Stately and dramatic, fig trees lend Mediterranean flair to any sunny outdoor space. In cold areas, growing figs in containers makes it easier to protect the deciduous plant over winter, and in warm areas, it reins in the plant's legendary vigor. Many figs are root-hardy as far north as Zone 5. The trick to success, however, lies in protecting the delicate buds from winter damage and getting a summer that is long and hot to properly ripen the fruit. Consider positioning the container where the fig can bask in the reflected heat of a south-facing wall.
Pot. By limiting root space, small containers favor fruit production over vegetative growth. Pots as small as 16 inches across and deep are suitable, but the size of the plant you purchase may dictate a larger pot.
Soil. Figs are not finicky about soil, so long as it is well drained. Blend commercial potting mix with an equal amount of topsoil and/or compost.
Light. The best fruit production is in full sun.
Water. Figs are naturally drought-tolerant, but in hot weather, containers dry out rapidly. Water daily in high summer; like most fruits, figs produce best when stress-free. If you're unable to keep your fig amply watered, try using mulch or an automated drip irrigation system, or transplant the tree to a larger container.
Recommended varieties. 'Brown Turkey' and 'Chicago Hardy' are best for cold areas. Warm-climate gardeners have more options, including 'Black Mission' and 'Conadria'. Most varieties bear two crops: an early-summer harvest borne on the previous year's twigs, and a larger, later harvest on new growth.
Pruning. Container figs are best maintained at about 6 feet tall. Shorten the stems after the main harvest. Shortening stems instead of removing them entirely maintains buds to bear next year's early crop.
Fertilizer. Too much fertilizer encourages nonproductive vegetative growth. Top-dress the potting soil with compost and apply a granular woody plant fertilizer early each spring.
Hardiness. Fig varieties vary in their hardiness. The most cold-tolerant can endure Zone 5 winters (with protection). Gardeners in Zones 5 through 7 often employ wrapping techniques, using burlap stuffed with dry leaves or straw, to protect the trunk and branches. Wrapping is not necessary if the fig is overwintered in a cool storage area that doesn't freeze.
Read More About Overwintering Fig Trees.
The root systems of plants grown in containers are exposed to colder temperatures in winter than they would be if planted in the ground. If a fruit is rated a full zone hardier than the zone where you live, it can be overwintered outdoors in a weatherproof pot. If possible, move the container to a protected spot near a wall or in the ell of a building and shelter it from strong winds and direct sunlight. For extra protection, sink the pot to its rim in a mound of soil, compost, or mulch. Insulate strawberry crowns with a few inches of dry straw. Check the soil for moisture whenever it is not frozen and water if necessary.
A cold but frost-free storage area, such as a root cellar or unheated garage, may be the best winter option, especially for figs, the tenderest of the three fruits.
Learn more about Container Gardening.
Photo by Andrea Jones/Garden Exposures Library