Growing Figs in Central/South Jersey

Can anyone share the basics of growing figs in NJ, Zone 7a? Have a friend that would like to grow them. My first pass read is that she may experience frost damage that causes the tree to die back. Is this likely to happen, if so what is the recommended way to protect the fig? Better to grow as a bush or train into a small tree? Do they take a lot of spray and are the suspect to PC damage? What varieties do people recommend?


Hardy Chicago dies back below 10F. I am 6b and 1 of 3 years they survive with damage.

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Thanks for the info on Hardy Chicago!

  1. Train as a bush—trying to train as a single-trunk fig tree in 6/7 is a waste of time. Plant at least a couple of inches deeper than growing in pot to encourage bush form and to give the plant a better chance of sprouting back from buried nodes in case of total winter topkill.

  2. Plant in a protected area with a warmer microclimate—e.g., against a sunny wall—for better winter survival and better, earlier fruiting.

  3. Protect for winter after fully dormant in fall—there is no single method of doing this. I myself cut and bend the figs back to about 3’, cover with a cage and stuff this tightly full of straw and top this with a tarp; seems to work okay. But again, there are as many protection methods as there are fig growers in cold zones. Extremely cold weather can still kill them back to the ground, even with protection, but they’ll generally come back—though this may take until later spring. They are highly susceptible to frost and freezing when not dormant, so are in danger of damage or even topkill in the event of late spring freezes.

  4. Pick a healthy (i.e., not visibly virus-infected) specimen of any one of what fig people call “Mt. Etna-type” figs. Malta Black, Marseilles Black, Hardy Chicago, Nyack Purple, Papa John, Bethlehem Black, Takoma Violet, etc. These are the best performers in-ground in marginal growing zones and taste excellent to boot; a beginner shouldn’t bother planting anything else. Hardy Chicago is the most commonly available of these cultivars. Probably the safest, cheapest way for a beginner to “test the waters” of fig growing is to get a tissue-cultured Hardy Chicago from Wellspring Gardens, Baker Creek or another outfit. Will need to be grown out a season or two before planting in-ground, though.

  5. Have never seen plum curculio damage on figs here. They are an SWD and African fig fly-magnet later in the season, though. Spinosad seems to help a little, as does keeping fruit picked off. Figs do do get some fungal diseases such as rust and web blight; fruit can also be infected with fungal diseases in wet seasons, sometimes to the detriment of taste, especially of the skin. Some of this can be mitigated by pruning the bush for air circulation during the growing season. Most of my spraying has involved spraying acaricides to get rid of fig bud mites, which can be acquired on plants and cuttings.

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