There are many species of the Fig, which are all natives of warm climates. In some parts of Asia, and in the South of Europe, they are always grown as standards; and the fruit, green and dried, forms an important part of the food of the inhabitants. The London Horticultural catalogue contains the names of seventy-five sorts; and Messrs. Prince, of Flushing, have about forty names in their catalogue. It is cultivated in England as a fruit tree, and, in warm situations, will ripen its fruit in the open air. In Sussex, on the sea-coast, it ripens its fruit on standards. Some of the best in England are at Arundel Castle; and there is a Fig orchard of one hundred trees at Tarring, near Worthing. Those at Arundel are planted six or eight feet apart, and from a single stem allowed to continue branching conical heads, pruning chiefly irregular and redundant growths, and cutting out decayed or injured wood.
The Fig tree may be propagated from seed, cuttings, layers, suckers, roots, and by grafting; the most generally approved method is by layers or cuttings, which come into bearing the second, and sometimes the first year. No tree is more robust or more prolific; even plants in pots or tubs kept in a temperature adapted for the Orange tree, will fruit freely, and ripen two crops a year, and by being taken care of through the winter, will go on growing and ripening fruit without intermission. Mr. Knight has obtained from his hot-house in England, eight successive crops in a year, by bending the limbs in a position below the horizontal. The trees will produce tolerable crops in the second year if rung or decorticated; and by this process maturity of the fruit is accelerated, and its size increased.* Its maturity is also hastened by pricking the fruit with a straw or quill dipped in olive oil, or even by slightly touching the fruit with oil, at the finger's end. In Fig countries the fruit is preserved by dipping it in scalding lye, made of the ashes of the Fig tree, and then dried in the sun.
Girdling, decortication, ringing, or circumcision, as it is sometimes variously called, consists in making two circular incisions quite round the limb, through the bark, at the distance of about a quarter of an inch asunder, more or less, according to the size and thickness of the tree; then by making a perpendicular slit, the ring of the bark is wholly removed to the wood. Ringing or decortication is applicable to every kind of fruit tree, and to the vine. Its operation is twofold. First, in the early production and abundance of blossom buds which it induces: and second, in increasing the size of the fruit and hastening its maturity, according to the season in which the operation is performed.
When Figs are cultivated in a garden, a good loamy soil should be provided; and they may be trained to close fences, or trellises, in sheltered situations. At the approach of winter they must be protected; those trained to close fences may be secured through the winter by a covering of matting; and such as may be in open situations should be liberated from the trellis, and laid down close to the ground, and covered three or four inches with earth; or trenches may be formed of that depth, sufficient to contain the branches, which should be fastened down with hooked pegs, without cramping them: such of the strong central branches as will not bend may be enveloped in litter. They should be pruned before they are laid down in November, and on being raised again in April, they may be trained as before. Figs may be cultivated in private gardens as easily as the vine.