dcarch7

Winterizing fig trees

OK,if you grow figs (What?!! You don't grow figs?!!), the time is coming soon to have to wrap and winterize your fig trees in many areas.


Besides for fresh eating, I use figs in cooking a lot. Now my fig trees have gown to be too big and too horizontal and getting very difficult to wrap. I am reshaping the trees using jacks from my shop. Each day I give each jack a little turn so that I don't crack and break the branches. I think I should be able to get all the branches to be vertical and I will be able to wrap them to be less than 12 inches columns.


Good winter protection means greater harvest next year. It fig ures. :-)


dcarch




Comments (51)

  • dieseler
    8 months ago
    last modified: 8 months ago

    Been growing in large containers for many years tasted first fig from grandmothers house in the early 60s she lived 2 blocks from midway airport in a bungalow. Was always in aww when the planes came over the house they were loud,

    Story goes the tree came with her from Sicily long ago each late fall uncles would dig a trench several feet deep dig around roots i recall the cracking sounds as i watched then they tie the twine to bring upper branches tight and wrap with the burlap .

    They pushed the whole single trunk tree into its resting place covered the tree with boards and shoveled dirt back look like a fresh grave when done with a high mound of dirt .Spring time they would dig down to the boards put them to the side and prop tree back up packing tight around base. It was or seemed about 10ft tall to me as a young boy and each season we all ate many figs .

    Because of her tree and dad bringing figs home from the club it started my journey long ago.

    Fond familly memories from the past..

    Martin

    Featured Answer
  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)
    9 months ago

    Zone 9 is a pretty small area of the country, all things considered, yet fig trees are grown all over, including in many cold winter climates. If planted inground in colder climates, these are often treated as dieback perennials unless given winter protection. Root hardy to -20F but topgrowth only to around 10F or so.

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  • aliceinmd
    9 months ago

    When I lived a block from Lake Erie in Cleveland, Ohio, a neighbor would wrap his fig tree in what appeared to be burlap and bend it over to parallel with the ground so it wouldn't be uprooted or damaged by cold winds. I'm sure there was more to his routine than that, but he did it for at least 20 years and always shared figs with us, so I know his scheme worked.

  • colleenoz
    9 months ago

    Gosh, there’s no way you could have bent over my old fig tree- the trunk was about 8” across or more. Luckily it was in a sheltered spot.

  • annie1992
    9 months ago

    Mine were just planted this year. I planted some last year and those several days of 20 or 30 below zero last year was more than they could tolerate. So, I planted a couple more, and it's nearly time to "winterize" them. They are still small enough that they can just be covered with styrofoam rose cones and mulched well, I'll have to wrap them when they get bigger. I'm in zone 5a, not natural for figs, but with some attention, the Chicago Hardy can survive here. I'll keep mine pruned, though, to a manageable size, that will help, even if I have to sacrifice some number of figs to do that.

    Annie

  • laceyvail 6A, WV
    9 months ago

    I cut mine to the ground every year. When we still had winter, I used to mulch heavily with hay. Now I don't do anything.

  • dcarch7 d c f l a s h 7 @ y a h o o . c o m
    Original Author
    9 months ago
    last modified: 9 months ago


    In my zone 6 area, my fig trees still have lots of figs that will not have a chance to get ripen before frost arrives.

    What I am trying to do is to significantly improve winter protection in order to have better harvest next season.

    The jacks will force the thick branches much tighter from the base. Seems to be working well.


    dcarch

  • 2ManyDiversions
    9 months ago

    "It fig ures. :-)"

    Oh, that's a good one! My fig is still young (first year), and a small Celeste. About 1-1/2 feet tall. I'm in Zone 7, and I got a lot of good advice from the TN forums here, and I've already put a ton of pine needles at the base to help protect the roots. I'll wrap the little branches with a cut-up old blanket or sheet, using bamboo stakes to keep the weight from breaking branches. Wrap that with twine, then bubble wrap, then a piece of plastic to keep it dry. That should do it : )

    I do intend to keep mine cut back to 'human height' for easier picking and easier freeze protection each winter.

    No figs yet, but I am hoping next year! Can't find them in the grocery stores.

    Clever idea using the car jacks to slowly move the branches inward. I've used them to lift furniture to put those moving men things under the legs when needed. Car jacks come in handy : )

  • shp123
    9 months ago

    I am with Dcarch... I inherited an old fig tree that came with the house a couple years ago. I did not cover it and it died back to the ground. Next spring, it sends out new shoots and fruits in early summer. It's mid October now, I had 6 riped figs I enjoyed and many many green figs on the tree which are likely going to be killed by the first frost.

    Based on this past experience, I will endeavor to wrap the tree once all the leaves were killed by the frost and hope that the branches wont die back to the ground. I also have been taking cuttings and hope to grow them in containers so they can overwinter in the unheated hoophouse.

  • CA Kate z9
    9 months ago
    last modified: 9 months ago

    2ManyD: You might want to skip the plastic part of your wrapping technique. The plastic can hold in too much moisture causing rot/ or mold. It is best to let some air in.

    If you feel you must put plastic to keep it dry then just loosely tent it for the last layer.

  • 2ManyDiversions
    9 months ago

    Kate, bless you for chiming in - your recommendation is greatly appreciated! I did intend to add bubble wrap this year, but what you said makes sense. We have a lot of humidity here, summer and winter, so I do want to be careful about mold. I'll toss some plastic over the blanket, and keep it all off the ground and loosely wrapped (just tenting won't work as we've often high winds in the winter). I've another bale of pine needles left, and I can pile those around our little fig. Thanks!

  • raee_gw zone 5b-6a Ohio
    9 months ago

    I came here looking for advice on winter protection too. I have one potted fig that is going into the unheated garage - I will wrap it in an old quilted bedspread, and a layer of old foam mattress topper on top. That has worked in past years.

    But I also have an in ground Chicago Hardy that has died back each year. Last year I tried to protect it with a layer of the above mentioned bedspread, then some sheets of plastic encased packing padding, topped with a overturned trash can. That didn't work, the branches were a slimy mess come spring.

    When we got that very cold snap last week I hastily wrapped it in cotton sheets, then a water heater blanket (recommended to me), again topped with the trash can. So it is temporarily protected, but is this adequate? I'm thinking that the cotton sheets might wick in moisture despite the can, and wonder if the insulation wrap alone would be better.

    What exactly do you do? I would rather not go with the burlap/wire cage/leaves method if something else works -- I would have to haul wet, frozen leaves from down the street.

    I've seen one video from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden using first burlap, then a cage with leaves, then roofing felt or tarpaper, then a cap of a bucket, then more burlap. This leaves me confused - it seems the goal was to keep it all dry inside -does the felt breathe enough to not have rot issues? Or does burlap not hold moisture, which is what makes it a good first layer?

  • linnea56 (zone 5b Chicago)
    9 months ago

    Raee, I brought my potted fig into my attached garage a couple of weeks ago. It has gotten too tall to be hauled down to basement as in years past. I placed it against an inside wall guessing that would be slightly warmer than the outside wall or near the garage door.


    I didn't know I needed to wrap it too? Uh, oh... I am Zone 5b Chicagoland.

  • raee_gw zone 5b-6a Ohio
    9 months ago

    Linnea56, I think that it is needed to protect it from temperature fluctuations as much as from the cold itself. My only problem happened last year once I had unwrapped it and taken it outside in April - and we got an unexpected freeze that killed it.

    I've also used the mylar coated bubble wrap as a top layer (in the garage.)

    I've also learned that I don't need to water it at all while it is dormant.,

  • dcarch7 d c f l a s h 7 @ y a h o o . c o m
    Original Author
    9 months ago


    I used the hydraulic jacks to force the branches from 36" spread to 10" vertical.


    The reason is that the smaller the surface area for the insulation, the less cold penetration.


    I used 1 1/2" thick foam board which I think is better than blankets or bubble wrap, or burlap. The foam boards will be stored away for next season's reuse.


    dcarch






  • raee_gw zone 5b-6a Ohio
    9 months ago

    Thank you, dcarch7 - that looks much easier for one person to deal with, as well.

  • bluemoonlight
    9 months ago

    Looks good, I wish you good luck !

    To me too !

    Winter 2018



    Augut 2019

    Fall 2018


  • foodonastump
    9 months ago

    DC have you used this setup in prior years? Just curious about the foil inhibiting breathing, as mentioned in posts about plastic above. Also, you’re reflecting away the sun plus 1.5” of insulation... wondering if there’s much opportunity for the inside to warm up. Just thoughts from the top of my head, interested in your thinking. Also wondering if ratcheting tie-down straps would have been easier than propping your jacks.

  • dcarch7 d c f l a s h 7 @ y a h o o . c o m
    Original Author
    9 months ago
    last modified: 9 months ago


    FOAS, This is the first time I am using this method to optimize practical fig growing in NY area climate zone.

    1. About "breathing", I never had problems before even I wrap the whole tree in plastic trash bags.

    2. I use the silver side facing out because plastics in general are not UV proof. Also with 1 1/2" thick foam insulation heat gain is not a factor. I am more interested in not having heat lost. What I have not mentioned is that the construction will actually become a greenhouse when weather gets warmer. One of the four foam boards facing the sun will be replaced by a greenhouse "Twinwall" insulated clear panel.

    3. Ratcheting tie-down straps do not well very well. I did try using large hose clamps. The branches may be forced into a tighter bunch, but the tree will lean because the large main trunks are not exactly vertical. The jacks can push the final bunch perfectly vertical with 24,000 lbs of push.

    I an hopeful this system should work very well for better fruiting, but still, wish me luck..


    dcarch

    .

  • foodonastump
    9 months ago

    Thanks - sounds good - and of course good luck!

  • raee_gw zone 5b-6a Ohio
    8 months ago
    last modified: 8 months ago

    I went to the store to look for roof felt - not expensive, but I would have well over 50ft left over! I think I will call the guy who re-roofed my house & ask if he has any small amount left over.

    I wondered about the moisture thing too, since the roofing felt is supposed to be waterproof - does it allow water vapor to escape?

    Since I ended up with a mess of slimy dead branches last spring, I am rather concerned about this.

  • dcarch7 d c f l a s h 7 @ y a h o o . c o m
    Original Author
    8 months ago

    "---- Since I ended up with a mess of slimy dead branches last spring, I am rather concerned about this. ----"


    I believe that is a very complicated biological and thermodynamic situation.

    for instance, If the tree is cold from night temperature drop, and insulation is not good enough, day time sun will make the insulation warmer than the tree. Moisture will condense on the colder tree. What I am trying to do is to reverse that condition, making the tree always warmer than the insulation.


    dcarch



  • raee_gw zone 5b-6a Ohio
    8 months ago

    That makes sense, dcarch! So having a rather reflective or at least a lighter color, rather than dark, outer layer might be wise.

  • foodonastump
    8 months ago

    How can the tree be warmer than the insulation if the heat source comes from outside the insulation?

  • sleevendog (5a NY 6aNYC NL CA)
    8 months ago

    Fig trees and grape vines are all over NYC in backyards and university courtyards. Many 20ft+ tall. Gorgeous plants. I wish I liked the fruit enough to care. : ) (mildly sweet goo). I've lost three over the years. One, years ago, I just moved into the garden shed every winter, then moved it outside...but did that too soon one year and it got hit with a late frost. Another just a couple years ago, in and out of the garage, was getting huge and needed to be re-potted, then needed wheels to move in and out, then thought to give it a home in the landscape and cover with burlap/leaves,...thankfully it died the same way. : )

    Just not convinced restricting air-flow is a good idea. Too many climates can't handle that. I'll stick to the professional advice for a plants needs.

    My Meyer lemon is now five years in my hands. Purchased a five year tree. Now indoors it is flowering and smells divine. Not much fruit...maybe a dozen a year but I freeze and zest from frozen. I just don't have the time to grow many plants not designed for my climate. But would never discourage one for trying.

    Good luck and prove us wrong. Or...have fun and do what you do as always.

  • dcarch7 d c f l a s h 7 @ y a h o o . c o m
    Original Author
    8 months ago
    last modified: 8 months ago


    "foodonastump, How can the tree be warmer than the insulation if the heat source comes from outside the insulation?"


    OK, I get it. You think that's just a fig ment of my imagination. :-)


    Three considerations/factors regarding moisture causing rot:

    1. With poor insulation, the tree gets warm during the day. When the night temperature drops, the insulation gets colder quicker than the tree. This cycle repeats everyday.

    2. Moisture inside the insulated space comes mostly from the ground. The system I am using has significantly smaller footprint and therefor much less moisture would come from the ground.

    3. When people experience tree branches rotting. I am not sure what actually happened. Is it because fungi infection? Could it be the branches died off first from freezing damage then infection comes afterwards?


    dcarch

  • raee_gw zone 5b-6a Ohio
    8 months ago

    Well, I re-wrapped the in ground fig today, and as I feared, the cotton sheets (the innermost layer) were wet despite being protected from the ground, topped with a water heater blanket (holes in the vinyl outer layer of that) and covered by a trash can. Not soaking but a bit more than just damp.

    So, using what I had to hand, I re-wrapped with a first few layers of weed block fabric (thinking it won't hold moisture like the sheets would; then the water heater insulation blanket; topped with a bucket; then an outdoor chair cover. I am not sure, but I think the chair cover will let moisture through, so I'll try to go tomorrow to get a tarp to replace it.


    We shall see how that works next March!

  • 2ManyDiversions
    8 months ago

    Looks like I'm going to have to unwrap mine and check for moisture. Thank you raee, for updating us.

  • rycooder
    6 months ago

    I do mine different ways I live in zone 6B . Below I just used 3/4 plywood and the top I have it on a hing so I can open it a bit when it gets a little warm because you have to watch for mold



    Below is another way I have end cut so the top is left open a little to breath

    The ends still need to be fastened on

    Below is another way I do it. I remove that 4x4 and the plywood lays over top of it than all I do is put a tarp on it and bricks to hold the tarp down


  • bluemoonlight
    6 months ago

    Hello rycooder,

    Love the way you keeping your fig tree protected !

    I would like to see the whole project on second photo.

    Nice of you to share your experiments, Thanks !



  • bluemoonlight
    6 months ago

    It was nice to read your story Martin, I wish you shared more stories end experiences with us.

    Thanks Martin.

  • raee_gw zone 5b-6a Ohio
    4 months ago
    last modified: 4 months ago

    Coming back to report on my fig. I had tied it up, wrapped it in weed block fabric, then a layer of a water heater blanket, a bucket on top, topped with an outdoor chair cover and a trash can. I also went back and wrapped some plastic just around the base to prevent moisture from wicking up in our usual heavy late winter/early spring rains.

    Partial success! the distal (upper) ends of all branches died - anywhere from 15-50% - (the biggest/tallest lost the most), and there is some mold on most of the branches, but lower down all the branches are alive, much less mold and some are showing green buds. I wonder if unwrapping it sooner would have prevented some of the mold - I waited until we didn't have temps near to freezing every night (and buckets of rain). Also perhaps the black trash can was too much.

    This was a warmer-than-usual winter, so perhaps my wrapping method wouldn't have worked in a typical one.

    Now I am hoping to get some fruit from this fig this year!

  • yovan mcgregor
    4 months ago

    I am in zone 5b. Last fall I did have one spare bag of cedar mulch 2 cubic feet = 56 litres . I put it on top of my little fig tree which I did bend to the ground. Today I removed cedar mulch bag and I noticed many many breba figs. The little rascal survived.

  • 2ManyDiversions
    4 months ago

    Zone 7b. Threw caution to the wind and just wrapped my smaller fig first with twine to compact it's shape. I had already placed 3 posts around the tree, so I wrapped a medium weight cotton blanket around the posts and fig, then a poly blend sheet, then heavy black plastic. Twined each layer. But I first piled pine straw thickly at the base for air flow and protection, and I left the base, that which touches the ground, twined loosely and flared out, again, for air flow. Sorry, no pics. I checked it throughout our rainy winter. Always bone dry. Unwrapped this weekend, new growth, not a branch or twig damaged or rotten. Thankfully!

  • yovan mcgregor
    4 months ago

    2ManyDiversions

    See that's what I don't understand when some people claim they grow figs unprotected in Zone 5 , and then I read you did such a great job in protecting yours in Zone 7b ?

  • 2ManyDiversions
    4 months ago

    yovan, I think whether or not people protect their figs over winter depends on the winters and how lucky one might feel that their fig trees will continue to overwinter just fine. I'd read some don't bother at all in zone 7 and a local friend of mine didn't for years. Never a problem - and they were quite large, quite tall, until the year she lost them all - and the winter was cold, but not Zone 5 cold. I just chose to protect mine, not take chances. Who knows, for some of us, it may be fate, or underlying disease we can't see which cause them to die if unprotected. I just know I'll wrap mine each year, because I have only the one, and I don't wish to take chances with it if I can help it.

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)
    4 months ago

    Figs should be fine in zone 7b without protection. They only start to show winter stem and twig damage below 10F. In my area, where temps can dip into the lower teens usually at least once a season figs grow as actual trees and winter protection is not possible. Nor has it ever been necessary.

    And even if they should experience some top damage, they are very root hardy and will regrow any damaged portions rapidly.

  • dedtired
    4 months ago

    Someone near me built a wire cage around their fig tree and packed it with leaves. Then they put a blue bucket on top! Quite an eyesore along the street. I’ll be interested to see if it survived, but we had a very mild winter.

  • linnea56 (zone 5b Chicago)
    4 months ago

    I am in Zone 5b north of Chicago. I am overwintering mine in the garage for the first time. Previous years were in the basement. I assume it's still too cold to bring it out. Night time temps in the 30's F.


    I know I need to prune mine. It is in the shape of a giant, 8 foot tall Y. I really want shorter and bushy. Should I do it now before it leafs out?


    I am wondering if there is some mystery to pruning figs: as each time I have tried it, it just sent out a new leader. No additional branches sprouted from axils lower down.

  • raee_gw zone 5b-6a Ohio
    4 months ago

    Linnea, I just unwrapped the one I have in the garage. I do agree it is too early to have it outside and I was also concerned about giving it too much exposure to sun too soon. I lost a previous one by bringing it outdoors in mid April - a sudden cold snap killed it.


    I am certainly not an expert, but I have read from reliable sources that you should prune it back now, while dormant. Removing the top growth is supposed to cause buds lower on the branch to wake up, and so a new leader branch will arise from the cut branch. Then, from the videos I've watched, it seems those have to be cut back - even to a point below the first cut, as needed to control size and encourage branching.. I have also read to root prune potted figs every 2 years.


    Hopefully someone with lots of experience will chime in.

  • bluemoonlight
    4 months ago

    lennea 56 and raee_gw here is a video that might help you pruning fig trees

    https://youtu.be/k1sFr2rVMo4

    There is lots of videos on You Tube of how to care, prune, transplant, up pot, rejuvenate...... fig trees.

    I hope that helps.

  • dcarch7 d c f l a s h 7 @ y a h o o . c o m
    Original Author
    4 months ago

    Moment of truth!

    I decided to undo the foam insulation today. Look what I found!

    Not only the branches didn't die off like all the other winters, they are actually sprouting! Seems the experiment works.

    Now the second phase of the experiment, turn the foam insulation into a vertical temporary greenhouse. Two walls are foam insulation (silver side facing in), and two walls facing the sun are insulating Twinwall panels.

    May be too early to ask for fig recipes?


    dcarch

  • 2ManyDiversions
    4 months ago

    dcarch, that's just not fair :) My fig is a Celeste, very young. Maybe a foot and a half tall. Not sure I'll see figs this year either, but lots of green.

  • raee_gw zone 5b-6a Ohio
    4 months ago

    Looks like I will be trying your Styrofoam method this coming fall! I'll keep my eyes peeled for it to be on sale at the big box store. I am officially zone 6a, but many winters are more like 5b - but not this winter - I don't think we ever got down to 0 degrees, only 9-12 IIRC. I don't think my protection would have worked in a normal winter.

  • raee_gw zone 5b-6a Ohio
    3 months ago

    Final update: the fig held over in the garage is now outside permanently (will pull it back in if we get a late freeze), leafing out and has several breba figs already! I had unwrapped it March 31, but I didn't bring it outside, just gave it some water now and again, and left the garage door open for short periods a few times a week. I started bringing it out fully into sun about 10 days ago, and left it out permanently about 6 days ago.

    The younger smaller fig that was held in my basement started leafing out in February, so I brought it upstairs and gave it some water. It rapidly put on about a foot of growth with 4-5 leaves, then stalled. I figured that it wasn't getting enough light (even with the south facing window, as the sun gets higher less direct light gets in) so started with the inside-outside dance, the plan being putting it out in the shade for short periods at first, then lengthening its time outside, then giving it more exposure to sun gradually. It hasn't been happy; it lost a couple of the lower leaves and others were sunburned even in the shade! The new growth remains weak and spindly. It has pushed out another leaf on each stem, but those are developing much more slowly.

    The in-ground fig had some green buds when I unwrapped it, but by the time we got those two overnight freezes two weeks ago, those had turned brown and dried. Despite that, I did cover it for the freeze nights. I do still see a tiny bit of green color low down on a couple of young stems that had the buds but most of the stems look dead. I'm hoping that it will start to push out some new growth from those few.

    I'll be watching for a sale on DCarch's panels.

  • dcarch7 d c f l a s h 7 @ y a h o o . c o m
    Original Author
    26 days ago

    A follow up:

    After I unwrapped the foam board insulation, The tree was in a vertical "greenhouse"



    As of today, 7/14, the other fig tree from identical cuttings from the same mother tree, winterized the typical wrapping, has only lots of leaves, not one single tiny fruit. OTOH the one winterized in foam board and housed in vertical "greenhouse" until early summer, has may be over a hundred tiny figs. I think should have a good supply of sweet ripe figs this year.



    I guess I can call this experiment a success.


    dcarch

  • annie1992
    26 days ago
    last modified: 25 days ago

    I'm glad to see that some people manage to over winter figs. I'm in 5b, and I've planted figs three years in a row now. Each year winter kills them, no matter how I protect them. Last year's figs never grew taller than two leaves in spite of all the lovely compost I planted them in.

    I gave up and planted two sweet cherries there, and they are growing like crazy, Just as well, I'd get tired of fiddling each year with something that doesn't really want to grow here anyway and eventually just stop and let them die.

    Dcarch, enjoy your figs.

    Annie

  • bluemoonlight
    25 days ago

    Nice to see your your fig tree is recording you for keeping it warm during winter !

    When was your last frost week and when did you uncover it ?

    My fig tree freezed Bout a foot from ground up no figs visible.

    No ! I will not be eating figs off of that fig tree 😥

    I should've plant Hardy Chicago in ground, not Italian Honey 🤔

    How far are you from ripe figs from that tree?


    Moonlight.


  • raee_gw zone 5b-6a Ohio
    24 days ago

    Bluemoonlight, my Chicago Hardy in ground is the one I have been struggling to protect - it surivives after being freeze-killed to the ground, but it has never produced figs because it has to re-grow every year, and again this year.


    My Celeste that overwintered in the garage dropped all the brebas, but it has put on a nice crop that I hope will ripen in a timely manner this year.

  • dcarch7 d c f l a s h 7 @ y a h o o . c o m
    Original Author
    24 days ago

    Thanks, Annie. Like everyone else in cold zones, Every year my fig trees died to the ground, didn't matter how they were wrapped.. When they came back to life in the spring, the seasons just were not long enough for the figs to get ripen. That's why I came up with this different way to winterize the trees. Now the figs will have plenty of time to get ripe.


    dcarch

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