Looking for advice on getting fig trees established to prevent dieback from the cold…
I have a single VDB fig tree (from Raintree) growing in Zone 7A/7B MD that has died back to the ground from cold the past two winters. It’s VDB fig from Raintree. Each year it has sprouted back from the roots and given a few figs.
How do growers in similar climates successfully establish their trees? I’ve seen very large green / yellow fig varieties in the area (10+ foot, very bushy, almost like a grove) that seem to have reached a point where they’ve become impervious to the cold. Is there a point where a fig tree has become large enough that cold is less of an issue? Most winters here we don’t go below 15 deg F. The past two winters it’s gotten down to maybe 5 deg F a couple days. I tried the christmas lights trick last year but still lost almost all of the tree. This year I wrapped the tree in a breathable fabric but no lights, so I’ll see how that does.
Would appreciate advice from those who are successfully growing figs :). I’ll try to put some pictures up later.
Darwin, you picked one of the least hardy figs. I am in 7A in MD and VdB is my least hardy fig. Still, the last two winters have been particularly harsh. All of my dozen varieties died back to the ground the last two winters. For about ten years before that they generally made it through the winter. VdB I would lose a lot more wood on than the other figs though.
If you are serious about protection I would wrap in aluminum bubble wrap insulation, I did that for several years when my trees were small and I never lost any wood. Or, get some other fig thats not so tender and plant right next to your VDB, and hope the winters are not so bad for a stretch. This winter is more than halfway through the worst period and so far it has not gotten nearly as cold as the previous two before that.
I’ve tried a couple things so far. The first year I didn’t do anything because the fig should be okay down to about 15F. We had a cold snap down to 5F that killed the tree to the ground. That summer it grew back but none of the figs were able to ripen.
The 2nd winter (last year) I tried the christmas lights with C9 bulbs for heat, plus mulching and I placed bricks around the tree for some solar gain. Again that year we got down to 5F a couple nights and I lost most of the tree. My efforts definitely helped though; the base of the tree lived through the winter, one of the branches made it and sent out a leaf that subsequently died, the tree made decent growth back from the roots, and I got about 15 figs to ripen.
This winter I’m not using the C9 christmas bulbs because a lot of them burned out (this may have contributed to the previous year not being a success). I wrapped the tree in a black fabric and still have the bricks around the tree from the previous year. I noticed that the roots have actually grown into the bricks which was kinda funny. The tree is on the west of the house and has a windbreak to the north. Unless we get another cold dip this year I think it should do well (until the next winter we get below 15F).
Im possibly a little warmer climate, but it did get down to 8F two years in a row. This winter has been very mild.
Cold hardy figs help a lot. My hardiest are Hardy Chicago, Petite negri, Brunswick, and Lattarula. I read Celeste is a good gold hardy variety and am trying that one now. Maybe Atriano, it seems to tolerate cold but
i have not had it very long.
Do not over fertilize. If growth is more than 18 inches per year, it is less cold hardy. Soft rank growth on figs is much more freeze tender. I fertilize only if less than 1 foot growth per year. My older trees get no fertilizer at all. If I do feed them, I fertilize figs only in the Spring, until mid June, then stop, to give new growth a chance to lignify and toughen up.
When my trees were smaller I tried spraying with antidessicant in early winter. I dont know if that helped. Maybe.
I have some fig trees on south side of house in a warmer microclimate, and others more exposed. The trees near the house seem to do better.
Also when smaller, I did wrap them. Double edge sword,mice and voles like it there, all you csn eat bark buffet for them. Som befire wrapping, anti rident measures might be advised. I had small ones that I covered with up ended pkastic garbage cans. They all survived a cold einter here, except one that was chewed even into the roots by a family of happy voles.
I can second Bear’s mentions of Chicago and Celeste. These are my two most reliable figs by a wide margin. I have some newer varieties that may beat them out but so far those two have been the best. Atreano is hardy but not productive for me, I have never gotten a large crop in over ten years of growing it.
which suggests some cold hardy fig varieties. Maybe other users can refer to it as a starting point.
Hardy Chicago and Celeste definitely are commonly quoted as cold hardy varieties. Have you noticed with the figs you’ve tried if they tend to be more sensitive to cold while they are younger? I’ve seen that mentioned before.
The last two east coast winters were unusually cold, my fig died back as well for first time ever, I wrapped it in snow fencing (4’ diameter) and stuffed it like a giant burrito with shredded leaves. Have to refill every so often as the leaves settle. However this winter appears more normal than the previous two, so I’m hopeful for a nice breba crop as well.
exactly the case in las vegas. It is a bit demoralizing considering it is supposedly a desert, lol! If you drive around here, you’d see very few established figs big enough to be considered ‘trees’.
have seen just several around town, maybe those got lucky to have grown big enough permitted by several consecutive years of mild winters, or the owners were just outright diligent with insulation or heating.
I’m in the colder environment than you guys. I talked to another Scott who is a member here and lives about 9 miles for me. He said the most hardiest fig he has is Florea. I did some research and discovered Danny’s Delite. This fig is a found fig, it was found in Michigan! I believe it to be as hardy as anything else. A plus is it’s a darn good fig too! I have one coming from Almost Eden. They are probably out by now. I also have a Florea going on 2nd leaf in a container. The fig experts say to grow in pots for two years before planting out. I want to have cuttings of it growing as a backup before I try it, so probably three years before I plant it out.
My plan is to grow some in ground, and then remove them once dormant and store in the garage, I’ll root prune and put them back in the ground in the spring. It is so cold here, even in a mild year like this year, it really is the only way to do it besides the Zombie technique of burying the whole tree!
Here is an example of a tree that is buried each year in Quebec Zone 5.
This tree is dug up and laid down every year. I don’t want one this big, but it is a way to have a big tree in colder zones. It can be done with a lot of work. Although wrapping trees is a lot of work too! Again not much options for someone like me in zone 6a/5b
I’d like to present an entirely different slant on this topic.
Most figs that die back do so because they don’t have a sufficiently large enough root system, in order to sustain the tree from the cold temps. Many fig growers are in too big of a hurry to plant their trees, and they plant them before the root system is fully developed. Sometimes we ask our figs to do too much, before they’re ready.
I did mention waiting 2 years, although again where I’m at it not going to help that much. I agree though for me I most definitely need to wait.
I do plan to plant some seedlings in the ground, they will be removed before winter.
I agree with this advice. And don’t water especially after mid summer. You want mature brown wood going into fall. I think the main reason an older tree is more hardy is the vigor has settled down. That gives the mature wood that’s way more hardy. Too many people push their young trees with water and fertilizer. So it freezes back and the grows back with high vigor again the next yr. Break out of that cycle as early as possible.
That is why at first at least I’m taking the trees out of ground, and storing in the garage. That way the tree can get big! Maybe try to leave it once a lot bigger, or becomes too big to handle. I want at least one larger tree here, if not all larger trees. Even in containers. I will just keep the best of the best.
Mid-summer pruning is great. Just don’t prune in later summer or fall.
One caveat about older figs, I had some that got pretty big which all died back two years ago. I have also seen some really huge ones (6" diameter and more) and those also died back in a cold year. Figs are iffy in our climate, unless they are completely covered every single year. The big old fig will take 3-5 degrees more cold than a couple year old tree but thats about it.
Scott lived in Z7 and his figs had died back to the ground at times so there is no chance for my in-ground fig trees to grow big. I just buried the root systems a foot deeper to fight the -12F temp. They come back up every Spring.
I showed pictures in this thread of a 20 foot in ground tree in zone 5. Of course you could be referring to what you’re willing to do. It certainly is possible though. I plan to have 6 or 7 foot fig tree in Zone 5b, in ground.
The 20 foot tree btw produces about 2500 figs. Now I don’t need that many and I have no place to bury such a big tree. But doing it for a 6 foot tree, and only one tree, would be fairly easy.I’l just trim it to stay 6 foot. Give me five years and I’ll post photos. I plan to dig it out the first few years, then bury it once it’s 4 or 5 feet tall. I may decide only to grow it only 4 foot tall, depends how hard it is to bury it.
Here is a picture of the large fig cover I used for several years:
It covered two 6’ high figs. The ground below would warm up the interior, at around 0F outside it was 15F under the cover. It might even work in zone 5 as the colder it gets the bigger the in-out temperature difference gets.