Growing Figs Espalier
Figs are such a versatile and delicious, if not somewhat old fashioned fruit. They originally grew in the hot climates of the desert and are referenced in the bible, and so have been about for some considerable time.
It is only in recent years that we have started to appreciate them again. How come?
Many of us will know of a relative, a grandparent maybe, who had a massive fig tree in their back garden that you climbed up as a youngster and gorged yourself on the delights they produced each year.
These days, figs are grown commercially and there are many varieties available, the most common being Brown Turkey and Adriatic, with others such as Black Genoa, White Genoa and Zavala to name just a few. The fig itself is in fact not a fruit at all, but a flower, and if the birds did not get to feast on them first, and the fruit allowed to split and stretch, you would see a magnificent star shaped “flower” of a fruit.
The fig tree can grow very tall, making it difficult to harvest the fruit from, and so they are now more commonly grown along a fence structure, or espalier.
The structure is approximately 1 meter tall, with two horizontal wires, one half way up, and one along the top. As the young fig tree grows, the tree is bent along the lower wire away from the sunshine. Once tied into place, more shoots will start to grow around the bend, towards the sun. As this growth gets longer and stronger, it too can be tied down in the opposite direction so that you now have a young tree growing that looks like a T shape.
As the tree ages and grows, it will throw more vertical shoots up, which you can tie to the top wire to secure them.
The young tree will fruit after a couple of years, and the fruit will get better as the years move on.
Each autumn, after the leaves have all dropped, it will need to be pruned. Growing the trees in this fashion makes it very easy to prune. Simply take off all the vertical branches back down to the top wire in height, and then thin them out to around 1 meter apart. Very simple. What you are left with it’s a T shaped tree with thin vertical branches at 1 meter intervals tied to the top wire securely.
Growing them and pruning them in this manner means they don’t grow too tall for you to handle, and you can have a great fig tree in your garden along your fence. Now you just have to find all those delicious recipes your grandparents made you and get cooking and preserving them.