Figs used to be a luxury of warmer, southern climes but climate change is increasing the range where figs can be grown outside in the UK. A polytunnel increases that range still further and gives just that little extra warmth for fig trees to thrive in our climate. Figs are very vigorous and are best grown in containers or they will tend not to fruit. Container grown trees are perfect for polytunnel growing and can be brought outside during midsummer if the space is required for other plants.
Figs are most often grown from saplings. When choosing your sapling, make sure that you go for a variety that is suitable for your space restrictions and for where you live. Local tree nurseries or garden centres will usually be able to advise you as to the best fig tree to go for. Make sure that, whether you confine your fig tree in a large container or in a permanent trough area prepared in your polytunnel, you create a fertile growing area with good water retention and plenty of organic matter. The best time to plant a fig tree is in March or April when danger of frost in your tunnel has passed.
Figs will bear two fruit crops but in this country only one of these fruit harvests will come to full fruition. The crop will start in late summer and you will see fruits beginning to develop near the tips of young shoots. If the winter conditions are mild then these will develop and ripen in August and September. A secondary set of fruits will form in spring or early summer, though this will probably not be able to make it through the following winter and so should be removed in late autumn so that you can concentrate on the upcoming crop which are small enough to make it through the winter.
Figs in containers should be checked over in late March before growth starts and any dead or weak branches should be removed. It is also a good idea to cut back the shoot tips of new growth to leave four or five leaves on each.
Figs need moisture retentive soil but also soil that is free draining. It is important to raise containers up off the ground in order to avoid them becoming waterlogged with water stuck at the base. To retain adequate nutrition it is also a good idea to re-pot every couple of years, in addition to feeding regularly with a good quality organic feed.
Figs are best eaten straight from the tree. They are ready for harvesting when the fruits are soft, brown and hanging down. You may also see a drop or 'tear' exuded from the eye of the fruit, which is another indication that it is ready to eat.