Overwintering Fig Trees

Figs are hardy only in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 7 through 11, so people in colder areas must protect them.

By Willi Evans Galloway

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Fig leaves infamously cover the more private sections of statues across Europe, so it's rather ironic that fig trees need some covering up in cooler climates! Figs are hardy only in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 7 through 11, so people in colder areas must protect them. Traditionally, gardeners have wrapped figs in layers of burlap and tarpaper. Another method is to dig a trench next to the tree and then loosen the tree's roots, tip it into the trench, and bury it. Both of these methods seem like a lot of work, especially when you can simply roll container-grown figs into the garage for the winter. Here's how to protect your fig tree over winter:

1. Figs grow best in 15-gallon containers filled with a 2-to-1 mix of soilless mix and compost that's been amended with a granular organic fertilizer. Make life easy and place the container on a rolling caddy. Plant a small, hardy variety, such as 'Alma', 'Celeste', or 'Brown Turkey'.

2. Allow the tree to go dormant before you bring it in for the winter. Taper off watering the week before your first expected frost and expose the tree to a few light frosts. This encourages sap to move down the stems and leaves to drop.

3. Remove any remaining leaves and fruit and inspect the plant and potting soil for insects. Spray the plant with dormant oil to kill off any lingering pests or eggs, and move it to a dark, dry location that stays just above freezing, such as an unheated shed or garage. If your overwintering site is light, wrap the plant in dark fabric to prevent it from breaking dormancy early.

4. Keep the soil almost completely dry during the winter, because moist soil can rot the roots.

5. Move the plant back outside two weeks before your last frost. Place it in a warm, sheltered area (for example, against a brick wall), water it thoroughly, and apply a granulated organic fertilizer to the soil. If frost threatens, either roll the plant inside for the night or wrap it in a heavyweight row cover. The fig should begin to leaf out and grow actively within a few weeks.

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