Growing Figs: The Cure for the Common Houseplant
by Rob Sproule
When you live in a cold climate like ours, it’s easy to think it’s futile to try and grow anything edible after the snow flies. I’m thrilled to tell you that times they are a-changing.
With our recent explosion of interest in growing all things edible, exotic fruits are appearing in Garden Centers throughout Canada. From orange and lemon bushes to olive and fig trees, it’s becoming popular to replace those dated winter houseplants with edibles that pay you back in sweet treats in spring.
I’ve often wondered why fig trees aren’t more popular as ornamental plants, even without the fruit. With their broad leaves, compact form and ease of growth, it’s a wonder that they aren’t fixtures in more living rooms across Canada.
As one of the first cultivated crops, figs have a history that stretches back as far as humanity itself. We owe a lot to them; according to the book of Genesis they even provided our first stitch of clothing.
Fig trees’ lavish, broad leaves and drooping fruit brings the fabled Hanging Gardens of Babylon to my mind. Nebuchadnezzar II would have incorporated copious figs amongst the pomegranates and limes in his rooftop paradise 2700 years ago.
Most people are surprised to hear that figs are one of the easiest and most rewarding exotic fruits to grow. In the winter their broad leaves add conversation starting indoor decor and in the summer you’ll be one of a handful of Canadians who eat ripe figs off their own patio.
Give them as much sun as possible and make sure they aren’t too wet or dry. Fig leaves wilt easily, so try not to let them get there as it may impact the taste of the fruit. The figs themselves grow in the crooks where the branches meet the main stem.
It can be excruciating, but wait until the fruit is soft before picking it. I could suggest how to use it in the kitchen but, let’s be honest, you’re going to eat them before they even make it inside. And yes, they will be as delicious as you’re imagining.
“˜Italian Honey’ Fig
“˜Italian Honey’ figs are ideal for Canada. They tolerate our cool spring nights and don’t need pollination, meaning they can yield indoors.
The fruit is irresistibly sweet and, if you keep them out of your mouth long enough, is ideal for jams or drying. Keep your tree year after year.
‘Brown Turkey’ Fig
This fig is ideal if we have a hot summer. If warm enough, it will yield throughout summer and into fall. The fruit is a rich brown and slightly sweet. Bring it indoors before the first frost and give it as much direct light as possible throughout the year.
It needs to be fertilized every month or two in the growing season, but don’t give it too much nitrogen (first number) or you’ll only get leaves and no fruit. It yields at a young age and established trees in large pots produce surprisingly large crops.
Bringing Them Indoors
While the bulk of our edible gardens will always be tomatoes and beans, specimen plants like Figs make a big statement on the patio or in the garden. It doesn’t make sense to buy a fig tree every year, both because of the expense and because you’ll enjoy better yields as they years pass.
From a design perspective, your fig tree will provide a powerful focal point that will bring a sense of scale to the green shapelessness that tends to characterize edible gardens. As it gets bigger and needs a larger pot, you may want to provide casters in order to move it in and out for the seasons.