The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Protecting figs through the winter

Fig microclimateThe best way to push your hardiness boundaries is to provide tender perennials like figs with a warm and dry microclimate.  One grower I know planted his fig right under the dryer exhaust vent, with very good results, and others recommend locating your fig on the southern side of a house.  Stone patios can grab the heat from the winter sun and radiate it back out at night, and presumably locating a fig near a large body of water would serve the same purpose.

If you dry your clothes on the line and don't have a patio, you can still get figs through zone 6 winters with a little extra effort.  One option consists of cutting the roots on one side of the tree with a shovel to allow you to bend the whole tree down flush with the earth.  You can either dig a trench and bury the branches underground, or simply top them with bales of straw.

Overwintering figThe alternative we've used involves autumn leaves insulating the aboveground growth of the fig.  My method worked okay, but the leaves got beaten down by rain and snow, and any branches that ended up exposed died back.  This winter, I'll probably take the advice of more experienced fig growers and tie the limbs together, pack in leaves, then wrap the leafy insulation with a tarp or other waterproof layer.

A final option, especially handy for those in the extreme north, is to treat your fig as a potted plant.  The fig can spend the summer outdoors, then once it drops its leaves (usually after a light frost), you take the plant inside to a cool basement or root cellar.  Alternatively, if you've got a warm, sunny window that's not already full of dwarf citrus, you can keep a potted fig growing all winter by bringing it in before cold weather hits.

I'd be curious to hear from those of you north of zone 7 who have had good luck growing figs.  Which varieties did you choose and how do you get them through the winter?  What kind of yields have you seen?

The Weekend Homesteader presents one fun and easy project for each weekend of the year to guide you gently onto the path of self-sufficiency.

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

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Last winter was my first year with a fig tree (sprout). I wintered it in a cheap 8' x 10' green house. It did loose all it's leaves but they came back in spring.
Comment by Mona Fri Oct 5 12:56:57 2012
Mona --- An 8 by 10 greenhouse should do the trick very well! I read Lee Reich's blog, and he overwinters a lot of perennials like figs in a greenhouse.
Comment by anna Fri Oct 5 18:59:18 2012
This will be my first winter with my figs. I'm not sure when I should be adding protection. We get first frost by mid October. Should I do it before then, as in like this week whi.e the leaves are still on the trees? I was figuring on wrapping them in layers of paper and fabric, topped by a bucket, with straw and leaves hilled up around it. Or at least thats the idea! :P
Comment by MamaHomesteader Sat Oct 6 09:24:40 2012
MamaHomesteader --- Most places I've read recommend waiting until the first cold spell knocks the leaves off your figs. (Presumably, if that cold spell was going to be in the low twenties, you wouldn't wait, but for most of us, the first frost is relatively light.) We might get a frost tomorrow night, but we're not planning on protecting until afterwards.
Comment by anna Sat Oct 6 15:45:54 2012

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