Top of The Crops - Figs

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Growing Figs in a Polytunnel

Growing figs is an option for UK growers, especially those who have space in a polytunnel where these exotic trees will thrive. In this guide we will take a closer look at where and how you can grow fig trees in the UK, and some of the key things you will need to think about when you do. 

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.

Key Information

Figs, Ficus carica, are trees native to the Mediterranean region, western and southern Asia. They are deciduous trees with smooth white bark and large leaves. You only need one fig tree to get a harvest of figs in your garden and in doing so, can join a long line of people who have done so. It is believed that figs were one of the first plants cultivated by humans. 

Fig trees 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.

Figs will bear two fruit crops but in this country only one of these fruit harvests will come to full fruition. The fruits are best eaten fresh, straight from the tree, but can be used in a wide range of different ways in many different recipes. 

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The Preferred Conditions for Figs

Fig trees like sun, warmth and sheltered conditions to thrive here in the UK. 

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.

What you will need to grow Figs

To grow figs you will need:

  • A fig tree.

  • A container for your fig tree, or a contained area in the ground. (More detail below.)

  • Facility to water your fig tree, especially if growing undercover without access to natural rainfall. 

  • Organic matter for mulching/ feeds. 

  • Tools for pruning/ harvesting etc...

How to Grow Figs

If you would like to grow a fig tree where you live then one of the first things you will need to think about is which variety to grow. There are a few that are best suited to growing in the UK, and you will find some suggestions a little later in this guide. 

Fig trees can either be purchased as bare root specimens, or as pot-grown trees. Usually, fig trees are sold as small, pot-grown trees in the UK. 


Once you have chosen a fig tree, you will have to think about where to plant it. This will of course involve deciding whether you will plant in the ground, or into a large pot. 

Remember, in order to get a fig tree to fruit well, its roots should be restricted. This means either planting in a container, or creating a constrained area for fig trees growing in the ground. 

If you decide to plant a fig tree in the ground, whether outdoors or in a polytunnel, you will need to:

  • Dig a hole 60cm deep and 60cm wide. 

  • Add trellis or support for trees that will be trained where necessary. 

  • Line the sides of the hole with paving slabs, placed vertically, to form constraints for the roots of the fig tree. The slabs should protrude a couple of centimetres above the surface of the soil so that roots cannot escape over the top of them. Alternatively, dig a hole large enough to bury a large container in the ground. 

  • Place rubble or stones in the base of the hole in a layer around 10-20 cm deep to allow good drainage while also preventing roots from going down. 

  • Place the fig tree within the hole, making sure it is upright and in the right orientation for the space. 

  • Fill back soil around the roots of the new fig tree. 

  • Water it in well and add a layer of organic mulch around the base. 

Planting in Containers

If you decide to grow your fig tree in a container, then you should select a pot at least 30-45cm wide, which is strong and sturdy. Fill it with John Innes no. 3 or another suitable growing medium. 

Make sure when planting into a container that you place to tree at the same depth that it was at in its previous pot. And leave a gap of around 2.5cm at the top of the container for watering. 

Repot fig trees every couple of years, with new potting mix, into a pot just 5cm or so larger than the previous one. Remember, the container should not be too large because fig trees will fruit best when their roots are somewhat restricted. 


Though figs can produce more than one harvest a year in a warmer climate, in the UK only one of these harvests will have the time to ripen. The harvest period is in the early to mid autumn. 

Tiny figs that form in the autumn will ripen to provide a harvest the following year. But those that developed in spring and early summer that have not ripened by October will not get the chance to do so in our climate. 

Care Tips for Figs 

Fig trees do need special care and attention to make sure that they produce a worthwhile yield and not only survive but thrive in our climate. 


Watering is the first area where plenty of care and attention is needed. These are trees that will need plenty of water throughout the spring and summer, especially if they are grown in pots but also anywhere their roots are restricted. 

Fig trees can lose their leaves or drop all their fruits if they are subjected to drought conditions. Care is required to keep the soil or potting mix moist, especially during the first growing season or particularly hot conditions. 

But make sure you do not overwater and that excess water can always drain away freely, since waterlogging can lead to a range of issues for the fig tree. 


Mulch well with organic matter around the base of a fig tree. 

Adding a good thick layer of homemade compost or well-rotted manure around the base of the tree should help to provide optimal growing conditions and conserve soil moisture. But make sure that the mulch does not touch the base of the trunk or it may rot. 


In the early spring it can be a good idea to feed a fig tree with a high potassium fertilizer such as blood fish and bone or another organic fertilizer to keep it in tip top condition. 

You can also help to improve fruiting by giving a fig tree a potassium-rich liquid feed every couple of weeks throughout the growing season until the figs start to ripen towards the end of the summer. 

Looking After Fruits

Young fruits start to form on a fig tree twice a year – the first batch in the late summer and the second batch in late spring the following year. Only the fruits from the first batch will ripen successfully in our climate, as mentioned above. 

To get the fruits from the first batch through to successful harvest, do not accidentally prune them away. Also, remember that these young fruits can be prone to frost damage over the winter, so it is important to make sure that they are protected. 

The fruits that form in the second batch of late spring won't be able to ripen in time because our summers are too cool. By the end of summer, any fruits larger than the size of a pea or so should be removed as otherwise they will simply rot on the branch and even if they do overwinter successfully, they won't continue developing the following year. 

Once fruits start to ripen in the summer, make sure that the fruits are protected from birds and squirrels which will otherwise steal your crop. You can do this with netting, held away from the fruits with canes. 

Winter Protection

In almost every UK location, fig trees will need protection over the winter months. The part that need protecting are, as mentioned above, the young fruits that formed in late summer. If these tiny fruits are damaged by frost, you won't get a successful harvest the following year. 


To make it easier to protect the crop of figs, and to give fig trees the best chance of producing a successful harvest, they are often fan trained. This requires rather specific training and pruning at different stages in order to achieve and maintain the desired shape. While fig trees can  certainly be left untrained and unpruned, these trees will typically not be as productive. 

Varieties of Figs 

The most common variety grown in the UK is the variety called 'Brown Turkey'. However, there are also a number of other cultivars that can work in our increasingly warming climate, including:

  • Brunswick

  • Chelsea

  • Dalmatie 

  • Doree

  • Ice Crystal 

  • Madeleine des Deux Saison

  • Panachee 

  • Sultane

  • Violette de Bordeaux

Common Problems for Figs

Figs can thrive in the UK as long as they are provided with the basic growing conditions that they need. Sometimes, when grown undercover, they may become infested with scale insects or red spider mites. 

Birds and squirrels can become a problem for fig growers too, as they can eat the ripening figs before you get round to harvesting them. Make sure your crop is covered to prevent this issue. 

Top Tips for Growing Figs in a Polytunnel

While figs can thrive in a polytunnel, it is important to choose the right variety and to restrict the roots or grow in a pot. Remember that some fig trees are more compact than others and make sure you select one that is suitable for the space you have available. 

Keep on top of watering, mulch well, and ensure good ventilation in your tunnel to prevent any issues from arising. Remember that you can create healthy, ecologically functioning systems in your garden by underplanting a fig, like other fruit trees, with a guild of beneficial companion plants. 




Goulding, J., (2023)  6 fig growing mistakes to avoid for sweet and squishy fruit perfection. Homes and Gardens. [online] Available at: [accessed 22/12/23]

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growing figs in a polytunnel