A Gardener’s Diary: Growing local figs

Jocelyne Sewell has successfully grown figs in the North Okanagan but has figured out a few more secrets to growing the warm-climate fruit

As I write this column, the sun is shining and it is five degrees C. We have already gained 30 minutes since the beginning of the month. Lots of snow to thaw before I can get in the garden again.

My dog, however, got an early start. Behind the shed, the snow doesn’t cover the ground completely because of the overhang so she decided to look at how much progress the tulips had made over the last couple of months. I saw the dirty foot tracks and when I went to investigate, she tried to hide. The whole bed was dug up and the trays I used for covering the ground were in pieces. The roots looked nice and the tops were already growing. I will have to wait a few more months to see the damage. What can you do? She was already giving me kisses and said that she will never do that again.

As I was watering my plants, I noticed the new leaves on my fig plants with two figs already the size of a quarter. I received that plant from Bill Hickey, a friend from the garden club, in 2012. That year I had 2 nice large figs in the fall. The following year, I had 13 fruits but last year nothing. I didn’t prune the plant enough and it got stressed due to the uneven watering and feeding. This year I will look after them better. I now have five different varieties of figs. The following are notes that have been researched by Bill.

Container grown fig bushes can yield almost as much fruit as similar sized ones planted in the ground, but they need more fertilizer and more water. Move the dormant potted fig bushes outdoors a couple of weeks before the last spring frost. The first feeding is done in the spring. Begin a liquid feeding program with a well-balanced fertilizer. Repeat this feeding every 21 days until mid-August. During the summer months water your bushes frequently. Keep them moist and do not let them dry out or get stressed. By the end of August you can start cutting back on water. Increase the pot size every year until you reach a 24” diameter pot. At this pot size you must root-prune your fig bush every three years (or plant it out). Take the bush out of the pot and cut one-quarter of the roots away, making a root ball. Replant the bush in the same pot with three parts potting mix and one part organic compost. This must be done while the plant is dormant either in the early spring or late fall. Move pots indoors a couple of weeks after the first fall frost.

Pruning for fig production in our Okanagan summer: Grow your fig as a bush of no more than three to five main stubby stems. Keep new ground level shoots to one or two each year as they compete with the fruit crop. When there are eight to 10 new leaves on each new green stem, pinch out the top bud to promote earlier fruiting at each leaf node. Grow as a perennial bush and cut back current year’s wood to eight to 12 inches each.

Fall: Remove stems older than three years.

From the notes above, I am already in trouble. My fig plants have already broken dormancy and this is only January. I have to do some pruning soon. I need a very large heated greenhouse. I have eight geraniums blooming and so far everything looks good. More on the figs in the future.

For more information: 250-558-4556.

Jocelyne Sewell is an organic gardening enthusiast in the North Okanagan and member of Okanagan Gardens & Roses Club. Her column appears every other Wednesday.

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