Exotic figs in the greenhouse
Have you ever brought home a fig shoot from a vacation or sown fig seeds from store-bought figs? If that is the case, you will not get any figs on your tree. The reason for this is that some of the 200 different sorts must be pollinated, and neither you nor a bumble bee can do that. That is because the flower is inside the fruit. In the south a special type of wasp can crawl inside the fig fruit and pollinate the flower. Sadly, this kind of wasp does not live in Denmark.
It has gotten popular to cultivate figs, and for Danish gourmet restaurants they prefer figs from Denmark rather than those exported from the Mediterranean area.
‘Ficus carica’ is the Latin name, and if you want figs to grow in your garden or greenhouse, you should look for sorts with fruits.
Luckily, there are also sorts that can survive colder climates without needing the wasp. The most popular sort must be ‘Brown Turkey’. It is a very robust plant, that can even survive most winters.
When cultivating figs out in the open, Brown Turkey has proven to be the best sort. If you want to cultivate in the greenhouse ‘Petrovaca’, ‘Hardy Chicago’ and ‘White Marseille’ are great for this.
Make it yourself
In case your neighbour wants a fig, you can take a cutting. There are multiple methods to do this. You can for example place a leaf with a stem in water and wait for it to grow roots. Another method is to bend a branch towards the ground and place a brick on top or bend a wire, so the branch is touching the ground. After three months the branch will have grown roots, and then you can cut off a plant with roots. This method is called layering.
For cuttings you can in either March or April take about 10 cm cuttings from a tree and put them in a pot with normal garden soil. Only one or two buds should be above the soil. Place them in the greenhouse and keep the soil moisture.
You can also try to place a branch in water. Usually, it will start growing roots.
If you have bought a fig tree that never produces any crops, then do not cut it down. Instead, you can get a cutting from a tree that does produce crops, and graft it the same way as you do with apple trees. The next year you may see it bearing figs on the branch or branches you grafted.
A guide for success
Only when figs are propagated from cuttings, will they need a certain amount of moisture and some good soil. Afterwards, it is all about giving them bad conditions as possible – drained gravel soil will do. Should you choose to place them in the garden and not the greenhouse, it is best if they are sheltered under a roof since they prefer soil that is dry. However, the figs like to be somewhere warm.
Figs are like strawberries. If you use fertiliser, they will grow many leaves and only a little or no fruit. Therefore, avoid fertilising your fig. Although if it has grown a lot of figs, you can give it a bit of fertiliser so the figs do not fall off before they are ripe.
If you want figs in the greenhouse, a large pot will be fine. By cultivating in a pot, you can limit the growth of the roots, and thereby, avoid it growing too big. Remember to protect the plant in the winter, should you choose to cultivate figs in a pot.
Pruning and harvesting
Figs are rarely infected with diseases. Scale insects may be a problem if the plant is in a greenhouse, so keep an eye on them. You can limit the growth by simply nipping off the main growing point. But nipping off parts of all the shoots will affect the yield. Not all but most sorts bear fruit up to three times per year. A fig grows slowly in the beginning. It may not even grow for a few months, and then before you know it, it will have grown a lot. It will be ready to be eaten when it shows a bit of purple colour and begins to crack. When this happens, you can use the fruits to make fig marmalade or caramelised figs. So far, I have not heard that anyone had luck with drying the figs.
Recipe for fig marmalade made from fresh figs
500 g fresh figs
350 g sugar
1 vanilla pod
A bit of lemon juice
2 dL water
Remove the seeds from the vanilla pod and put the seeds and the pod in a pot with water and sugar. Let it boil until the sugar is dissolved.
Add the figs, that have been cut in quarters and rinsed from top to bottom. Let it simmer for 15 minutes.
Season with lemon juice and put it in a marmalade jar. If you want, you can rinse the jar with sodium benzoate.
(Recipe: The Price Brothers)
Om Lars Lund
Danish horticulturist and journalist
Lars Lund has for many years engaged in the garden and greenhouse. Lars has published many books about greenhouses, and he has participated in many Danish horticultural TV shows. He is a walking garden encyclopaedia, and he has answers for most basic cultivation questions – also the more ambitious ones.
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