MONTY DON

If your figs have suf­fered this sea­son as Monty Don’s have, fol­low his ad­vice to save next year’s suc­cu­lent crop

Daily Mail Weekend Magazine - - NEWS -

Our ex­pert’s figs haven’t flour­ished this year. Here he de­scribes what steps to take right now if yours have suf­fered too

The weather this year has been ex­treme, thanks to the cold win­ter and early spring fol­lowed by that blaz­ing hot, dry sum­mer. I am aware that I’m writ­ing this from the com­fort of the wet, western side of the coun­try and that ev­ery­one liv­ing to the east has had a much more parched time of it in the past few months, but for us, the harsh sun fol­low­ing a win­ter of proper snow­falls was very un­usual.

By and large we’ve coped pretty well, but the ef­fect on some gar­den plants has been marked, and not nec­es­sar­ily on those that you might think most vul­ner­a­ble – or in­deed in a man­ner that you might have ex­pected. There were many more green toma­toes in Au­gust than nor­mal be­cause the ex­tra heat was in­hibit­ing ripen­ing. Blos­som end rot was also a ma­jor prob­lem with toma­toes be­cause we all wa­tered too much or too lit­tle in re­sponse to the heat­wave.

Figs were an­other fruit ( yes, toma­toes are fruit) that both pleased and ul­ti­mately dis­ap­pointed me. I have seven fig trees in my gar­den, all planted pretty much at the same time 23 years ago, and all grew bet­ter than ever be­fore. They de­vel­oped healthy shoots and a mass of rather smaller- than- usual leaves – in fact, be­hav­ing just as they do in the Mediter­ranean. They also car­ried par­tic­u­larly large fruit. But here’s the rub: these fruit were all in the sec­ond crop that the trees pro­duce rather than from the first crop, which would nor­mally be ripe at the end of sum­mer. The net ef­fect was that we had far fewer figs to eat than usual.

Let me ex­plain. By mid to late sum­mer, a fig tree will be car­ry­ing three sep­a­rate crops. There will be large fruit, which in the case of my ‘Brown Turkey’ va­ri­ety will have choco­late- coloured skins and deep-scar­let in­te­ri­ors and will be the size of a large plum. In a nor­mal year there will also be rather small fruits that range from the size of a pea to a lar­gish mar­ble. This sec­ond crop will be rock- hard, still green and very un­ripe even at the end of a long sum­mer. Fi­nally, for the third crop, look closely at the end of the shoots and you’ll see tiny lit­tle fruitlets the size of a pin­head to a small pea. These will spend win­ter on the tree be­fore grow­ing and ripen­ing ready for har­vest­ing 12 months later.

But this sum­mer, my sec­ond crop – the mar­ble-sized fruit – be­came much big­ger and more dom­i­nant, at the ex­pense of the first crop ripen- ing prop­erly. Sadly, it’s now time to re­move these im­pres­sively sized fruits from the tree. It might seem like an ap­palling waste but not only will this sec­ond crop never re­ally ripen prop­erly, but its pres­ence and con­tin­ued growth take en­ergy away from the third, cur­rently tiny, crop, which you’ll want to en­joy next year.

Figs are tougher than you might think and can take all but the harsh­est cold – I lost a few trees in 2010 when the tem­per­a­ture dropped to -18 º C but by and large they are very re­silient. They do need good drainage, and a cer­tain amount of re­stric­tion or im­pov­er­ished soil will im­prove fruit­ing. But do not go overboard on that. Give a young fig a good start and al­low the roots enough space to de­velop so you get a rea­son­ably sized tree. If you are grow­ing them in pots, have plenty of grit in the com­post but wa­ter them reg­u­larly and feed once a week in the grow­ing sea­son with a weak mix of liq­uid seaweed – and if you have any figs on your tree big enough to grasp that are green and hard then aban­don all hope; they are not go­ing to ripen!

Monty with his fig trees

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