Fan Trained Fig – Brown Turkey

Unfortunately, I had to remove the fan trained plum that grew in this spot for the last five years. Although it was magnificent and had an excellent form, it suckered violently. One shoot came up through the fence panel, forcing the slats apart. It grew six foot tall and one inch thick in a single season! Removing it was quite a challenge and required access from the neighboring garden. Other suckers appeared up to ten feet away – in the middle of vegetable beds and even lifting the brick paving of the path. It was incorrigible. The only solution was to remove it. Lesson learned.

On the bright side – I now had a ten foot stretch of fence needing filling. So I decided to try a fig. Ficus carrica ‘Brown Turkey’ is a recognised performer in the UK climate: hardy, reliable, self-fertile and with good flavour – particularly recommended for growing against a sunny fence or wall.

Ficus ‘Brown Turkey’ planted May 2015

Figs need to be planted with restricted root space to ensure they produce good crops rather than masses of foliage. I obtained a tall terrazzo planter in a sale at the garden centre, and buried it so that a majority was below ground level. I drilled a dozen additional holes in the base and added lots of gravel for drainage. I filled the rest with good soil enriched with compost and bone meal, then planted the fig in the top.

I chose a plant with several side shoots, facing roughly the right directions. Bamboo splints and plant ties allow the flexible young shoots to be gently forces in the right direction. By next year they will have lost their flexibility and ‘set’ in their new position.

I’ll update the post as things progress…

UPDATE: Late Summer 2016

Summer pruning time! (Sep 24th)


18 months later… it grew!

As you can see the fig has put on good growth. The leaves are healthy and there are immature fruit on the branches. But it is getting bushy and growing forward away from the fence. It needs wrestling into shape.


Fifteen minutes later. Voila! All the branches that were growing forward have been tied to canes and trained flat to the plane of the fence. Previously trained branches that have elongated and curved upwards have been tied down so they are straight. I have also adjusted the existing canes to raise or lower the initially trained branches to make room for the new ones. It looks a bit funny in this photo as some of the leaves are angled away from the sun. Give it a week and it will sort itself out.

In the meantime, lets take a butchers at the fruit which are looking promising. The sunny fence really encourages fruiting. This is a happy fig. When they ripen they will make a happy gardener!

update AUG 2017


This is it in April 2018. I left pruning and training it until the middle of the summer. It was very happy and went on to produce a dozen large ripe figs that varied in flavour from “Wow!” to “Meh!” There were plenty of smaller ones which didn’t quite ripen, even when brought inside. Pity.

UPDATE: Autumn 2019

The fig is now a substantial trained fan. You can see several almost-ready-to-mature figs, but I fear it is a bit late in the season to expect any more to ripen. In August / September I enjoyed three large and perfectly ripe figs. Hoping for more next year.

UPDATE: Spring 2021

Despite being leafless, the fig fan looks great in the spring garden – seen here in May 2021

The biggest change in the photo above is the fence behind the fig: we replaced the whole run (14m of it) in May this year. The smart black panels really show off the bare stems well. However, the stems shouldn’t be visible at this point!

Summer 2021

June 9th 2021

Following a cold spring with many late frosts I thought the fig had died. Even by May there was no signs of life at all: no foliage, except one small leaf emerging from the base. It looked like all the top growth had been killed. Then, in the first week of June it started into growth!

By mid June, the leaves finally started to emerge. With such a late start, I can’t imagine there is much chance of fruit this year!

October 2021

By late October there were many small fruit, a few of which ripened. Not the best year for eating quality or quantity, but very ornamental nevertheless.

December 2021

Here is the fig in December after losing its leaves. As you can see there are many unripe fruit hanging on the branches. Although only a few ripened and were eaten this year, the strong winter shape of this fan



The photo above, taken in mid-summer, shows how the fig fan fits in with the wider planting of the Pond Garden. At this time of the year it is creating a lush leafy backdrop for the perennials in front of it. The large leaves of the fig contrast nicely with the finer foliage around it. The fig tree fits in with the semi-mediterranean theme of this part of the garden.


A reasonable late season harvest this year. We must have eaten at least two dozen fresh figs. I think we could have doubled that if I invested the time to learn how to ripen them more effectively indoors.

15 thoughts on “Fan Trained Fig – Brown Turkey”

  1. Hi Keir, thank you for your post and the following updates, they’re really useful and your fig is looking beautiful. Can I ask how deep (tall) the container is please?

    • Hi Hanna! It is about 14 inches (38cm) square and about 24 to 28 in (60 to 70cm) deep, but with several large holes in the bottom. I can’t remember how big the holes were – at least 2 to 3inches I think? – but the idea is that roots can get out onto the soil underneath (for moisture and nutrients) whilst at the same time feeling constricted. I added gravel underneath the pot as well as in the bottom of the pot – again, just to give those roots a hard time! Seems to have worked!

  2. Hi.

    I really want to do this but can’t figure out if I can just by buying one from a garden centre and give it a go, or if I need to buy one that’s already been started off with the tight shape. Lots of fruit tree specialists offer these espalier but say I need to order in autumn for winter/spring delivery and it’s spring already so I’ve missed out. Is it something a novice can do easily enough from just a regular small purchased tree? Any advice? Thanks

    • Sure, you can grow a fan trained fruit tree starting with any young tree, so go ahead and get one.

      The trick is to cut back the main shoot (leader) after you plant it. This will force the new shoots to form on the left and right as the sap doesn’t have a terminal bud to pour all its energy into. Later in the year you can train the new shoots into your first main branches. (Cut out any going straight towards the fence)

      Have fun!

  3. Hi Keri,

    Thank you for your update on your fan trained fig. I’m looking to do the same and wonder what your pot is made of; pottery or plastic or something else?

    • Hi Lynda,

      The pot is pottery (terrazzo-style fibre-cement) – quite sturdy and thick walled. Even so, the roots will eventually break it (no sign of that yet!) but it will have done its job.

    • Hi Andrew. Sad to say that I never get a very large crop. This year, despite the heatwave, we only had five figs ripen. My fence faces South East, and I think it would be better with a South or South West aspect. Still, I grow it mainly for its architectural form, so I’m happy with mine even if it’s not a good cropper.

  4. This is such a helpful article! Thank you for these yearly updates, it’s great to see the growth and progress. I noticed in your comments section that you said the fig tree will eventually break the pot. What will you have to do then to keep it going (without it getting huge!)? I would absolutely love to plant a fig tree against my tall garden fence, but I would hate to have to chop it all down if it gets too massive in 10 years time.

    • Glad the article has been helpful! The root restriction caused by the pot will have done its thing by the time the pot breaks, so I will just leave it. The annual pruning cycle keeps the tree roughly the same size (height/spread that is). Over time, the main branches will get thicker, but it will not become unmanageable in the foreseeable future.


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