Growing Figs in a Cold Climate

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‘Chicago Hardy’ fig tree, 2 years old, grown in a pot for easy indoor/outdoor movement. Photo: http://www.easytogrowbulbs.com

Email Message: I grow a dozen varieties of fig trees (Ficus carica) in hardiness zone 5, far too cold for most figs (they’re normally hardy only to zone 7 or 8). Most are hardier varieties obtained from Richters Herbs in Ontario, ordered via the Internet and delivered to my home. I also have two plants that I bought in, of all places, the seasonal garden center of my local supermarket! I get two harvests each year: a first yield in July and a second at the end of September.

I grow these fig trees in pots and bring them into my garage for the winter after they’ve lost their leaves. That way, they remain cold, but without freezing and are thus kept fully dormant. Then I put them back outside as soon as they start to come out of their dormancy in mid-April. 

Dormant fig laid in a trench and ready for winter. Photo: http://www.instructables.com

You can also lay them in a trench in the garden in late fall and cover them with earth or straw for the winter, then replant them in the spring.

It’s a lot of work! But for the joy of eating figs that you’ve grown yourself, it’s worth it!

Marcel Pedneault
Pontiac, Quebec
(Just north of Ottawa)

Response: Thank you for your comment. 

Personally, when I was a young gardener and ready for any horticultural challenge, I also tried growing hardy figs … in zone 4 (even a bit colder than your region)!

I tried the same two methods, but I must admit that I found it to be a lot of work, especially the trick of burying a quite sizable shrub in a trench for the winter. I only did that once: what a herculean effort! 

After I’d enjoyed a few light, but delicious harvests via the “cold storage” method (having no garage, I used my root cellar), I decided that lugging the increasingly heavy fig trees down to the basement, then back up the stairs to their summer home outdoors was just too much effort. When I realized the fifth fall that I would have to get my neighbor to come over and help me move them, that was enough! I just let them die a natural death: a harsh winter outdoors.

I prefer my gardening slow and easy! Ill.: Claire Tourigny, from the book Les 1500 trucs du jardinier paresseux

I concluded that, in the end, I prefer fruit trees and shrubs better adapted to my climate, ones that can be grown without any special effort, that I can just plant and let grow on their own, like blueberries, disease-resistant apples and haskaps (honeyberries)*. Those are my kind of fruits! (If I call myself the laidback gardener, it’s not for nothing!)

*These fruits are no-brainers under my growing conditions, but what grows readily in yours might be quite a different selection!

But for gardeners more hard-working than I am, it’s true that raising exotic fruits in a climate where they normally can’t be grown is quite a thrill! So, keep up your enthusiasm … and the good work!

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4 thoughts on “Growing Figs in a Cold Climate

  1. Margaret

    I live in North Carolina and I have to hack my fig tree down to the trunk every year, otherwise I can’t reach the fruit on top. The birds and squirrels have a feast. Don’t be jealous; it was 101 degrees yesterday. An all-time record for October. I want some autumn weather. Also, there are a lot of things I can’t grow. Like tulips — I miss tulips most of all!

  2. Seeing your potted fig tree reminds me to bring ours indoors, as cooler weather has arrived in South Dakota. Our potted tree grew well but its branches needed support after a couple of years. Guessing it is lack of enough sun, although it does receive south-facing sun in winter. I will try heavy pruning to give it another chance to grow more sturdy limbs. Thanks for the topic! Brenda in South Dakota​

  3. Figs are quite weedy for us. I grow fourteen stock plants on one parcel. (They are stock plants to provide cuttings only. The parcel is not the best place for them.) I am sort of curious about the hardy figs because I know that they can be grown in places like Western Oregon and the Southwest corner of Washington. Of course, those are not the nastiest places they grow, since the West Coast of the Pacific Northwest is not as cold in winter as other places. Anyway, even here, there are two techniques for pruning figs over winter. If pruned minimally, they produce an abundance of early figs, which are (generally) best for eating fresh. However, minimally pruned fig trees do not produce as much of the late figs, which are better for drying and freezing. Trees that are pruned more aggressively do not produce as many of the early figs, but produce more of the late figs. Of course, some cultivars produce better early figs, and other produce better late figs. (I don’t mean to be redundant to topics you already covered.) Therefore, cultivars that are grown for early figs can be pruned less, and cultivars that are grown for late figs can be pruned more aggressively. If I lived where winters are cool enough to damage new growth of fig trees, I might be inclined to not bother growing early figs at all, but instead growing cultivars that happen to excel at late figs. After the worst of the frost, but before the end of winter, I would just prune out what was damaged over winter. New growth would not produce early, but would produce late figs.

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