What are the options for growing figs in marginal zones?

After 6 or 7 years of hardly any winter damage on my figs, I’ve had significant die-back 3 of the last 4 winters, including this one, so I’m interested in ways of hedging my bets for the worse winters by protecting one or two bushes. What are all my options? What do growers in zone 6 do?

I have an old tobacco barn where I’ve been able to overwinter potted figs very well, but I haven’t had success actually fruiting figs in pots, but I could try using larger pots than I have so far or maybe doing whatever else any of you all would recommend.

Another thought is to have a large potted fig ready to plant in the ground every spring, either as an additional fig to grow or as a replacement for one that died back, or I could just sell it or give it away if my in-ground figs didn’t have any die-back that year.

What about protecting, though? Could I prune a fig back heavily in November and then cover it?

We only had one spell of a few days this past winter where it dropped into the single digits and otherwise I don’t think we even saw low teens, and I covered a few young bushes (~3-4’ tall, 2nd year in the ground after dying back last winter even though my older figs came through fine last winter, although the older bushes are in better locations) with comforter type blankets I bought at thrift stores, but even being covered with those blankets for that cold spell they still all died back to the ground again.

I find figs easier to fruit in pots than in ground, even in ground in my greenhouse with no freezes. In ground they are usually too vigorous, all growth and often little fruit. Being somewhat root bound in pots slows them down and mine fruit heavily.


Same here!

Numerous discussions exist here and on the fig boards regarding protection.

I had a Madeline des deux Saisons that I bought last fall as a pretty small fig with just 2 whip-like narrow trunks. It developed a breba fig this very spring.

I just say that because I find it hard to believe the figs have never fruited for you in pots, although I’ve heard it is possible with certain slow-growing varieties that can take 3-5 years to bear. So I suppose it’s possible but it’s very odd. Most figs growand fruit quite quickly in pots in my limited experience. What varieties have you tried in pots? Could you describe in detail your pot culture, like size of pot, type of soil, typical annual growth, etc? What do you do with them during the winter?

I’ve never intentionally tried to manage a potted fig for fruit before – I’ve only just tried to size them up a little in pots before planting or I’ve sometimes kept a fig in a pot a little longer just as a back-up to a duplicate of the same variety in-ground – but I have had potted figs start to fruit plenty of times. A fig in a 2-3 gallon pot will typically try to produce 2-3 figs for me, but it seems like they kind of dry out (abort almost) just before they get fully ripe. I don’t think any of my potted figs has ever produced a really good fig.

Mostly I haven’t gone larger than about a 3 gallon pot, but I did pot one in a 7-10 gallon pot one year. It was already 3-4’ tall with a few good stems and some branching when I dug it up. It tried to produce about a dozen figs, but it grew very little that year, maybe a few inches (compared to typically a few feet for figs like that that in the ground without any winter die-back). That big one was a Brown Turkey. Others that have tried fruiting in their pots include Marseilles, Hollier, Strawberry Verte, and some rootings/layerings of some local bushes of unknown variety.

With these figs for potting mix I used mostly well rotted cow manure that included quite a bit of mostly previously kiln dried pine sawdust/shavings from the bedding. I commonly mixed in maybe 1/3 of my own topsoil. Just recently I’ve started using more leaf mold in my potting mix. I’ve sometimes mixed in some creek sand. I no longer have a good source of sawdust for bedding so my cow manure only has a little bit of hay/straw mixed in with it now, which is far enough rotten by the time I use it that it’s no longer identifiable, unlike the sawdust, which although rotted together with the manure still gave the whole mix an identifiable texture. Those are pretty much the ingredients I have available (and my interest is really in doing the best I can with what I have, so I’d probably give up on the idea of fruiting figs in pots and just make do with what I can grow in-ground if pot culture meant having to purchase potting mix ingredients.)

I described how little that large Brown Turkey grew, but I typically get much better growth at first: if I pot up a branch that’s already layered with decent roots, I might get 2 or 3’ of growth that first year.

I overwinter potted figs in an old tobacco barn that’s just slightly below grade. They don’t seem to suffer any cold injury at all. At least one small fig bush (2 stems, no branching yet) that I just pulled out of the building is developing at least one breba fig already, but I just planted it yesterday.

Well i would with that mix. Nothing is going to grow much in that. I can get as much as 5 feet growth a year in my potting soil.
.I have had rooted figs in the same year I rooted them fruit like crazy.
This fig is 5 months old. I stuck a stick in a pot and it did this. You can see the parafilm still on the scion.

It produced about 13 figs it’s first year. Not all ripened in time

. This year I’m doing two air layers on this one year tree. These are the same figs, it grew a 2 foot main stem, and two side stems I’m air layering off for new plants. Put in 10 gallon root pouch.

Here’s another first year fig. Unknown Teramo. It grew about five feet tall it’s first year.
Has breba on it right now.


Here it is five minutes ago, starting to form a few breba and the first leaves of the season are coming out.


Awesome looking figs! My VdB and Black Mission are in the ground and did not fruit last year. Fingers crossed for this year, I’ll pinch them to try and help the fruiting.
As for winter protection, if you cover them and then string a set of Christmas lights under the blanket, it will provide a little extra heat that might prove the difference next year.

Whatever improvement might be made on my potting mix by purchased ingredients, my mix produces nice growth with pomegranates, persimmons, apples, hazelnuts, cornelian cherries, pawpaws, muscadines, kiwis… lots of things… and even my figs grow pretty well; they just don’t mature good fruit and they seem to hit a limit of how big they want to get growing in a pot (although I could size up to much larger pots than I’ve used, like I’ve done with pomegranates that I’ve intentionally kept in pots, for example.)

What’s a good yield from, say, a fig in a 20 gal pot, though? Unless I could hope for at least a dozen quarts/year and preferably two or three dozen or more it hardly seems worth the effort of growing in pots, at least not in zone 7. My goal would be to get at least as many figs as one or two medium-size in-ground figs bushes would produce in a good year, but if it would take dozens of large pots to achieve the same kind of yield, then it seems protecting in-ground figs would surely be easier.

Stringing with Christmas lights and covering with a blanket sounds nice, but I’d need something like a 30’x30’ blanket to cover one medium-size fig (figuring 8’ up, 10’ across, and 8’ back down.) Are you suggesting some kind of tarp that big? I guess I could do that. What kind of tarp/blanket would I want to use? Something that would shed water instead of absorbing it? I have one fig up against a building to which I might be able to fasten one side of the blanket, saving a little bit on the size blanket necessary. Have there been any threads where different people have discussed their methods of covering/protecting figs? Would it make sense to prune figs back heavily in the fall to make covering easier? If so, how much pruning?

I am no expert, having grown figs for only four years, and a couple years in ground here in zone 5. Here’s my 2 cents: In order to be successful with your objective, start with the appropriate varieties- hardy types that will produce fruit even after winter damage and even dieback to the ground. Some proven ones include Improved Celeste, Malta Black, Florea, Sal’s, Gino’s, Hardy Chicago, Ronde De Bordeaux. Then there are the unknown varieties that arent in trade but which were brought by immigrants and have been ‘discovered’ by fruit explorers in exotic places lIke Brooklyn and Pittsburg. If you need some cuttings just let me know.
Selecting the ideal microclimate can make a big difference in survival and ripe fruit- sheltered from the north, full sun.
Training the plant to a low cordon will make winter protection much easier. I buried mine in woodchips and they seem to have survived below zero temps twould years running. Thats probably overkill for your location, you could probably get away with much less. Blocking the dessicating effects of wind seems pretty important, so I’d lean towards tarps or platinum and away from blankets which might trap oisture against the plant. There are many descriptions of the techniques folks use to protect figs on fig growing forums like ourfigs.com.
I have been told that getting 200 figs from a 25 gal pot is possible, but the plant must be carefully managed.
I like that you are using indigenous resources for your potting mix, I find that my figs prefer a very well draining mix so I use pine bark fines at a high percentage; 50-75%. They are hungry plants that can take aggressive fertilizing and grow quite rapidly.
Important to not fertilize with nitrogen after early summer or growth will be too tender going into winter.
Be optomistic!


I have better than 25 varieties in pots, from 1 gal up to 15+. I too find getting them to fruit is not always as easy as some here make it seem. I think my downfall is inadequate fertilizing. They grow well, but seem to stall for weeks and just sit there. I’ve done the pinching thing.

It is my intention to really be more conscientious about fertilizing my biggest figs more aggressively to see it it remedies my fruitlessness.

I got figs off of 4 varieties last year. They were good, but given what someone in my climate must do to maintain figs these are very labor intensive figs.



I have been growing and selling figs, for about 12 years or so. I can’t remember off hand, how many we have, in ground and also in pots. The potted figs, range from one gallon to 7 gallon pots. Also, in ground figs are planted in two different spots.

The main thing that we have discovered here, is that it is not just winter cold that kills figs, but late winter, early spring sun, that kills figs, more then cold. Figs planted next to our heated basement wall, have always been killed to the ground. But, the same figs just three feet away, have been able to keep two year old growth alive from year to year. As long as the growth is no higher then 8"to 12", from the ground.

As to heavy bearing figs in pots. The heaviest bearing fig we have is Hanc’s English Brown Turkey. It is in a half full, 5 gallon pot. It also, been has been identified by Herman, as Southern Brown turkey. If I could only have one potted fig, it would be this fig.

It is not only easy to grow, very cold hardy, heavy bearing, but also very early. About 7 to 10 days earlier then the average early figs, such as Ronde de Bordeaux, and Marseille Black VS.

I have a list of the figs we have been testing for cold hardiness, the past 12 years, or so, here in our 5b/6a location in Connecticut.

I was out sick for the last two years and the list needs to be updated. But, I think it will still point new growers in the right direction.

If any one would like for me to send them the list, simply email me direct at: robertcharper@ gmail.com


Robert, thanks for chiming in! Glad you are feeling better.
You experience and a few others’ guided me in getting started growing figs in the north country. When do you typically uncover your inground plants and is there any temperture threshold you look for in making that choice?
Have you ever gotten breba figs from inground plants?

I’m not sure why you’re having problems. My only thought is more aeration, if you could add a floor dry/oil absorbent product with diatomaceous earth or even ones with clay would help I bet.Kitty litter works too.
Last year was my 2nd year with figs and I got over 250 and think it’s the world’s easiest fruit. I guess I’m more skilled than I think! [quote=“cousinfloyd, post:8, topic:10505”]
What’s a good yield from, say, a fig in a 20 gal pot, though?

I’m still at 10 gallons, and I got 50 each off of two plants. Some produced 30, some 15.
I would say 50-200 is possible in 20 gallon
I grew many kinds of figs too. A hell of a lot of fun!

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My experience is similar to Chills. I have 5 potted figs and one in ground fig. The only one I’ve gotten figs from is the in ground one. It suffered some major die back this year. I’m not sure the extent of the dieback yet. I’ve not gotten any figs from my potted plants yet. They are planted in good mix but have not grown as prolifically as many of the potted figs I see posted here. I’ve given them 10-10-10 fert at times and they get full sun. So I’m not sure what their deal is. I’ve heard too much nitrogen can prevent them from fruiting but I’ve tried to be balanced on the fert. Maybe since they aren’t real vigorous that is a sign that I don’t give them enough fertilizer. The thing is I see many people have smaller potted figs that are loaded with fruit. So I’m scratching my head.

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One thing I see people do is overuse lime. Ever since Al took common mixes and called them his own container mixes, (virtually all commercial mixes are pine. peat and perlite and have been for the last 30 years) people have been following his advice, which is a one size fits all approach. Lime everything. Figs like it at 6.5 even as low as 5.0 pH. Check you pH.
On fertilizing I use an organic once a month. At the start of the year I put CRF fertilizer in the pots. Only once at the start of the year. I use > Dynamite 7 pounds 22 bucks free postage. It lasts 9 months versus 6 months for osmocote. In summer cut times in half due to over release in hot weather. So Osmocote lasts 3 months, and Dynamite 4.5 months. So Dynamite lasts through the whole season. Use whatever you want, just relaying my results.
My plants for the most part get full sun.

Here they are today. All survived winter in the garage.

Even this little 7 inch fig tree survived fine in the garage.

In trades and buying I often get skinny stemmed figs. I usually cut them down once new growth occurs, and eventually rid the plant of it’s weak growth.
These plants were pruned, and they have air layers, and grafts on them right now.

How much dynamite do you use? Do you base it on pot size or stem diameter?


I base it on area of the surface of the soil. Usually 1-2 pellets per square inch.
I use an osmocote bottle with the sprinkle lid. I don’t mix it in the soil when I make the pot up. Well not throughout, only on top. Some say to mix with soil, when you make your potting soil.I think is wasteful to do. You have nitrogen below the roots, and every watering it’s leaching out.

Hey Bobby, I’m not quite clear on this. What are you saying is the difference between the one next to the basement wall and the one 3 feet away. The amount of sun? Are you saying the figs should be shaded too?
I was planning on moving one of my potted figs next to a south facing wall and keep it there (‘protected’) for the winter. Bad idea?

I planted mine south facing and 5 feet of growth survived. Sun warms figs up when dormant and at night when it freezes the tissue is killed. The only thing I can think of?
Just protect them from that by covering, and insulating. Figs love full sun as much as you can give them, they lap it up. Once the growing season starts.