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Marie Iannotti

Gardening Question of the Week:
Can I Grow Figs?

By January 27, 2010

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April wrote, "I live in northern NJ. Would a fig tree grow here?"

Figs are one of the last fruits and vegetables that are only available seasonally. Northerners keep a sharp eye out for the first figs to arrive in stores, usually early fall. As wonderful as the west coast figs are, there's no substitute for a just picked fig. Unfortunately figs are only hardy to about USDA Zone 7 and most of northern Jersey is, at best, a Zone 6.

That hasn't stopped gardeners from coming up with ways to fool Mother Nature. The most extreme method of growing fig in cold climates is to dig a tree length trench next to the tree, loosen the roots and lower the tree into the trench. Then you bury the tree and mulch it well, until the temps warm in the spring and you can tilt it back up. No thank you.

A better option is to grow your fig in a pot. You'll need a large pot; something along the size of a half barrel. Then you have 2 options: When a frost threatens, you can move the potted fig into a garage or basement where it can spend the winter being cool and dormant, but not freezing. If you choose this option, leave the tree out doors, as long as possible, so it can slowly go into dormancy. Or you can bring the potted tree into a greenhouse or sunroom. Some people even grow their fig trees all year long in vented greenhouses.

Potted fig trees can still get large. For the most part, fig trees don't mind having their roots a little pot bound. But every three years or so, you're going to need to root prune your tree. Cut off about 1/3of the roots and prune the top by about a third, at the same time. Spring is the best time for this.

'Petite Negri' fig seems to be the most often recommended fig tree for containers. It's a black fruit with sweet, red flesh. In warm climates, you can get 2 crops per year. (USDA Zones 7 - 11, outdoors).

Have you grown figs? Help April out and let us know what types of fig you grow and how you do it.

Photo: majima82 / stock.schng.

Comments

January 27, 2010 at 8:09 am
(1) Stacey P. says:

I live in South Western PA. and have grown figs two ways. The most successful has been , as April said, in a large pot indoors. My pot is only about 18 inches. I can pick it up. The tree is two years old and is a negrone fig I bought through a seed company. This tree is brought indoors and put in a very cold (unheated) room and watered only once monthly. last year it produced pretty well for a young tree. The other fig I have planted outdoors on a south facing brick wall…it is a brown turkey fig that is maybe 4 years old, but new to my garden. It died all the way back and did not produce any figs last year. I left it in the ground , as we are building a greenhouse in the spring and I will pot in and move it there then.
My local greenhouse, also a bit fig crazy, experimented with heavy doses of fertilizer last summer and had great crops from potted figs.

January 27, 2010 at 9:32 am
(2) BARBARA MARSH says:

I had a turkey red fig tree for 5 years in a large pot outdoors in Western Washington (zone 7) in a mostly shaded area. It produced nothing. Then I bouught a home with a sunny yard and transplanted it. 3 years later it produced a nice 1st crop but the season is too short ro the second (larger crop) to ripen.

January 27, 2010 at 12:41 pm
(3) gardening says:

Stacey, do you know what kind of fertilizer they used?

BTW, I’m impressed that your tree is doing so well in an 18″ pot. That’s a size that anyone could manage. You might be responsible for a surge in fig growing!

January 27, 2010 at 12:43 pm
(4) gardening says:

Barbara, that’s interesting that the change in exposure would make such a dramatic difference. Thank goodness you didn’t move from sun to shade. That would have been frustrating.

January 27, 2010 at 3:13 pm
(5) Vanessa R says:

Just as a fun note – I live in Zone 5. The local university has a fig tree growing near their greenhouses. It’s in a bit of a sheltered location, so I’m sure that helps.

January 27, 2010 at 3:52 pm
(6) krista bruck says:

How do you grow Avacados? I live in Indiand and the last 2 summers havn’t been very warm.

January 29, 2010 at 2:24 pm
(7) gardening says:

Krista, avocados like it even warmer than figs. I haven’t tried growing one, past the toothpicks in a glass phase, but there are some dwarf varieties that are supposed to do well in containers, even indoors. I did read that they don’t grow true from seed (so much for my toothpick trials) and can take 10 to 15 years to start producing. Maybe that’s why they’re so pricey.

The best info I could find on growing in containers is from a California Fruit Growers fact sheet. They list ‘Gwen’, ‘Whitsell’ and ‘Wurtz’ as suitable varieties for containers.

January 27, 2010 at 3:59 pm
(8) gardening says:

Vanessa, if you find out the variety, I’d love to know.

January 27, 2010 at 8:47 pm
(9) Stacey P. says:

My greenhouse is closed for the winter, so I can’t ask them specifically… when we discussed it she said just any fruit/vegetable fertilizer I had would be ok..such as what I use in the vegetable garden. I would be thrilled to be responsible for an upswing in fig growing…I have given many friends their first taste of a fresh fig. Out to change the belief that fig..is that gross brown stuff in a newton!

January 27, 2010 at 9:34 pm
(10) Clare Perkowski says:

I’ve been growing a White Italian fig in a huge pot on rollers for the past three years very sucessfully. I bring it out in the spring and roll it back into the garage for the winter. It’s near a window in the garage and gets light and I water it a few times over the winter. The figs are plentiful and very delicious. I like to share them. I’ve found this very easy and I really am not a big gardener.

January 28, 2010 at 5:15 am
(11) Paul says:

Unfortunately the frost completely killed off my first attempt at growing Figs. Having taken your advice I think I will prosper with my second attempt thank you

January 28, 2010 at 9:10 pm
(12) Worm Castings says:

If your going to grow a fruit tree in a container, I’ve seen fantastic results with the self-watering method. The ever-constant moisture is the key. And you can add liquid fertilizer in the water resevoir. Actually, we are now growing all our vegetables this way, using a soil-less mix of 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 perilite, 1/3 worm compost. I hadn’t considered a fig, but now I feel inspired!

January 29, 2010 at 2:13 pm
(13) Marie Iannotti says:

Worm Castings, that’s a great suggestion. How widely distributed are your products?

February 3, 2010 at 3:28 pm
(14) Edil says:

You are correct about avocados ,they are really,hot weather gems and do not grow true from seed.They usually take between 3 and 5 years to start producing fruits but the real heavy crops stars after 5 years.They are big trees ,and the preferd growing zone is 10 to 11.With luck and using the big pot technic you can try to grow it in cooler zones ,but they have a very long period of fruit setting so my guess is that you can not take lower than zones 9 maybe 8.If you can grow the tree in a conservatory that will be ideal.

February 6, 2010 at 2:51 pm
(15) Kitty says:

Yes u can grow figs up to zone 5 if u buy a cold hardy plant and of course in 5 mulch/protection would be needed. There is one called Chicago Hardy Fig that can survive to zone 5 and that is not the only variety that is cold hardy. I have seen them in places far north of Northern NJ. Adrianos Fig Trees grows and sells to Canada only. Those are definitely cold hardy plants but need mulching for those zones.

Take a look at Edible Landscapes or Stark Bros, there r many others that sell cold hardy figs too.

Ficus carica ‘Chicago Hardy’

http://www.adrianosfigtrees.com/index.html

February 8, 2010 at 12:09 pm
(16) Marie Iannotti says:

Kitty, thanks for the tip about ‘Chicago Hardy’ and the link. I’ve read about the hardier fig trees, but I’ve never heard from an actual gardener who’d had success with them. Good to know.

February 9, 2010 at 4:23 pm
(17) Neal says:

A friend’s father grew figs in his garden in Cleveland, Ohio about five miles south of the lake (Erie). When they had to put him in a nursing home and sell the house, I took some cuttings. His father had bent the trees over and mulched in the past but the trees had survived Cleveland winters for several years with no care.

A couple of the cuttings survived and last year I put them in larger pots. We got a few small figs last year. We are a bit further south of the lake so I brought the pots into the garage for protection.

One problem that I did have last year was we had the plants inside by the sliding glass doors and they had started leafing out. When we took them outside, I think the direct sunlight burned the leaves because most of them lost their color and fell off. It was well into June when the leaves came back.

February 10, 2010 at 9:18 am
(18) Marie Iannotti says:

Neal, that must have been really annoying, to have over-wintered the figs only to have them drop their leaves when you moved them back outside.

But I am so heartened by how many of you have figs on such young trees. I hope a lot of people are reading this and try growing their own trees this year.

May 18, 2011 at 12:51 pm
(19) Don C. says:

I live in Connecticut and have 2 beautiful fruit bearing figs in my yard, in big pots, grown from cuttings. I move them to my basement in the winter. 1 is a turkey fig and the other is called “Drop of Gold”

Here is an excellent link http://www.figtrees.net

May 18, 2011 at 1:07 pm
(20) gardening says:

Mine spent the winter in the basement too. It seems very happy to be out in the fresh air now. The hardest part about doing this is getting it down the stairs, so I don’t let it get too tall.

February 21, 2010 at 2:46 am
(21) Vanessa R says:

I’ll check with the college and see if my greenhouse professor is still there, or see if someone knows the fig variety. I should go back and visit anyways…one of my fondest dates ever started with dinner in the jungle room of the greenhouse :)

February 21, 2010 at 2:51 pm
(22) Marie Iannotti says:

Vanessa, it sounds like you’ve lead a colorful life. ;-)

July 14, 2010 at 2:07 pm
(23) Worm Castings says:

Marie, didn’t notice your question. Our worm castings are distributed world wide.

November 16, 2010 at 11:53 am
(24) AJ says:

I live in northern NJ, zone 6a, and have been growing figs for 8+ years. Most of my varieties are in pots of various sizes, but I keep a few hardier varieties outside (Brown Turkey, Negronne, Chicago) growing close to the south side of the house for protection and added warmth. You can add 1/2 to an entire zone by planting near the foundation of your home. In winter the potted figs come upstairs to the warmest/sunniest room with a southern exposure. The smaller plants go into a small greenhouse with a heating mat inside & all but the lowest shelf removed (heating mat is below the shelf), this helps them to hold onto their 2nd crop since we usually keep the house cool in the fall/winter. The plants that remain outside are bundled-up for the winter. This method has worked great for us. We keep the potted varieties small through pruning branches/roots when the plant is in a dormant state, and the cuttings are rooted for more plants.

November 16, 2010 at 12:14 pm
(25) gardening says:

AJ, nice to hear you’ve had good luck over-wintering figs outdoors. That’s an excellent tip about keeping them small, with pruning. Most fig trees want to be big and grow surprisingly quickly. And my goodness, you must have a lot of figs. Lucky you!

September 20, 2011 at 10:27 pm
(26) Anna Maria says:

I live in the Bronx in New York about a city block from the Long Island Sound. I purchased a small fig tree this year and I think it is a Verde. The tree is about 3 feet tall and is planted in a pot that is about a half barrel. It took 60 quarts of soil. I have no garage or basement and no way to bring this tree indoors for the winter. Do I have any hope? How should I wrap it for the winter. It is in a very sunny spot even in the winter. I would apprecialte any advice.

September 21, 2011 at 4:06 pm
(27) Marie Iannotti says:

Anna Maria, I’m not familiar with the variety, but I wouldn’t give up on your tree yet. Wrapping is a good idea.

You want to let it go dormant and drop its leaves and then you can start the process of tying up the branches, wrapping them with burlap and blankets and protecting the whole thing with plastic. Here’s a good example of how it’s done, from a gardener on Staten Island.

Luckily you don’t really have to worry about breaking branches, since they grow back so quickly. Let us know how it turns out.

January 6, 2012 at 11:52 am
(28) Todd says:

Fig trees absolutely love composted chicken manure. I grew up in Southeast Texas where many people grow figs at home. I’d say that most of them use chicken manure. The trees produce prodigious amounts of fruit. I live in Kentucky now and my three small potted trees get manured each spring when I put them out and they produce very well.

January 6, 2012 at 3:18 pm
(29) gardening says:

I really have to start raising chickens. It would be nice to have a pet that earned its keep.

September 23, 2012 at 8:55 am
(30) jason says:

I live in Ontario just about 1hr from Toronto and I have sucessfully kept fig trees alive and producing fruit each year and sometimes twice a year. In our very cold climate. Mine are in pots and each year I take them indoors and I have also visited Adrianos Figs in Oakville Ontario and he covers his up and his trees are full. If you go to his site I believe he explains how. This year I made a green house to see how well it works.

September 23, 2012 at 3:11 pm
(31) Marie Iannotti says:

Jason, I bring mine indoors too, where it goes dormant until spring. Does yours grow year round?

December 16, 2012 at 10:49 am
(32) Ty says:

Great comments on figs. I am new to figs as of last year this time, but I am already hooked. While traveling overseas I had the opportunity to bite into a fig the size of a small pear and am in search of a fig with such size again. Until then, I’m having fun growing my celeste and other unknown variety, and tasting other varieties as I buy them at the store.

I am open to trading cuttings if any others are interested in doing so. Just say the word.

One last thought: I’ve been collecting cuttings from an established in-ground tree that has 40+ years from a friend’s Grandmother’s house. The family is currently in talks of selling Gram’s house as she is getting older and I thought a great gift idea would be small potted established cuttings from Gram’s trees to give to each of the grandkids – Always well received as family memories don’t feel “lost” when a house is sold, a grandparent/parent passes, etc.

January 16, 2013 at 11:09 am
(33) Vivai says:

Hi to all:

My only fig was indoor for several years before
I moved it into the garden this September.
It is in a sheltered area. I gave it winter protection
with lots of leaves, covered the top with a big cardboard box
with bags of leaves at the base of it.
I live in Toronto, Canada.
The zone is 5 but sometimes the weather is warm.

Since this is the first year to have it outside,
I will be anxious to see how it will do in the Spring.

January 16, 2013 at 11:29 am
(34) Marie Iannotti says:

I’ve known zone 5 gardeners who managed to keep their figs outside, with lots of protection. As you said, it all depends on how bad the winter gets. I’d be interested to hear how it does.

October 25, 2013 at 9:34 am
(35) NJ Fig Trees owner says:

We have grown figs in NJ for the past 5-6 years. My one tree yields dozens of figs for 2-4 weeks usually starting in mid to late August, but this year (2013) they didn’t start until first week of September and up until this past week with the cold snap. I still have some figs on both of the the tree (green ones), but it is too cold for the bees, so they left and the fruit will not finish ripening with them. We are about to remove the remainder of the figs and cinch the branches together using nylon come alongs and then cover the trees with a huge tarp (purchased from Harbor Freights cheaply), and we make sure it is tight, but not too tightly covered. We also tuck the bottom of the tarp into the dirt and cover with more dirt and mulch to hold it down and prevent a draft. We also put a bucket over the top to ensure snow, when it does eventually snow, doesn’t get into the tarp. One is a black fig and the other is a green/bown fig. One tree has yielded an average of 4-5 dozen figs for the past couple of years and the other started this year with less than a dozen so far, but it is about a year or so younger then the other tree. You need quality dirt that is rick in nutrients and we don’t use any checmicals or pesticides (we are organic). Our trees are about 4 fieet wide and 7-8 feet tall. Good Luck!

November 25, 2013 at 2:11 pm
(36) Nick Saracini says:

My Cousin gave me an offspring of his fig tree. He has it outside in west Philly. I have mine in a pot and it grew really well this Summer. I have moved it into our basement for the Winter. It is about 18″ tall, and even got 1 really small fruit on it. I am going to move it outside this Summer or next. I figure it comes from really good genes.

December 10, 2013 at 3:14 pm
(37) Marie Iannotti says:

I wonder what variety your cousin grows outdoors, in west Philly. Mine is not hardy and I have to move it indoors every fall. It still goes dormant and drops all of its leaves, so it’s not the most attractive houseplant, lol.

March 27, 2014 at 1:02 pm
(38) George says:

I live in zone 6 (Crestwood, KY) just north of Louisville. I started four fig trees last year and I mulched and covered them for the winter. It will not be long before I will uncover them and I hope they survived. One is a Chicago Hardy so I’m not so worried about it. My neighbor has two figs and he never does anything to them. They are not protected in any way. I took cuttings from them and am preparing to root hem as soon as the weather permits. I do not know the variety but if they can survive last winter, then those are the ones I want.

March 27, 2014 at 1:32 pm
(39) Marie Iannotti says:

I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you, George. My non-hardy fig is in my basement and it came out of dormancy several weeks ago. I don’t think I’ll be putting it outdoors for at least a month, poor thing.

I wish your neighbor knew the variety, so we could all look for it. If it survived, maybe you two could start selling cuttings. ‘Louisville Wonder Fig’ sounds good, no?

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