I absolutely love the taste of fresh, perfectly ripe figs. In my roster of all-time most delicious things ever, they’re right up there with fresh-off-the-tree seasonal apples, well-ripened pears, really good ice cream, 85% cocoa dark chocolate, vintage cheddar cheese, strong dry cider and deep, dark imperial stout1And wouldn’t that lot make for a hell of a sandwich? Okay, maybe the cider and stout wouldn’t go <em>in</em> the sandwich, I’d probably have those on the side… but I digress. So when we moved house a few years ago and started redeveloping the back garden, a fig tree was at the top of the list of plants to add.
Add one we did, a ‘Brown Turkey’2Perhaps not the most exciting choice of cultivar, but generally a reliable cropper, even in our Norther climes., back in 2017. It was planted in a fig pit, at the corner of the shed, in a position designed to catch the maximum amount of afternoon sunlight. It was a rather small tree when it went in3We ordered one by mail order and got what we were sent, which perhaps wasn’t the best tree we could have picked out ourselves. That can be the down-side of mail order: you’re at the mercy of the nursery and whatever they decide to send you., and for the next four years it grew steadily but quietly, producing a few tasty fruits each year, and seemed quite happy with its lot. In May 2020 there was a late frost forecast for May, so I wrapped the tree up in fleece to protect it…
…which goes to show how little growth it had put on. Then, in 2021, another late frost was forecast in May… but this time I didn’t manage to get the fleece on in time. I can’t remember if I was away from home, or too busy, or just plain forgot, but the fig tree remained unprotected, and the frost hit, hard.
The end result: the tips of all the main stems were frost-bitten, and every fruitlet was killed:
I wrung my hands, gnashed my teeth and shook my fist skywards in the general direction of the cruel and capricious Weather Gods, but the damage was done. Nothing for it but wait and see what happened next. And what happened next was: massive re-growth.
As if spurred into action by its brush with icy die-back, the tree sprang back into vigorous life and produced a mass of side shoots. Here’s the tree in July last year. You can see the fresh, green stems shooting out in all directions
In this in-zoomed view you can just about make out the died-back tip of the old leading stem and the two vigorous new stems that grew to replace it. My intention has always been to add a few wire supports to the shed and tie the fig in to train it around the window, and those two new shoots appear to be nearly perfectly placed:
Or at least, one of them is, as you can see from this profile view. The original leader was actually a little too far from the shed for tying in, but that new stem is growing in just the right direction, and the one in the middle of the pic might be flexible enough to gently bend back around as well.
There’s also that lower stem, which is jutting out across what amounts to a path, which I think definitely has the potential to be air-layered and propagated to make a new fig tree, which I’d quite like to add to the allotment.
Later in the year, after the leaves had dropped, it was easy to see quite how much new growth the tree had put on and, as per the labelled diagram, the pattern of regrowth: buds breaking and developing into stems alongside or just below the points of die-back:
Of course, the tree didn’t produce any edible fruit last year4Sad-face emoji… because the fruitlets had been frost-killed and the replacements that it did grow didn’t reach a reasonable size before the onset of autumn. There were a few of those, but they’ve all sustained damage to some degree and so have been removed:
I am, however, hugely hopeful for this year’s crop. Quite a few top-fruit tree species are strongly biennial: a poor fruiting year allows the tree to devote more of its available energy to the production of fruiting buds for next year. Having said that, there are caveats: whilst I know this generally applies to apples and pears, I’m not as well-read, or practised, in the ways of fig trees. I can but hope that the same general principal does apply and some of these shorter, rounder new buds will turn out to be fruitful rather than just result in leaf or stem extension growth:
Time will tell! In the meantime, I have a couple of jobs to do: setting up those wire supports and tying in the best of the new stems, then propagating that spare stem in spring. I will, of course, be keeping a close eye on the weather forecast in case of late frosts, and this time I’ll do my best to be ready with a bundle of fleece – although I’ll need a fair bit more than last time – to protect those precious fruit buds. And hopefully later in the year I’ll be posting photos of dishes full of perfectly ripe figs.
How about you? Do you grow figs either at home, on your allotment, or at work? Do you have any top tips for fig-tree care? How do you go about protecting them from frost, if at all? Please do let me know, via the comments, below.
- 1And wouldn’t that lot make for a hell of a sandwich? Okay, maybe the cider and stout wouldn’t go <em>in</em> the sandwich, I’d probably have those on the side… but I digress.
- 2Perhaps not the most exciting choice of cultivar, but generally a reliable cropper, even in our Norther climes.
- 3We ordered one by mail order and got what we were sent, which perhaps wasn’t the best tree we could have picked out ourselves. That can be the down-side of mail order: you’re at the mercy of the nursery and whatever they decide to send you.
- 4Sad-face emoji…