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

Winter protection for a large fig tree

Pruning a fig

As Mark mentioned last night, our larger fig was ready to be swaddled just like his younger sister.  The idea is that figs aren't really winter hardy here in zone 6, but with some careful variety selection and a little love, you can see get lots of fruits without babying a house plant.

Tying a figI'd read that Chicago Hardy figs do best if cut back drastically to three main trunks each winter, but when I pulled out the clippers, I suddenly couldn't decide if that meant three main trunks with all of their side branches or just three sticks coming out of the ground.  So I went for a moderate approach where I removed any tiny branches and ones that would be shaded, but left multiple branches on each trunk.

Next, I cut the tree down to about three feet high.  Some people keep their figs tall and wrap the whole thing up, but it was awfully nice having fruits I could pick without a ladder, and I can protect what's left better if I shorten this year's growth.  By carefully bending and then tying the branches together, they formed a compact bundle, giving me plenty of room to stuff leaves around them within an enclosure I made out of lightweight fence posts and trellis material.

Leaves around fig

Fig winter protectionI topped it all off with a cheap tarp that came on our roofing tin.  I felt like last year's frost protection lost some efficiency when rain pounded down the insulating leaves and exposed the tips of the fig branches.  Hopefully this year's tarp will prevent moisture entering my fig enclosure from above.

I saved nearly all of the small branches to try rooting next year, and three of them already had little roots forming (since I cut those Fig cuttingsbranches off below the mulch line).  Usually you gather scionwood in the late winter, but it was necessary to chop our fig down before wrapping it, so now I'm stuck trying to decide how to store these cuttings in a cool, damp, but not freezing spot all winter.  We're really going to have to try to excavate our fridge root cellar soon....

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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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A neighbor says to plant the rooted sprouts right now and cover them for the winter. He has a lot of figs.
Comment by Errol Wed Nov 7 08:31:11 2012
Daddy --- That was my gut feeling too. I figured as long as the figs survived the winter, they could have those extra months to consolidate their roots. I'll plant them out!
Comment by anna Wed Nov 7 09:08:35 2012

My father used to dig a trench (shallow) and burry the fig tree over the winter. In the spring when the ground was workable he would unearth the tree and wait to harvest the fruit later on in the year. Living in southern Ontario surrounded by lots of italians it was not uncommon to see the trees protected by an enclosed green house attached to the house. In the winter the sun would heat the brick and gradually cool at night and during the day would get all warm and cozy all over again. Also the escaping heat of the house would prevent freezing (sometimes a small,fist sized, hole could be seen cut through the house exterior to protect the precious tree at night).

Comment by Gilbert Pacheco Fri Nov 9 20:28:58 2012
What I do with my cuttings is start rooting them shortly after I prune the tree(early to mid November). This way as they root and start sprouting leaves, I have some beautiful little fig seedlings growing in the house during the winter already for planting or potting when spring time arrives.
Comment by Vince Mon Nov 12 16:12:40 2012
Vince --- That's one of the possibilities I was pondering. So, you put them in pots as hardwood cuttings inside? Do you treat with rooting hormone? Bag them to hold in moisture?
Comment by anna Mon Nov 12 16:27:12 2012
anna....There are many ways to root fig tree cuttings, what I do is wrap them(individually)in "slightly" moist spagnum moss. Then I place them in a zip lock bag and put them in a dark, slightly warm location( in a closet or cabinet, under the bed, etc.) Check on them every 3 or 4 days until roots are established, then place them in a clear plastic cup with a mixture Of 80% pearlite 20% potting soil. Make sure the cup has drain holes(sides and bottom). Transplant into a larger pot in spring time, or right into the ground if you prefer. Good Luck.
Comment by Vince Mon Nov 12 17:31:53 2012
Vince --- Thanks for the followup! I like your method --- may have to give that a try....
Comment by anna Mon Nov 12 18:13:22 2012

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