Wondering how to grow a fig tree? With their glossy green, fan-shaped leaves, fragrant foliage, and sweet, fleshy fruit, fig trees bring a touch of the exotic to the garden.
One of the best fruit trees to grow, these Mediterranean plants enjoy hot weather and well-drained rocky soil—but you can reproduce these conditions in any garden with a little care.
Here we give you expert advice on how to grow a fig tree in the ground or in a container, how to care for it and how long it takes to bear fruit.
How to grow a fig tree
Planting fruit trees successfully means considering your location and climate. In a cooler climate (zone 5 and below), a container grown fig that can be brought indoors for the winter has the best chance of growing well and providing a bountiful harvest. In zone 6 they can be grown in a garden with winter protection. And they’re hardy in zones 7 and 8. This is what you need to know about how to grow a fig tree.
How to grow a fig tree in a container
For a reliable harvest and easy protection of your plant, growing a fig tree in a container is the best option. The restricted root growth actually works to your advantage as it causes the tree to bear more fruit.
In early spring, pot a young fig tree in a deep container about 12 to 15 inches in diameter. The plant does best in a rich compost with adequate drainage. Drill additional holes in the bottom of the container to prevent waterlogging, place a layer of clay pots on the bottom, and set the pot on feet to allow water to drain. Don’t forget to water the tree though – it doesn’t like sitting in water, but if left too dry its fruit will suffer.
“Half a barrel with drainage holes drilled in the bottom is the ideal container for a fig, as long as it can be moved to a cool greenhouse or polytunnel over the winter,” says sustainability and horticulture expert Tom Petherick, author of Sufficient: A Modern Guide for sustainable living (opens in new tab).
Container grown figs are best kept compact and should therefore be grown as a short stemmed shrub.
“Choose the less vigorous fig varieties for container growing. They like a free-draining compost and any roots that are sticking out of the drainage holes must be removed as fig roots are very vigorous. Trees constrained in this way will bear fruit more easily.’
Established plants may need to be repotted every two to three years. Prepare your fig tree for relocation by shaking or brushing loose compost from the roots, then cutting off thicker roots before transplanting into a slightly larger container.
How to grow a fig tree in the ground
Even if a fig tree is growing in the ground rather than in a container, you need to make sure its powerful roots are restricted. Dig a deep hole, then partially fill it in with rubble or line the hole with cobblestones—the tree’s long taproot can provide the water it needs.
Put well-rotted manure in the bottom of the hole, position the tree and then fill with compost before firming and watering well.
Where to position a fig tree?
Whether in pots or in the ground, fig trees need a warm and sunny spot to thrive. “During the summer months, figs need full sun at all times for the fruit to ripen,” explains Tom Petherick.
The benefit of growing a fig tree in a container is that it can be moved to a sheltered spot during the cooler months, but you can choose to enjoy its lush foliage and spreading branches in your garden year-round.
Plant a tree near a wall where heat can radiate from the masonry at night to aid fruit development.
“Fig trees can be grown up a wall, but they have strong roots that can damage foundations. So keep that in mind and never plant them less than 1m from a building,” says gardener and botanist Frances Tophill, author of The Modern Gardener (opens in new tab).
Tending a fig tree
“It takes three years of pruning to achieve the shape of a fig tree – the calyx shape is ideal. The center of the tree needs to be kept open to let in light and air and to prevent disease,” says Tom Petherrick. This can be achieved when pruning a fig tree.
Feed the tree a potassium-rich feed every two weeks to help fruit formation. Additionally, mulch annually with compost or well-rotted manure to enrich the soil around the fig tree. This will also help control weeds around the base of the tree.
Figs are native to Syria and Persia, so thrive best in a warm climate — which can be challenging in some states during the winter months. Unless your yard is blessed with mild weather year-round, you need to protect a fig tree from frost, snow, and harsh conditions.
Container plants can be moved into a greenhouse, conservatory, garage, shed, or barn during the winter months. If you cannot move the pot or the fig tree is growing in the ground, gently wrap the branches of the tree in bubble wrap, straw and burlap or horticultural fleece. Remove when danger of frost has passed.
How fig trees are pollinated for fruiting
“Figs are majestic and lush trees. The fruit itself has an intriguing life cycle that is not for the faint of heart,” says Frances Tophill.
Fig trees are self-fertile, meaning you only need one tree for fruit to grow.
“A pregnant fig wasp, with pollen on it, enters the developing fruit. This fertilizes the fruit and allows it to develop,” explains Frances. “The wasp lays its eggs in the fruit and then dies. In every fertilized fig there is a dead wasp. But don’t let that put you off – they’re still delicious.”
Get the best fruit from your fig tree
In cooler climates, you can only expect one harvest of figs per year from an outdoor tree. In warm climates, you may be lucky enough to get two harvests of figs a year.
After pruning in summer, the fruits begin to grow on the new shoots. They become pea-sized in late summer and remain on the plant throughout fall and winter as long as they are protected from frost.
These overwintered fruitlets are known as “embryo” figs. When spring comes again, the embryo figs will start to grow and ripen – they will be ready for harvest from August to the end of October.
Protect your crops from hungry birds and squirrels by covering your fig tree with netting.
Are figs easy to grow?
Yes, figs are easy to grow, as long as they are in a sunny spot, fed regularly throughout the growing season and watered – but not waterlogged – they should thrive. What is important, unless you live in a warm, Mediterranean climate, is that you protect the tree from frost and cold during the winter months.
How long does it take for a fig tree to bear fruit?
It can take two or three years for a young fig tree to grow and bear fruit. After that, you can expect to harvest figs—one harvest a year—or more if you live in a warm and sunny place.