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Cold hardy figs

Chicago hardy fig

When we started thinking about expanding our fig planting, I decided to do some research on figs that can grow here in zone 6 (and even for those of you in zone 5).  I'll write a later post about frost protection; for now, I want to talk about selecting varieties that can handle the cold best.

Before you start thinking about frost hardy figs, though, you need to understand that young figs of any variety are more sensitive to cold winters than larger figs are.  Depending on who you talk to, figs less than two to five years old are likely to die back to the ground regardless of your efforts.  In addition, wet feet over the winter make a fig more likely to Fruiting figperish.  So, don't lose heart if you've planted a supposedly hardy variety and it spends its first few years dying back and producing little fruit --- the tree might grow out of it, especially if you provide better soil drainage.

Okay, so which figs are likely to achieve hardiness?  As I searched the internet, I discovered that fig aficionados talk about varieties you're unlikely to find in most nurseries.  In fact, you might have to join one of the fig forums and beg for cuttings if you want to try these heirlooms.

The good news is that fig lovers have also put a lot of effort into testing the cold hardiness of their varieties, in one case setting out over a hundred types of figs and letting the plants deal with a cold winter to see which few survived.  Sal (Gene strain), Marseilles vs Black, Blue Celeste, and Hardy Chicago were the winners in that experiment, which had a winter low of 0 F.  Another fig grower reports that Hardy Hartford is his most cold hardy variety, surviving -4 Fahrenheit with no winter protection.  During a winter that only got down to 10 F, the following varieties were added to the cold hardy list:

  • Florea
  • Gino
  • English Brown Turkey (aka Eastern Brown Turkey)
  • Sweet Georg
  • Adriana
  • Tiny Celeste
  • UCD Celeste
  • 143-36
  • Paradiso White (Gene Hosey strain)
  • Archipel
  • Lindhurst Wht
  • Jurupa

Yet other sources add the following figs to the cold hardy list:

  • Brooklyn White
  • Violetta
  • Hanc Mathies English Brown Turkey
  • LaRadek's English Brown Turkey
  • Sal's EL
  • Dark Portuguese
  • Paradiso
  • Alma
  • LSU Gold


Celeste fig

Another factor to consider in addition to sheer cold hardiness is the fruiting nature of the variety in question.  Figs produce two crops: the breba crop early in the season on last year's wood, and the main crop later on new growth.  We chose Chicago Hardy (aka Hardy Chicago) because it will produce a large main crop even if it freezes to the ground during the winter, but I'm starting to realize that a main crop that ripens in September is never going to produce as much fruit as a fig that can give us an especially early breba crop as well.  Some sources say that Celeste (aka Malta, Celestial, Conant, Sugar Fig, and Tennessee Mountain Fig) can produce a heavy crop as early as June, as long as prune sparingly and use frost protection.  Stay tuned for tomorrow's post about protecting figs over cold winters.

Don't want to baby figs?  The Weekend Homesteader walks you through growing some of the easiest fruits --- strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries.



This post is part of our Fig lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:





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Our Brown Turk died back to rootstock its first winter but since then has survived 10 degrees and a cold spell with snow hanging around for over a week.
Comment by Errol Thu Oct 4 12:16:14 2012
Daddy --- Snow is actually a good insulator, but 10 degrees is a pretty good test. I'm hopeful that our figs will get more and more cold hardy as they mature too!
Comment by anna Thu Oct 4 12:58:15 2012
I planted a Celeste from Whole Foods near a south-facing brick wall here in Charlottesville. I'm eager to see how it does through the winter. My plan is to keep an eye on the weather and cover it up if it goes down into the teens.
Comment by Elizabeth Thu Oct 4 14:01:31 2012
Anna, before your fig tree goes dormant, you must try grilling with the leaves. We have a brown turkey fig in the backyard with nice big leaves. We wrap a small chunk of fish with a leaf or two, tie with a string, and then grill it on the bbq. The leaves impart a wonderful smokey/grassy flavor and keep the fish from sticking to the grill and falling apart.
Comment by Rena Thu Oct 4 15:29:32 2012
Forgot to mention, discard the leaf before eating! Too tough!
Comment by Rena Thu Oct 4 15:30:51 2012

Elizabeth --- It looks like Charlottesville is one zone warmer than us --- zone 7 --- so you might be able to get away with no frost protection. It might be worth protecting it for its first year or two, though.

Rena --- Interesting! We'll have to give that a try if we pull out the grill. I was just thinking about it today --- that it had cooled down enough it would actually be fun.

Comment by anna Thu Oct 4 19:56:57 2012

Hey, Just wondering if you would ever spare a few cuttings of your Florea. I'd totally send you money for cuttings. Email me if interested. Thank!

Comment by Evan Thu Jan 23 00:07:26 2014
Evan --- Unfortunately, this is just a research post --- I don't own all those fig varieties. We only have Chicago Hardy, Celeste, Black Mission, and an unknown dwarf variety.
Comment by anna Thu Jan 23 08:30:13 2014
Oh Ok, thanks anyway!
Comment by Evan Thu Jan 23 11:07:41 2014