We have now gone through 2 winters growing figs in the ground at our location 6300’ elevation, but colder and windier than normal for this elevation alone.  Our mission is to trial and grow new and unusual fruit types and varieties to see how they will perform or to see if simple cultural adaptations can make them successful here.  So far figs have been a mixed lot.  We have tried 10 different varieties, covering them in the winter.  We have successfully kept them alive but in all cases they have died back to the ground and re-sprouted from the crown and roots.  The problem with this is that there is insufficient time to regrow branches and also set and fully ripen fruit before the first frosts.

Figs are being successfully overwintered in areas with a similar coldness zone to ours, so we still believe it is possible but need to make some modifications in our culture. On very little evidence we have come to some conclusions:

  1. Start with an older and larger plant.  Most of these are rare or scarce varieties and were grown from cuttings, then put directly out in the field during the summer.  A 2 or 3 year old plant that has branches ¾”-1” diameter and with older and harder wood will take the temperatures better.
  2. Cut back water in September.  Our irrigation system on the farm is all or nothing. We tend to water very late in the year since after the first freeze we withhold water until April.  This does not allow the plant to “harden off” and maintains a succulent growth which is much more susceptible to freeze damage.
  3. Fertilize during the growing season to get faster and larger growth.  Figs like poor soil and do well in containers with little care.  Extra nitrogen in spring and early summer may result in a heavier caliper branching.

Currently our recommendation, unless you want to experiment, is to bring your figs indoors in the winter.  You can grow them in a container on the patio in the summer and either bring in the house for the winter or until fruit is done ripening.  Figs can be wrapped in a blanket or tarp when dormant and kept in a garage, basement or pump house etc. until spring. When dormant they do not require water or light. Choose a building where the temperature does not get below about 25 and they will do just fine.  Bring them in the house in March to break dormancy and you will get a crop before summer end.  Start hardening them off in April to stay totally outdoors by the end of May.  Remember a freeze when they are just starting to grow is more damaging to plants than a worse cold spell if they are dormant. 

This may seem to be a lot of trouble to grow a plant, but once you have tasted tree ripened figs you will agree it is well worth a little extra effort.

Links to more about figs

1st winter covering

Figs ripening