By Dennis Ting
In the nursery a common question I am asked is what is a good fruit tree to grow in a pot that will also produce a useful yield. While we have a good range of Dwarf Peaches and Nectarines (Trixzie), Apples (Ballerina) and Pinkabelle and Pear (Pipsqueak). I believe a forgotten fruit is the Fig Tree.
Many people are afraid to plant fig trees in the ground due to the vigorous growth and massive size and a reputation for a vigorous root system. Then at harvest time it is almost impossible to pick on a daily basis the ripening figs on the tall branches and beat the birds.
I have been growing figs in pots for over 10 years now. They do provide a worthwhile crop, are quick to fruit and only require minimal training and pruning. I have trained the plants to a variety of shapes including vase, flat fan and T shape (like a grape vine).
The pot restricts the roots and reduces the vigour of the plant and the smaller size makes it easy to net when the fruit are ripening. Also if there is rain (or humidity) during the harvest period you can bring it under cover (even in doors briefly) to stop the fruit spoiling.
All the commonly available varieties such as Preston Prolific, Black Genoa, Brown Turkey, White Genoa and White Adriatic are suitable for pot culture. Growing a range of varieties allows you to experience a range of flavours and lengthen the harvest season. They are all delicious when tree ripened!
So how do you get started with a fig. If you buy a bare root plant in winter you need to cut it back to between 30 and 40 cm to get your short trunk. If you buy a potted tree at other times of the year again you need to cut it back to this height or let it grow to this height before pruning back.
To start with you need a 30 cm diameter pot - preferably green or terracotta coloured (not black) as this tends to heat up too much in summer. Use a good Terracotta and Tub Mix (Debco) as the tree will grow in the potting mix for many years. Pot up the plant and then mulch with Lucerne Hay or similar material.
Prune the tree regularly in winter to increase the number of branches in a short space and develop a compact form. In summer tip prune the branches when they have made between 15 to 20 cm of growth as this helps the fruit mature and increases the number of branches.
In spring feed with a slow release fertilizer like Osmocote and maybe a small handful of Dynamic Lifter or similar. Also continue to feed throughout the growing season on a fortnightly basis with Phostrogen or Seasol/Powerfeed combination.
In subsequent years when the tree is dormant in winter you can report the plant into a larger pot say 40cm then 50 cm diameter. Once you have reached the maximum sized pot every three to four years in winter root prune the plant and repot into fresh new potting mix and also cut back the branches as well.
A potted fig tree is delightfully ornamental in summer with its characteristic leaves and will produce delicious tree ripened fruit for you too!