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Fig Tree Winter Protection Uncovered: When Is the Right Time to Uncover a Fig Tree?

Updated: Mar 29



Fig trees are a delightful addition to any garden, but their hardiness in the face of winter weather can be a cause for concern. That’s where winter protection comes in.

In this article, I’ll guide you through the nuances of my favorite method of winter protection for fig trees, the results of that method, and when to uncover your fig tree. I also explore the steps to take after the winter season, including pruning and using season extension techniques to give your fig trees a head start. And, for those living in colder climates, I’ll highlight some of the hardiest fig varieties to ensure your trees survive the winter season.

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Fig Tree Care During the Winter


Fig trees are known to be hardy plants, but they require proper winter protection to thrive in zones 6 and 7. One of my favorite methods of winter protection involves bending the branches of fig trees close to the ground and staking them with garden staples or bamboo. After the branches are along the ground, I cover them with mulch or other insulative materials.

Why does this work?

When the branches are low to the ground, they are closer to the earth, which is a source of heat. If you have a heat source, the only left to do is insulate it. Woodchips, straw, and leaves are great insulative materials that are easy to find. What I like about this method is that it offers a more efficient alternative to wrapping fig trees for winter protection.


The Results of Winter Protection


Despite some challenges with warmer than usual weather and rotting in some branches, the majority of the trees survived and appear to be in great condition. This method was particularly effective in ensuring that the growth tips and lateral buds were still intact on the branches, which is critical for fruit production in the coming season.

One of the most important aspects of this method is ensuring that the entire branch is protected to prevent damage, as opposed to just the trunk or base of the tree. Next year, I am going to be a bit more thorough when applying my mulch layer. Where branches stuck out above the mulch line, the damage was observed.

The one negative to any fig tree winter protection method is the chance of mold and rot from a warm and moist environment. In particular, this method is susceptible because wood chips, leaves, or other coverings can create lead to excess moisture around the bark leading to rot.

Here’s how to combat this:

  • Choose thicker branches to protect and bend in the fall. Thicker branches tend to fare better with this method, as they are less likely to rot and can handle being bent closer to the ground.

  • Consider covering your insulative materials with a tarp. A tarp keeps the excess moisture out leading to less rot.

  • Don’t just cross your fingers for a dry and cold winter. Instead, uncover your fig trees before it gets too warm, and don’t cover them too early in the fall. It is the combination of warmth and excess moisture around the bark that leads to rot.


When to Uncover your Fig Tree


As the end of February approaches and the weather starts to warm up, it's important to consider when to uncover your fig trees. This decision will depend on a variety of factors, including weather conditions, your location, and the specific method used for winter protection. This year I am uncovering my trees earlier than normal because of the warm and mild winter weather that could lead to rot or mold.

While preventing the problem of rot, some growers may argue that it could be too soon to uncover because of the potential for more severe winter lows. My argument against that thought process is that the majority of us in cold fig climates are past the most extreme lows that we may face each winter.

Here in the Philadelphia area, December-February are the coldest months. Now that we’re almost in March, it’s highly unlikely that I’ll see an extremely cold temperature below 15F when lesser hardy fig trees can take damage.

There is however the possibility of a late frost. However, this is only a concern if the fig trees are actively growing.


Concerns of Late Frosts


Late frost warnings can be a cause of worry for fig tree growers as frost can cause serious damage to the plants. A freeze watch issued for a location can be stressful for farmers and hobbyists. It is important to consider the severity and duration of the frost and the growth stage of the fig trees.

The closer a grower is to water, a major city, concrete, or higher ground, the less likely they are to see frost. It is important to check the microclimate of the location and the frost line map before deciding whether to uncover a fig tree or not.

It is also important to consider the temperature during the frost warning. Temperatures below 25-26°F can cause trouble for actively growing fig trees. It is important to take measures to protect fig trees in a freeze watch, warning, and hard freeze warning. Farmers can choose to either do nothing or take extra measures to protect their fig trees.

If the forecast is predicting a low of 37°F, growers may not need to do much to protect their fig trees. However, to sleep soundly, growers can protect their fig trees by moving or covering them with heavy-duty trash bags, tarps, or nursery pots. These protective measures can prevent damage to fig trees that have already been hit by frost, trees in frost-sensitive areas, and young trees that are not strong enough to recover from frost.

For more on late frosts and what to do, read this informative article:


Pruning Fig Trees in the Spring


After you’ve uncovered or unwrapped your fig trees, it's important to prepare your fig trees for the upcoming growing season. This is the perfect time to complete any last-minute tasks, such as pruning for additional cuttings for propagation or for proper training of your fig tree.

Pruning helps to stimulate new growth and promote airflow, which can help prevent a disease called rust. Be sure to remove any dead or damaged branches, as well as any branches that are crossing over each other or are growing in the wrong direction. It may also be a good idea to thin out some of the smaller and overcrowded branches, as this will allow more light to reach the remaining branches and promote better fruit production.


Training Fig Trees by Staking Branches


Another effective technique for maximizing light penetration into your fig tree is staking. By staking the branches on a more horizontal angle, you can open up the scaffolds and create more space for the tree to grow. This allows more light to reach the new growth on all points of the fig tree to give the main crop fruit buds a higher chance to form.

Staking is particularly useful for branches that are situated in strange places or in areas where they would shade out other branches, causing lower fruit yields. By staking these branches away from each other, you can open up the center of the tree and get as much sunlight as possible reaching more of a surface area of the tree improving your yield and fruit quality.

Think about it, with more fruiting branches attaining the right amount of light, your tree can produce more fruits, leading to higher production. This is why I’d rather stake my branches than prune them if I don’t have to.


Low Tunnels and Season Extension for Fig Trees


If you want to get an early start to the fig season, constructing low tunnels is a great option. Low tunnels are an affordable and easy-to-construct way to extend the growing season and keep your plants warm during colder periods. From my experience with greenhouses in prior seasons, you can expect much earlier ripening fruits.

With low tunnels, I’m expecting earlier production by at least two weeks. By constructing the tunnels around March 1st and assuming enough sunny days, the fig trees should wake up around March 15th.

Conservatively, a month after waking from dormancy, the first main crop fruits will appear by April 15th. Fast forward 70-90 days and that’s when I could harvest my first main crop figs of the growing season!

For more on season extension for fig trees, check out this article:

Hardy Fig Varieties


Fig trees can be sensitive to extreme winter lows, and their hardiness largely depends on their genetic code and the temperature extremes they can withstand. Most fig varieties can reliably survive temperatures as low as 10F, but only a few can withstand 5F or 0F. Therefore, it is essential to choose the right variety when growing fig trees in cold climates.

Some fig trees may not require winter protection at all, depending on the location and climate. In warmer regions, for example, fig trees may be able to survive the winter without any extra protection. It's always a good idea to research your specific variety of fig tree and its hardiness requirement before deciding on a winter protection method. Feel free to contact me if you’re not sure of your fig varieties' winter hardiness.

The Chicago Hardy is the most popular and hardy fig variety, which can withstand a 0F winter low. Teramo, Florea, St. Martin, Campaniere, Longue d'Aout, Green Michurinska, English Brown Turkey, Pastiliere, Kutfeji Black, JH Adriatic, Moro de Caneva, Nerucciolo d'Elba, Verdino del Nord (VR), Celeste, LSU Tiger, LSU Hollier, Sefrawi, and Sementino Rosso are some of the fig varieties that can also survive colder temperatures.

For a full list, check out this article here:

While the fig variety can go a long way toward ensuring survival during the winter, various winter protection ideas can make the difference, such as wrapping the tree with burlap, blankets, and tarps, bending branches to the ground and covering them, and creating mulch rings around the tree. Proper lignification of fig tree branches is also critical for winter survival and is often a forgotten factor. Well-lignified branches can withstand low temperatures, whereas under-lignified branches may take damage or die.

You’re Ready to Succeed this Growing Season:


With the right winter protection and care, your fig trees can thrive in colder climates. By utilizing methods such as bending and staking branches close to the ground and using insulative materials like wood chips and leaves, you can ensure your fig trees are protected and ready to produce fruit in the upcoming season.

Remember to uncover your fig trees before it gets too warm to prevent mold and rot, and to prune and train your trees for optimal growth. And don't forget to research the hardiness of your fig variety and consider season extension techniques for earlier ripening fruits. With a little effort and attention, you can enjoy delicious figs from your own backyard, no matter where you live.

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I too am in zone 7a. This is my first time growing a fig. We planted a Chicago Hardy Fig last fall. I covered the base with straw and covered the plant with a white plant cover. Today I pulled the cover off and there are lots of buds present on the plant. My concern now is, should I recover it for a while yet. We are in Idaho in what is considered high desert. We typically have warm days and cold nights. This coming week our days will be in the 50's, but our nights are typically still in the 30's and a few nights will still get to 28 or so. Should I cover it until ni…

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Charlie,

Like the article says, 26-28F for actively growing fig trees can be trouble.

This post gives some additional information on late frosts: https://www.figboss.com/post/figs-frost

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Valya
Valya
27 feb 2023

My fig trees are small still, and so I used the "NuVue 24046 Spring-up Greenhouse" to cover them, and then filled it with mulch. It worked like a dream. Zone 6B.

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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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