law’s garden.
This year, Brown Turkey gave us some figs in August; I expect we’ll get more in September. The figs are large and juicy. These weren’t grown against a wall, as they were on an shelf to elevate them out of the fence’s shadow. This particular tree received 8+ hours of sunlight in the late spring and summer. It’s very hardy and a very solid option to start with if looking to grow figs in the UK.
The Panachee, unfortunately, hasn’t given us any fruit yet. However, it has grown so well this summer - with thanks to the automated watering system that we set up in the winter! We’re excited to see what the fruit will look like, as we know it has white and green stripes!
The Rouge De Bordeaux tree is in the front garden in a very sunny spot. Heat bounces from the wall and it’s our only tree in the ground. In 2018, we had a bumper first crop - the first time the tree has ever fruited! The figs were much smaller than Brown Turkey, red inside with a delicious sweetness. This tree has cropped very heavily. This year, our 5 foot single-stemmed tree will give us 50+ fruits - providing the sun continues shining.
Tips For Successfully Growing Figs In London
Pick the right location. A south- or west-facing wall is ideal. Use the buildings of an urban environment to your favour.
Keep your fig in a pot. This is really important with growing figs, as root restriction tells the plant to put out fruit for reproduction. Many people make the mistake of putting their fig in the ground (like us) and watching it grow and grow and grow without ever providing fruit. We were lucky enough that the plant was already 15 years old before we put it in the ground! We are seriously considering putting it in a pot again though as we don’t want it to grow too bushy.
Don’t worry too much about soil quality. Figs are magical, in that they thrive in both poor and good standards of soil. You don’t need to provide premium substrate for your fig!
Keep on top of watering! Just because it’s a hot-climate fruit it doesn’t mean you can neglect the watering. If you do so, the fruit will drop before getting to the point where they can ripen.
Prune in the winter. If left unchecked figs can grow wild. Prune out laterals or whichever branches get in the way or cross over the main stem, you can afford to prune ruthlessly, it’ll encourage growth in the correct direction!
A New Variety - Dauphine
Earlier this week, Lubera, a Swiss-based nursery that specialises in fruit and berry plants for home gardeners sent me a variety called Dauphine. Lubera certifies that all their fig trees are winter-hardy - even for Swiss winters, which is great for temperamental British winters. The tree is strong and is also early-producing, and I’m really looking forward to trying these out! I will plant this fig tree using the steps mentioned above and I hope it’ll be producing fruit in no time.
If you have any luck growing figs in London, please let me know by commenting below or messaging me on Instagram: @imserenalee.
Happy growing, and thanks for reading!