GROWING FIGS IN CONTAINERS
What are some of the reasons you would want to grow figs in containers?
Climate- Maybe your location is too cold for your favorite variety. Thousand of people in the Northern and Northeastern US grow figs on containers for this reason. There are many groups on figs on Facebook and all of them talk about container culture, Some almost exclusively.
Portability- Containers have the ability to be moved to different locations in your garden or yard.
Size- Maybe you are in an apartment or do not have room in the yard. This way they can be grown on patios, porches and balconies. Easily kept pruned to a smaller size.
Accent- Containers can make a perfect accent in the garden or even be a focal point. Containers come in all shapes and sizes and can be very decorative.
Access- Individuals who are confined or cannot get around well can have a fig growing fruit within their area of accessibility.
While container growing is easy, it is different than growing in ground. Figs like a well draining soil mix. It is important that they do not stay “wet”. When the plant has grown and is ready to move we want to step up to the next bigger size instead of jumping up several sizes. When it is ready to repot, move a 1 gallon plant up to a 2 or 3 gallon, not a 5 gallon otherwise the soil mix will stay too wet and can lead to root rot.
Terra cotta pots will dry out much faster than glazed ceramic, wood or plastics and require more frequent watering. Dark colored plastic post especially can heat up very fast in the sun and burn roots. The sun shining on the side of black nursery pots on an 80 degree day can easily heat the sides up to 120 degrees or more. All of these can be successful as long as you are aware how they will react and gauge sun exposure and water adequately. Many people put trays under their containers to catch any water dripping through the pot. If you do, make sure to put a layer of gravel or marbles in the tray so that the pot is elevated and the roots will not sit in water.
Soilless Mixes and Fertilizing:
Your mix should be well draining yet hold some moisture. A good mix is 50% standard peat and perlite potting mix 30% Cactus mix and 20% compost. Do not use real soil. Remember these mixes have virtually no nutrients so you need to supply it. The compost will be a slow release but you will need to fertilize additionally. For organic we recommend a fish emulsion with kelp, used every 3 weeks in the growing season. It must be reapplied because as you water some is washed through and out the bottom of the container. We also recommend adding Osmocote Plus when repotting for an extra level of security in case you forget to fertilize. Every 6 weeks run water in pot so that it comes out the bottom for 2 minutes. This “flushing” helps remove the built up salts from our hard alkaline water and excess fertilizers. Also anytime you can add rainwater be sure to. You will see an immediate jump and positive reaction in your plants appearance. Generally you will want to repot to refresh the soilless mix every 2 years or so. Over time it will break down to particles which are too fine for good aeration.
Figs can be kept indoors over winter and treated like houseplants. They love sun and heat so a south or west facing window works well. Because the growth rate will slow or stop you should not need to fertilize during this period. If you do then a half dose is sufficient.
Many people let their figs go dormant and move inside where it is cool. At the first frost, when leaves have been killed, move into a dark garage, shed or pump house. Basically anywhere dark that does not freeze. 35-45 degrees is perfect. When spring comes they will start to bud out and can be moved outside into the light. Watch out for any late freeze warnings and move back inside for that night. New buds are the most sensitive to cold and freezing them at this point will set back growth. When dormant they do not require much water. Check monthly and add no more water than will leave the soil like a squeezed out sponge in dampness.
With hundreds of named varieties of figs, there is a wide variety in ultimate size. This is not a major concern to us since they can be kept at a desirable size by thoughtful pruning. Continue to let the plant grow and up pot until it reaches the size and container size you ultimately desire. Most figs brought inside will be kept in about a 16-20” container, whereas those stored dormant may be kept larger. As the fig grows, prune to develop the scaffold (main) branches to appear as you want them. This will be the main structure. The limbs that grow off the scaffold branches will bear your major fruit production.
A good time to prune is when repotting. This repotting should be done at least once every other year. Rejuvenating the worn out soil mix will give a boost to your tree. Check the roots carefully and prune out any broken, circling or decayed ones. You can remove up to 20% of the root mass and this will help rejuvenate the tree. At this time you should prune the above ground part of the tree to by the same amount to keep it in balance. So if you removed 15% of the roots cut back branching by 15%.