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A fan-trained fig tree, You can grow that!

Our fan-tastic fig tree

Four years ago my brother gave us a very small (and rather desperate looking) fig tree in a ridiculously small pot. To be honest, the word tree is stretching it a bit. It was more of a dead-looking stick with a green shoot emerging out of the soil right next to it. In fact he and his wife were about to dispose of it when they saw the new growth – so, happily for us, they decided to continue to dispose of it but in our direction! We were very keen to give it a home as we had recently moved to the Villas and had a south-east facing white wall begging for fruit trees to be trained up against it…


First we dug a planting-pit directly in front of the wall, which involved removing and sieving several barrow-loads of soil. The finished hole measured just over a metre from left to right, just under a metre from front to back (we were restricted in this direction by some long since demolished outhouse foundations) and about a metre deep. Then, using broken paving slabs and brick rubble (of which we had plenty!) we lined the three open sides and back-filled the hole with the sieved soil mixed with some well rotted garden compost, planting the fig at the same depth as previously grown.


Fig Tree at theVillas

We decided to grow it as a fan rather than an espalier. This involves training the branches into a flat fan shape against the wall, with the two main branches growing outwards at around 40 degrees. The following Spring, rapid growth occurred with shoots coming off the two main lateral branches, so we selected outward growing ones only (to form a spreading fan-like pattern) and removed all the others. At this stage we started using the horizontal wires that Michael had rigged up. At first the training was fairly loose but as the growth continued we progressively tightened the ties to the wire grid, thus encouraging the branches to grow parallel to the wall rather than in a pointing away from it towards the garden.


Now well established, we prune the tree each June, shortening all the side shoots back to five leaves from the main framework and in September we remove any fruit larger than a pea. These tiny embryonic pea-sized figs over-winter, hopefully to ripen the following year… Finally, every week through the summer when the fruits are swelling, we water-on a high potash liquid feed such as tomato fertiliser. Regular watering is also important because the roots are confined to a relatively small area that would otherwise dry out quite rapidly.

Thinking of getting your own fig tree? Then we recommend They have many varieties available and give excellent advice on how to plant, grow and care for fruit trees.

The most delicious fig recipe I’ve found so far is this one:

What you’ll need: Fresh figs, trimmed and halved; 2 tablespoons of honey and 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh rosemary leaves

  1. Grill the figs for 6 to 8 minutes, turning once midway through
  2. Divide between two plates. Drizzle honey over each plate of figs, then top with the chopped rosemary
  3. Serve (suggest with vanilla ice cream) and eat………Sigh.

10 thoughts on “A fan-trained fig tree, You can grow that!

  1. What is the difference between a fan and an espalier?

  2. A fan pruned tree has a palmate branch pattern ( many branches radiating from a common center) whereas an espalier is typically understood to have somewhat of a central leader with lateral branches growing off of it in some pattern. That said, to espalier a woody plant quite simply means to train it to grow in a flat, two dimensional plane. So a fan shaped tree is technically an espalier, but the difference between the two terms is commonly understood.

  3. Love the recipe, too, as well as an introduction to fanning and espalier. Nice post!

    1. Thanks for the comment – if you have a south-west facing wall (or even if you don’t) training fruit trees this way is great, particularly when space is at a premium. Happy growing!

    2. Thanks for the comment – training fruit trees is fun and an interesting challenge. With regards to the recipe, at the Villas we now have figs and rosemary… all we need now is the HONEY!!

  4. I love the idea of growing fans and espalier fruit trees. This is the perfect solution for decorating a dull fence/wall and a practical method to grow delicious fruit without taking up a lot of space. Keep getting the word out. Maybe more folks will copy the idea.

  5. Thanks for the explanation, Forest Keeper!

  6. Great post! I adore figs and I’m planning on replacing a broken fence panel with a wall to make a cosy corner for a fig tree… but I’m not sure of the minimum size wall needed…or whether there can be root issues. I plan to root restrict obviously and then train between a south facing wall (but with limited space because of a large window abou four foot up) and my new 5 ft x 5ft west facing dense breeze block wall that I’ll probably paint black to improve heat absorption.

    Any thoughts?:)



    1. Hi Tania, It looks like you have a sound plan! You are well on your way to make fig jam YUM!!
      Laila Noort recently posted…A new beginning…againMy Profile

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