Preparing Figs for a Cold Winter

They’re Not Tropical

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Many people mistakenly believe that fig trees are tropical plants. However, they are actually subtropical plants, which is why those of us in cold winter climates can still enjoy fresh, ripe figs. In fact, fig trees benefit from a little rest that cold weather provides. Here at Tips Tree Planting, we understand the importance of proper fig tree care during the winter months.

Potted Fig Trees

If you have potted fig trees, like many of us, it’s important not to rush to bring them indoors when nighttime temperatures start to drop below freezing. Contrary to popular belief, fig trees thrive in cold weather. Exposing them to colder temperatures actually helps strengthen them, making them more resistant to even lower temperatures.

To ensure your potted fig trees enter a deep sleep and remain dormant throughout winter, it’s best to move them to a cool location if temperatures are forecasted to drop below the low ‘teens. An unheated garage, mudroom, or garden shed are suitable options. These spots provide the necessary cold environment without exposing the trees to frigid temperatures.

During this time, you may notice some leaves on your fig trees. Some of these leaves may have been frosted, but there’s no need to worry. As the winter progresses, a fully dormant fig tree sheds its leaves, so any remaining leaves can be gently pulled off before moving the plants to their winter home.

Speaking of winter homes, the ideal temperature for overwintering potted fig trees is between 30 and 45°F. An unheated garage, mudroom, or garden shed can serve as suitable locations. To gauge the temperature accurately, consider using a minimum-maximum thermometer, which provides real-time temperature readings even when you’re not around.

At Tips Tree Planting, we’ve found that retiring potted fig trees to a basement can also work well. Basements typically maintain temperatures of 40 to 45°F during winter. Alternatively, if you have access to an insulated walk-in cooler, you can utilize it to store your potted fig trees. With the addition of a little heat during the coldest months, these coolers can maintain a consistent temperature of 39°F.

During the winter months, it’s essential to keep your potted fig trees on the drier side. Watering them sparingly, perhaps once or twice, helps maintain their dormant state. Remember, the more stem growth on a fig tree, the more fruit it can bear. If you’re aiming for a higher yield, ensure your fig trees have ample stem growth.

Innovations for Greater Yields

At Tips Tree Planting, we’re always looking for innovative methods to increase fig tree yields. In our quest for the juiciest figs, we discovered that building a greenhouse can provide the perfect environment. Greenhouses offer hot summers and cool winters, which mimic the Mediterranean climate that figs thrive in. In fact, we planted four fig trees directly in the ground inside our greenhouse.

To optimize space and fruit production, we trained the fig trees to have short trunks with one or two permanent, horizontal arms. This training method, known as espalier, results in fruits growing on vertical shoots that emerge from the horizontal arms. Each year, we prune the vertical shoots back to the arms, allowing new shoots to bear fruits the following year. This process continues, ensuring consistent fig production.

For those with fig trees growing outdoors, we’ve successfully applied the same espalier technique with a twist. By training a low-growing arm just a few inches above the ground, we can easily cover it with leaves, straw, or other insulating materials. The amount of insulation depends on the expected depth of winter cold.

Over the years, we’ve also experimented with various techniques to protect fig trees during cold winters. These methods include bending over and covering the trees, growing them in pots that are sunk into the ground and lifted before frigid weather arrives, and more. At Tips Tree Planting, we believe there are many paths to achieving a bountiful harvest of fresh figs in summer.

In conclusion, it’s crucial not to protect your fig tree from too much cold too soon. Allowing your tree to experience and benefit from the sleep-inducing effects and increased hardiness that cold exposure brings is essential. If you want to learn more about growing figs in cold climates, including varieties, pruning techniques, accelerating ripening, potting mixes, and more, check out our book, “Growing Figs in Cold Climates,” available from the usual sources and signed copies from our Tips Tree Planting website.

And before you go, here’s a short video we made in October sharing some methods for growing figs in cold climates and introducing our new book: Fig video.

Stay tuned for more juicy gardening tips from Tips Tree Planting!

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