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Cold-Tolerant Fig Trees | A Hardy Fig Tree starts with the Variety

Updated: Feb 23

So you want a cold-tolerant or hardy fig tree?



Welcome to the right place. The internet is littered with incorrect and regurgitated fig-related information. Especially on fig tree hardiness. Let this article be a guide to set the record straight and what's really accurate and reasonable so that you can make an informed decision.

As always feel free to subscribe to the Fig Boss newsletter at the top of the page for more fig-related content like this.



Fig tree hardiness zone


A fig tree's hardiness is the maximum low temperature a fig tree can withstand without the branches dying or taking damage. Believe it or not, this maximum winter low is hardwired into each fig varieties' genetic code. Take a 7-foot center in the NBA for example. The average person doesn't have the genetic potential to reach 7 feet in height so choosing the right variety is critical to see success.

Most fig varieties can reliably survive 10F, but much fewer varieties can survive 5F and very few at all can survive 0F. This means that the USDA hardiness zones for fig trees bottom out at 6A with winter protection, 7A without winter protection (although I recommend it in this zone), and 7B (usually no winter protection is necessary).



A fig variety called Chicago Hardy is the most well-known fig variety to withstand colder temperatures. It's certainly the standard and the most hardy fig until another variety can reliably reproduce better results in very cold climates. However, there are some lesser-known fig varieties that give growers a lot of options in addition to Hardy Chicago. I hope to be able to say one day that there's an even better variety that could extend the reach where fig trees can be reliably grown.

Let's now talk about some of the most cold hardy fig varieties in existence.

Cold-tolerant fig tree varieties


During the winter of 2021-2022, over 100 fig tree varieties were put to test in my yard to see which would survive and which wouldn't. I saw a low of 6F and my trees were unprotected the entire winter.

I would highly recommend watching this video to see the results from the 2021-2022 winter fig tree hardiness experiment:


These are the fig varieties that faired the best:

Hardy Chicago


Hardy Chicago aka Chicago Hardy, GE Neri, Azores Dark, Conde, Malta Black & Sicilian Dark. Easily reproducible to survive a 0F winter low.


Teramo


Like Hardy Chicago, this fig also has exceptional hardiness. Found in Maryland by Bill Lauris of offthebeatenpathnursery.com


Florea aka Michurinska 10


This fig variety also goes by the name Michurinska 10. Europe’s most popular fig variety for colder climates. Commonly grown colder countries like Bulgaria, Hungary, Germany & Belgium.



Vladimiro of viaggiatore971.blogspot.com has relayed this information from another source that it is supposed to survive -25C. That’s incredible if proven true!



Thierry of figuesdumonde.wordpress.com has told me this about Campaniere, “Campaniere survived a harsh winter in February of 2012. There were 10 days of frost. During the day it was -5C and in the nighttime it reached -20C (-4F). After all of that, even the buds were intact.

The Campaniere mother tree is about 140 years old, but there is a younger one about 20 years old who is in the wind and has good resistance too. They are in a draining place and we should not neglect the limestone and potassium to help the tree to resist the cold."



A classic and underappreciated fig variety for cold climates. Some believe that it can survive temperatures below 0F.


Green Michurinska aka Verdino or White Adriatic


Green Michurinska is originally from a Bulgarian commercial fruit grower named Penandpike. Where the Mother tree is located, this tree is no stranger to cold winter lows yet the tree is massive proving that it can handle cold temperatures.



The most well-known and hardy fig found in Denmark called Bornholm. A similar fig that you may have heard of called LaRadek’s English Brown Turkey was claimed to have survived the brutal European winter of 2012.

Robert Harper in Connecticut said this about it, “This fig was discovered in a zone 6a location, in the village of Kyjovich, in the Czech Republic. It has been grown there in a protected location for 18 years. But, grown without winter cover, and still produces a breba crop. It is reported to be able to survive minus 18 degrees Fahrenheit, once it has reached maturity.


Pastiliere


A classic variety found all over Europe that easily belongs in the category of the most hardy fig varieties. Marcello at planetfig.com says that it has excellent hardiness.


Other fig varieties that survived my hardiness experiment that saw a 6F winter low:


Other hardy fig varieties worth mentioning based on my own prior experiences and other grower's experiences:


Fig Tree Care in the Winter


It's possible that just planting a cold-tolerant fig tree is not enough. In zones 6B & 7A, 0F is a very likely possibility every winter. When temperatures drop below 0F, fig tree winter survival is unlikely. This is where the proper fig tree care during the winter comes in.


There is a huge number of creative fig tree winter protection ideas. These are some of my favorites:

  • Wrapping - by gathering all of your fig tree branches in close and wrapping them with burlap, blankets, and tarps, you're giving your fig tree protection from the wind and cold.

  • Bending branches to the ground and covering them - by bending the branches to the ground, you're getting them closer to a key heat source in the winter, the soil. Simply tie them to the ground and cover them with any insulative material you have on hand like housing insulation, concrete blankets, and mulch.

  • Mulch rings - create a mulch ring out of chicken wire by simply creating a ring around your fig tree with chicken wire. Fill in the ring with mulch materials like leaves or wood chips.



Make sure your fig tree has well-lignified branches for a cold-tolerant fig tree:



While the fig variety that you choose isn't everything, it certainly plays a major role.
Well-lignified branches going into the winter are often overlooked.

Even the hardiest fig (let's use Hardy Chicago as an example) will take damage if the branches aren't lignified well.

Even in warm places like LA or FL that only see temperatures in the low 20s see winter damage on their fig trees, but in my climate, which is much further north, I may not see any damage and our winter lows can be 0F. How is this possible?

It's because the water in the soil during the summer and fall encourages our fig trees to grow. If that growth doesn't stop 3 or more months prior to the first hard frost, we won't see good lignification.

Proper Lignification of fig trees is discussed in great detail in the video below:

If soil moisture is the problem, how can I help my fig tree?


This is why I've said that in cold hardiness zones, it's critical to plant your fig tree the right way. This means:

  • Planting your fig tree above grade - I recommend 1-2 ft high mounds or berms.

  • Using mulch to help regulate soil moisture.

  • Planting on a well-draining site


You should now be well on your way to a cold hardy fig tree


This article is a valuable resource for anyone looking to grow cold-tolerant fig trees. By discussing the critical role of winter hardiness in determining a fig tree's ability to survive, and highlighting the best fig varieties to choose from, it provides a clear and actionable guide to growing successful fig trees in cold climates.

Additionally, the discussion on the importance of proper fig tree care during the winter and lignification, as well as creative winter protection ideas, make it an essential guide for those looking to ensure their fig trees thrive. With the right preparation and care, you too can grow a successful and fruitful fig tree.


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4 Comments


Hasima Zilic
Hasima Zilic
Aug 06, 2023

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Jani Teeter
Jani Teeter
Jul 08, 2023

Hi Ross, am I completely off my tree to consider trying to grow a fig (what kind? ) in zone 5b, Quebec? I read about some fellow doing low cordon growing and heavy winter protection in Iowa I believe. I don't mind doing the work, just what work? Is this even possible? So far for me, it has been pots and the fig shuffle from my basement. I would just so love, love to have a fig in my yard next to my peach and persimmon! Any ideas of how I could manage that?

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My grandfather used to have a fig tree in Montreal. He would half-dig it up every winter, bend it down to the ground on its side and cover it with leaves or mulch. It survived many years that way.

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Paul Paradiso
Paul Paradiso
May 11, 2022

Hi Ross, my name is Paul. Just wanted to say that I really like all your videos. Im in my 3rd year with gtowing fig trees and you've been very helpful. Thanks again

These are some of my trees, woke them up early in the greenhouse. I live in Albany NY. Hope we both have a great season.

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ross raddi_edited.jpg
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I'm Ross, the "Fig Boss." A YouTuber educating the world on the wonderful passion of growing fig trees. Apply my experiences to your own fig journey to grow the best tasting food possible.
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