Growing Figs in a Northern Climate

Fresh figs picked in early September

You wouldn’t be wrong in thinking that figs are a Mediterranean crop. Fig trees grow like weeds on the rocky hillsides of many countries with a far warmer climate than the UK! However, there are varieties of fig that grow well in our cooler climate. We have figs fruiting well on our exposed Manchester allotment ground!

Originally, I won a free fig tree in a competition about 15 years ago. When I say tree it was literally a twig! I planted it in a raised bed in our garden. It took quite a few years to get going. Perhaps 4 years to reach a reasonable size and then a further 2 to start fruiting. Fig trees benefit from having their roots restricted. They usually grow on rocky hillsides and restricting the roots means that it puts it’s energy into fruiting rather than growing leaves. This was probably the reason mine took 6 years to fruit, but figs are slow burners – don’t expect fruit abundance quickly. However, once it did start fruiting it really took off.

About 4 years ago, the tree grew so big we were a little concerned about it being so close to the house. We decided to risk transplanting the tree to the allotment. Figs grow with extensive lateral (sideways) roots so the tree was signficantly anchored right under our patio! I literally had to cut and hack at the roots to get it out. We were not too hopeful that it would survive so we took a cutting as a back up and transplanted the tree into the fruit garden on plot 2b. This time I restricted the roots by using paving slabs as I didn’t want the tree taking over the plot as well! To our surprise the tree really took off on the plot. This is in Manchester on an exposed site, not up against a brick wall as is commonly recommended. It fruits well! The cutting I took is now a small tree which fruited for the first time last summer too (this I have in a large pot).

Unripe fruits growing on the tree in summer.

Figs actually produce 2 crops of fruit in a year – starting with fruitlets in Spring and then again in Autumn. The Autumn fruitlets don’t survive our cold winters and will usually drop off in early March. You can remove these if you wish in winter. I haven’t noticed it makes that much difference. Although the Autumn fruitlets are not that hardy, the actual trees are. Mine survived -15C one winter and has been covered with snow to no avail.

Our crop is usually ripe in early September. Anthony isn’t a fan of figs so the more for me! I like to eat them (mainly) fresh off the tree or with ice cream/greek yoghurt. Alternatively they make an interesting ‘upside down’ cake and they preserve well in syrup for winter.

Fresh figs with vanilla ice cream.

Fig growing tips:

1. Get the right variety – ours is ‘Brown Turkey’.
2. If you know someone with a tree ask for a cutting – they take easily and buying a tree from a supplier is quite expensive.
3. Plant in late Spring or Autumn when the ground is warm.
4. Restrict the roots by planting in a large pot or surrounded with paving slabs dug into the ground.
5. Do keep the tree well pruned as they can grow into VERY large trees if left unchecked (I prune when they are dormant in winter).
6. Check for ripe fruits regularly as figs ripen up quickly and wasps do like them if they are left on the plant too long.