Growing a Bumper Crop of Figs

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Ripe figs

My aunt has an old fig tree clinging on for dear life in her tiny suntrap courtyard. It’s a gnarled, pretty ugly thing and it certainly doesn’t get any special treatment. But here’s the thing – it has immense character and never fails to produce a sumptuous gift of succulent figs every summer. I’m sure my aunt will be the first to admit she’s no gardener. But ironically, it’s this fact that has probably helped her fig to flourish!

Figs don’t exactly thrive on neglect, but they don’t like to be fussed over either. Overly rich soil can lead to masses of leaf growth at the expense of fruits. A generous, clutter-free planting area will encourage far-reaching roots that only serve to promote even more rambunctious growth but still fewer fruits. Figs need reining in. If you can do that, then you too will be in line for a repeat performance of delicious fruits.

Figs fruit best when their roots are constrained, so are ideal for growing in containers

Growing Fig Trees in Containers

The simplest way to grow figs is in containers. This naturally restricts root growth and also means that in temperate climates, where hard frosts can damage the embryonic fruits, it’s easy to move plants under cover for winter. Figs are normally sold in containers anyhow, so planting them is just a matter of moving them up one container size, filling in the gaps with a soil-based potting mix that both supports and anchors young trees in place.

It’s worth reinforcing, so forgive my insistence: figs really don’t need lots of room at the roots. So move them on to the next size of container no more frequently than once every two years. Avoid the temptation to ‘swamp’ rootballs in over-sized containers. Grow figs in full sunshine – a sunny patio or against a sun-drenched wall is ideal, especially as the fruits ripen. At the end of the season, once the leaves have dropped, lift or roll containers into a frost-free greenhouse or shed until spring.

Grow figs against a sunny wall for best results

Growing Figs in Planting Pits

Figs look stunning planted against a sunny wall where they may be trained into luxuriant-looking fans. To restrict root growth in this instance you’ll need to use a ‘planting pit’. To make one, dig out a square hole 60cm (2ft) deep and wide then line the walls with vertical slabs, leaving about 3cm (1in) poking up above ground level. Now fill the base of the hole with 20cm (8in) of compacted rubble, stones or bricks. Roots will have a hard time breaking free from that, but should still enjoy good drainage courtesy of all that rubble. Planting pits should be made at least 20cm (8in) away from the base of the wall so roots are clear of any rain shadow.

To plant, use the excavated soil, enriched with some well-rotted organic matter such as compost to help plants establish in the first instance. You could also use a soil-based potting mix. Regularly spaced horizontal wires, every 30cm (1ft) or so, will offer support for the young branches to be tied to.

Fig Tree Care

Prune figs in early spring then again in early summer. The first pruning is to remove any unwanted growth, dead stems or generally weak branches. Then in early summer new growth is pinched out to encourage bushier growth and, for wall-trained trees, a fuller fan shape.


Right at the start of the season, a general-purpose organic fertilizer is a welcome way to wake trees back up, with an additional blanket of well-rotted compost or manure laid around ground-grown plants for good measure. Plants need regular watering during the summer, particularly as the fruits start to swell and ripen. Apply a potassium-based liquid feed – tomato fertilizer is perfect – to give plants a boost during this period.

How to Ripen Figs

In warm climates you may get as many as three crops of figs in any single year. Lucky you! For temperate-climate gardeners like me the best you can aspire to is one.

Figs first form as tiny embryonic fruits. In cooler climates if these haven’t swollen and ripened by fall I’m afraid they’re not going to. Any figs left on the tree at this stage won’t cross the finishing line and will drop off at the first frost. It means that any figs larger than a pea should be removed before the end of fall. Those left on the tree will then overwinter to form next summer’s fruits.

Figs served warm with yogurt and a drizzle of honey are irresistible!

The trees themselves are reasonably hardy, but the fruits are not. For this reason you’ll need to protect outdoor figs from the worst of the frosts. Row cover fabric, or straw or bracken held in place by netting, should help to keep the young fruits safe. Remove this protection towards the end of spring as the trees burst back into life.

Sunshine is crucial for successful ripening, which is why it’s best to reserve the sunniest corner of your garden for these warmth-loving fruits. They are ready to enjoy when the fully coloured fruits soften and point downwards. A tiny bead of nectar at the end of the fruit is your cue to get picking.

The most decadent way I’ve found to indulge in figs is to warm them in the oven with a drizzle of honey before serving them on a cooling pillow of creamy, Greek-style yogurt with all that honey-juice goodness poured over the top. Garden-grown figs are absolutely divine – whether grown yourself or scrounged from a long-suffering auntie!

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Show Comments


"Very irrefutable Last behalf my gig tree grew, the other half was lacking leaves all summer,let's hope this year is better."
Glenn on Sunday 17 February 2019
"I wintered the fig tree outside WITH INSULATING PROTECTION as described on the web. In March, it looked like a dead tree stump and my husband wanted to cut it off at the ground. I kept hearing the Secret Garden song in my head, "When a thing is wic, it will grow!"…. I just thought it might be alive. So now its August 20 and the fig tree has regrown to its last summer size and is covered with baby fruit. With a fig tree, you should possibly never give up. Sing to yourself and the tree…… and hope!!! "
Gale Boutwell on Tuesday 20 August 2019
" Hi Gale. So pleased that your fig sprung back to life for you. And it appears it will reward you with a delicious crop of fruits too!"
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 22 August 2019
"My small 3' tall fig trees are full of figs but won't ripen- so sad, but will try again next year. Question- short growing season here in Wyoming but I have my figs in a heated greenhouse that I turn it off at the end of October what should I do with the fig trees? Seems like an abrupt end to their happy warm time in a greenhouse, should I bring them into the house or right to the garage for wintering? Could they stay in the house all winter? "
Tara on Wednesday 2 October 2019
"Hi Tara. Figs are hardy down to zone 6. Most of Wyoming is sits in zone 5 or 4. There are some more cold-tolerant varieties, such as 'Celeste', which would be suitable. If you bought your tree locally then I would imagine it would be a variety suited to your climate, but it may be worth checking this. You should bring your fig inside - into a garage would be fine, but if you can keep the greenhouse above 20 Fahrenheit then that would be fine too, though possibly a costly exercise. They will drop their leaves in the garage, owing to the lack of light, but keep the potting soil moist throughout winter (but not overly wet!). You can bring your fig back into the greenhouse once it has reliably warmed up, then after a few weeks and after the last frost date, back outside."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 3 October 2019
"I have 2 violette de bourdeaux in smart pots. About 3-4 ft each. Neither produced figs this first year. One maintained its standard form. The other has a strong standard but also pushed a lot of growth at the base. Should I prune those out next early summer? What is the best/preferred form? Will pruning improve the chances for a crop next year? I’m in zone 6. "
Jennifer on Friday 15 November 2019
"Hi Jennifer. I would prune out the excess growth arising from your other standard tree in early spring, as this is the time of year to remove any unwanted growth. You want to keep a clear stem, so it remains as a standard. This would also complement the look of your other tree. Standard trees are preferred where space is a little more limited, as figs can get quite large otherwise. It won't necessarily improve the amount of fruit you pick, but will make the trees much more manageable and less unwieldy."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 25 November 2019
"I have a beautiful fig tree for years it get many many figs on it bit hte dry up real hard any suggestions?"
Bev PadjuneGJFCD on Thursday 28 November 2019
"Hi Bev. Are you picking them at the peak of ripeness? It may be that they are drying out in the sun and wind if they've been left on the tree too long. "
Ben Vanheems on Monday 2 December 2019
"Hi, my fig tree is in a pot and in a sunny position on our patio. I water it every day. I feed my fig tree with a general purpose fertiliser each month. My tree is laden with figs, but they do not grow large and plump. They are very dry and under ripe inside. They fall off the tree at this point.???? What is going wrong here? Sally"
Sally Hyland on Sunday 12 January 2020
"Stressful conditions can cause figs not to ripen properly. They do need enough water, so check that the potting mix they are in is retaining that moisture each time you apply it. It could be, though, that the potting mix is saturated from daily waterings - the mix should be damp but not sodden, so check this too. It may best to water about an inch/2cm of water once a week, rather than every day. Check you aren't over or under-fertilising your tree. Too much fertiliser can cause fruits not to ripen properly. Try reducing the amount you fertilise to see if that works. "
Ben Vanheems on Monday 13 January 2020
"I intend to plant two plant two Chicago's in pots this spring. I live in zone 5a/b. In the fall, I have two choices. I could bring them into my uninsulated garage that only has one west facing window. I would venture to say that it gets down to 10 degrees or colder at night. The other choice is to bring them inside and put them under a grow light. Common sense would lead me to believe they'd do well in 70 degree temps with a grow light over the winter months. However, my common sense has done me in more than once."
Heath Keim on Wednesday 12 February 2020
"HI Heath. The cold-hardy Chicago fig should comfortably grow down to zone 6, and may survive down to zone 5 - though you are on the very edge of their hardiness zone there. Bringing the fig into an unheated garage should be absolutely fine during the very coldest part of winter, as the plant will be dormant anyhow, so won't need any light until it begins to sprout again in spring. I would not bring them indoors into the warmth - they need a period of cold to initiate fruits for the following growing season, so stick with that unheated garage."
Ben Vanheems on Friday 14 February 2020
"Do fig leaves come on and grow, at the same time as the figs? Do full grown leaves signal the likelihood of ripe figs?"
Paul on Sunday 17 May 2020
"The leaves do grow at the same time as figs. Generally a tree in healthy leaf would suggest it is doing well enough and is an encourage sign that figs are more likely to form - though this isn't always the case I'm afraid."
Ben Vanheems on Sunday 17 May 2020
"Hi Ben, I have fig trees planted in my hoop-house for about 3 years, and I just learned about restricted root growth. Any suggestions how to correct this problem? "
Randy KalishAT68T on Tuesday 26 May 2020
"Hi Randy. I'm not sure how you'd retrospectively restrict root growth. You could try, tentatively, digging around the roots as best you can and then adding paving slabs/pavers vertically around the roots in a bid to restrict them, having perhaps trimmed a few of the roots (but not lots!) that are in the way. But this is me thinking aloud here - I've not had to do this before. Hopefully in the warmth of a hoop house it might fruit successfully anyhow."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 28 May 2020
"My standard fig BrownTurkey was planted last May 2019 inside vertical flags as you describe. This year it had 7 tiny figs in April but 5 have disappeared and the 2 remaining appear to be growing. They are now the size of a plum. What would make the small ones suddenly disappear? I live in the north west of England. Pauline on May 30th 2020"
Pauline Harkness on Saturday 30 May 2020
"Hi Pauline. Fruit trees of any kind often drop small, undeveloped fruit in early summer (usually in June). This process is called the 'June drop'. It's basically the way of the tree almost working out how many fruits it has the resources to actively swell to maturity, then cutting its losses by dropping the excess. This is perfectly normal. Your young fig tree is probably still establishing and finding its feet, hence five of the fruits disappearing. Of course, there is also the chance that an animal might have eaten them. I have pigeons in my garden that I have seen eating immature fruits, and with the recent dry weather that could be pushing them to seek out less-than-ideal food such as this. Hopefully you're too remaining figs will ripen up nicely and be a delicious treat for you."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 1 June 2020
"We are in Wilmington, NC--coastal south zone. We planted two Violette de Bordeaux figs two years ago in a bed with about 5 feet between them. They have lots of foliage, and one of them is about a foot shorter than the other. The shorter one had a few figs last summer, but one green one dropped, and the other two disappeared when ripe, probably eaten by birds or squirrels. They've been watered regularly, even in last year's drought. This year we have lots of growth but no figs yet. I fertilized in March with Garden Cote 6 (12-12-12) as directed by the nursery where we bought them. What should I do to get them to fruit?"
Virginia Jones on Tuesday 23 June 2020
"Hi Virginia. Figs do like their roots restricted - or rather restricting their roots encourages them to produce fruits. It may be that the soil is quite rich around their roots, encouraging plenty of leafy growth (and a perfectly healthy plant) but few fruits. It could be that the soil is too fertile too - maybe go easy on the feeding or apply a feed that has more potassium and less nitrogen, to promote fruits over foliage. They love a sunny spot, but if it is very dry then this may cause fruits to abort, so continue to water thoroughly in dry weather."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 25 June 2020
"I've grown figs in pots for 8 years. I have found that if they get root bound it stunts their fruit production. I'm in zone 6. They are in 20 gal pots. Fruit production is very good this year but it's August and I noticed lots of fruit drop and also no ripening. I checked and noticed they are root bound. I also spoke with another fella who has 2 figs in the ground in Z6. He suggested I put mine in the ground and swear they will survive. "
George on Sunday 9 August 2020
"Hi George. Many thanks for sharing your experiences. Certainly not growing figs in super-rich soil is supposed to help, hence root restriction, but I guess you can go too far with that!"
Ben Vanheems on Monday 10 August 2020
"Hi, I live in cape Town, South Africa(Mediteranean climate here) and we have 3 Adam Fig trees. Each spring they send out beautiful lush leaves and then produce anything from 4 to 10 little figs. These grow to about the size of a golf ball, turn black and fall off... they are about as hard as golf balls too! Soo disappointing as this has happened for the last 3 years. The trees are about 5 years old and only produced edible fruit for the first year that we had them. What should we do,please? Many thanks, Sue T."
Sue Taylor on Friday 25 June 2021
"Hi Sue. This could be down to a number of reasons. First up is lack of moisture. In very dry soil trees probably won't produce as much fruit, particularly as they grow older and bigger and require more moisture. Another reason is soil being too rich in nutrients, particularly nitrogen, so that trees throw out lots of leafy growth at the expense of flowers and fruits. If there's lots of leafy growth, pinch off the tips of younger, flexible growth, which should encourage more fruit production."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 28 June 2021
"I have a violette de bordeau fig perhaps 8 years old that simply will not ripen fruit. What can I do to push ripening? Or should I simply remove the tree? Thanks."
Bob Pitman on Saturday 31 December 2022
"It may just be that your fig is on the cusp of fruiting now that it is a bit bigger/older. I would make sure to keep it watered in really dry spells, to help it along, and to administer a balanced organic fertiliser too in spring to give things a boost, if it doesn't look like the problem is over-rich soil. Figs need plenty of warmth and sunshine, so make sure it has this - growing them against a sun-facing wall that reflects back the heat can really help. "
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 4 January 2023
"I was kindly given some fig cuttings. Some went in water, the others soil. Only one survived - in water. It’s late winter here. Is now a good time to plant on to a pot?"
Natalie on Tuesday 15 August 2023
"Figs are best potted up in early spring. However, if the roots are quite developed and it's looking like it needs more space, I would plant the cutting into a pot now. Perhaps keep the cutting protected from very cold weather/severe frosts until the spring."
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 16 August 2023

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