Updated: Feb 16
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 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.
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Fig tree hardiness zone
The primary factor determining a fig tree's hardiness is how extreme of a winter temperature the tree can handle to survive or not take damage. Think of the winter low as a hardwired piece of the fig varieties' genetic code. Think about a 7-foot center in the NBA. 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 recommended), and 7B.
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 something can be reliably reproduced in very cold climates. However, there are some lesser-known fig varieties that could extend the reach where fig trees can be reliably grown.
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 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 - 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.
St. Martin - 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!
Campaniere - 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 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."
Longue d'Aout - A classic and underappreciated fig variety for cold climates. Some believe that it can survive temperatures below 0F.
Green Michurinska - 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.
English Brown Turkey aka Olympian - 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:
Kutfeji Black - Similar to Black Mission (another hardy variety)
JH Adriatic aka White Adriatic
Verdino del Nord (VR) or Figoin
LSU Tiger - a child of Celeste
LSU Hollier - a child of Celeste
Other hardy fig varieties worth mentioning based on my own prior experiences and other grower's experiences:
White Marseilles aka Lattarula
Godfather aka Osborne Prolific
LSU Purple - a child of Celeste
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