Planting Our Fig Tree

I just love the taste of figs. Dried (nature’s toffees) or fresh (as a snack or in a goat’s cheese salad, with honey) I could eat them every day. One of the first things I put on the Cottage Garden Project wishlist when we moved house in Summer 2015 was a fig tree. Jo didn’t mind (she’s quite fond of a fig herself) and so plans were set in motion which culminated in a Fig Tree Planting session last Wednesday afternoon.

Here’s how I went about planting up our Ficus carica ‘Brown Turkey’. (Having described the process of formative pruning and potting up our apple trees at some length earlier in the week, I’ll try to keep this post reasonably short and sweet…)

Preparing the Fig Pit

July 2016 Fig Pit
Restricted root growth and a sunny aspect – ideal for figs.

Last summer, whilst digging out one of the main planting beds, I prepared a fig pit in the sunniest spot in the garden, up against the wall of the new shed. It’s basically a rectangular hole in the ground, around 1.2 metres deep, lined with roof tiles on top of vertical concrete slabs, with a good 15-25cm of smooth pebbles in the bottom for drainage. The idea is to restrict the root-growth of the fig tree, preventing it from growing into a garden-dominating monster and encouraging it to produce fruit on a regular basis.

Last week, prior to planting, I back-filled most of the pit with a 3:2:1 mix of John Innes #3 loam-based compost, horticultural grit and well-weathered builders’ sand. And then, it was time to plant the tree.

Preparing the Tree for Planting

I ordered the fig last summer, along with the apple trees, from Grow at Brogdale, home of the national fruit collection. They told me at the time that they don’t grow figs themselves, but would order one in for me from another supplier.

Here’s a shot of the roots of the fig when it came out of the pot:

February 2017 - Fig Tree Un-Potted
Not as impressive as the Brogdale-grown trees, plus a dreaded vine weevil grub (circled)

I have to say I wasn’t 100% happy with what I saw. Perhaps I’m just over-thinking it, but the roots seemed a little sparse and a little too dark for my liking. The growing medium itself was very damp – despite the pot being stored in the greenhouse for 2-3 days prior to planting to keep the worst of the rain off – and there was no evidence of any drainage material being included in the potting mix. Plus, there was a vine weevil grub – circled in red on the photo – very much in evidence, which was worrying, to say the least.

I tried to tease out the roots and loosen the compost as much as I could to check for more weevil larvae. I didn’t find any, thankfully, but the roots were breaking away a little too easily for comfort, so I had to stop before I’d checked the entire root ball. Which left me in something of a quandary – go ahead with planting anyway and hope for the best, or ditch the tree and try to source another?

In the end, I opted for giving it a chance and hoping it establishes, sans vine weevil infestation. If the worst comes to the worst, I can always dig it back up and re-plant another specimen. I’ll also try to take a couple of cuttings later in the year and see if I can grow them on as backup, just in case the tree isn’t strong enough to survive whatever next winter throws at it.

Planting the Tree

February 2017 Fig Tree Planted
Fig tree, meet fig pit. May you be wonderfully happy together for many fruitful years to come.

I applied mycorrhizal fungi powder to the root-ball, on the grounds that those roots will probably need all the help they can get, placed the fig in the fig pit, back-filled with more of the planting mix, firmed in well and then watered thoroughly. I’ll apply a final mulch of washed gravel once I can spot enough new growth to know the tree has established successfully. And then we’ll have to see what the harvests are like, most probably in a year or two.

How about you? Do you grow figs? Do you have any top tips or advice to share? If so, I’d love to hear it, via the comments below.

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2 comments

    • Darren T says:

      Cheers, Lee! I think I’ll be growing a backup cutting from this one in a large pot. Maybe I’ll keep that one in the greenhouse, see how big the difference is.

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