Matlab figure properties which can be set through the properties editor can also be set by scripts. My main stumbling block was not realising that gca is a builtin function which returns the current axes. A list of all properties.
Below is a example matlab script which plots a graph then adds minor ticks to the X-axis:
a = 1:100 ; b = 101:200 ; figure plot(a, b) % gca : get current axes set(gca, 'XMinorTick','on')