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Wake-Up Call: How to Handle Early Leafing Out in Container Fig Trees w/ Tips on Growing them Indoors

Updated: Jan 23, 2023



Key Takeaways

Are you scratching your head wondering why your fig tree has started to leaf out during the winter? You're not alone! With the warmer winter weather, many fig tree owners are facing this same predicament. But don't despair! This blog post will give you the tools you need to handle this early leafing out and ensure a successful growing season for your fig tree.

Know that you're not alone. This warm winter is affecting everyone. I have been getting more emails than ever on this particular topic! Which usually goes something like this:

Ross, I don't know if you are into answering questions but I will give it a try. My fig trees in containers were placed in dormancy in late November.
So I put my figs to rest and thought I have till spring to awaken them. Well they beat me to it. They have started to leaf out in their storage places. So I need some advice on what to do with them. I have 4 of them and they are about two years old. The places where I stored them may not have been cool enough.
I don't know. I can't place them in a colder place can I at this stage of their development? If I water them and try to give them more warmth and sun will they continue to grow or just die back? The space available for that in my residency is limited. Your thoughts on what approach ought I take if any? The one actually produced a few figs last while it was in a hallway the whole year. I was amazed. Any thoughts I would appreciate. Thank you, Ward.


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Do fig trees lose their leaves during the winter?

Fig trees are deciduous. They lose their leaves in the winter! Unless you live in a USDA zone 10 like Southern Florida, your tree is going to drop its leaves and go dormant during the winter. Believe it or not, this process is a huge biological advantage. The fig tree stores carbohydrates produced during the summer in its branches, trunks, and inside its roots, and then in the spring, our trees wake up with an explosion of growth from those stored carbohydrates.

Do fig trees require chill hours to produce fruit?

Fig trees do not require chill hours. The same regurgitated and recycled fig information all over the internet is false. Commercial growers in the tropics (one by the name of Dato) are successfully growing fig trees and fruiting them without chill hours. The trick is the timing of pruning combined with water, fertilizer,s and warm temperatures.

Do fig trees go dormant indoors?

Fig trees do not go dormant indoors. They may simulate dormancy in your home, but almost always the answer is no. For a fig tree to properly go dormant it's important to expose your fig tree to several light/hard touches of frost or colder temperatures in the 20s are required. Indoor winter fig tree storage almost always fails. This is where the trees will not be cool enough to mimic the winter conditions that fig trees need to properly go into dormancy.

My fig tree is dormant, now what?

If your fig tree is dormant, ideally you want to store your container fig tree in a location that's between 15-45F until you're getting close to your last frost date. Such as a garage, shed, or root cellar.

Why is winter protection of container fig trees important?

Fig tree winter protection is important because your fig tree may be killed in the winter. Many growers (including myself) try to push the limits on where a fig tree can be reliably grown. In zones 4-7, winter protection of some kind is necessary. Fig trees in containers have different winter requirements than those planted in the ground. The roots of container-grown fig trees are more exposed to lower temperatures and need additional protection from the cold. It's important to move your container-grown fig trees to a location that ensures that they will be protected from temperatures below 15F.

Ideas for winter protection of fig trees (whether they're in containers or planted in the ground) can be found here:

Contrary to what my alma mater Penn State says on its extension website, I would argue that an unheated basement is the worst place to store your fig tree during the winter months. They mention here to bring container fig trees indoors during the winter.

They also say to: "place containers in an insulated unheated preferably dark room, garage or cool basement. If the space is not dark, you can cover the figs." While an insulated & unheated shed or garage can be a great option. An unfinished and unheated basement is the most common mistake I see fig growers make when they're growing in colder climates.

Why has my fig tree woken up early?

Your fig tree has woken up early because either it was never dormant, to begin with, or your fig tree is located in an environment like your home and it's too warm. When temperatures are consistently 50F or higher, it's only a matter of time before your fig tree thinks it's spring. If that happens, recovering from this mistake can be difficult if you're still weeks or usually months away from your last frost.

Do fig trees need sunlight to wake up from dormancy?

Fig trees do not require sunlight to wake up from dormancy. Every year my fig trees are in total darkness and wake up solely from the warming temperatures in my "root cellar" environment. However, if sunlight is warming the soil in the containers, that's adding additional heat that may wake them up prematurely.

What to do if your fig tree has woken up from dormancy too early:

If your fig tree has woken up from dormancy too early, I would place it outside and expose them to temperatures in the mid-high 20s at night and bring them inside if it drops any lower. Allow them to be exposed to a few frosty nights. Eventually, they'll go dormant properly and you can finally put them somewhere in winter storage for good. Keep in mind the temperature range that I mentioned above. They need to be in an environment that's 15-50F until you're ready to wake them up. Anything warmer and they will wake up again from dormancy and believe that it's time for the growing season to begin.

When are fig trees moved outside in the spring?

Growers move their container fig trees into warmer spring weather usually 2-4 weeks before their average last frost date.

If my fig tree is ready for springtime, what should I do about a late frost?

If you're expecting a late frost at the beginning of your growing season, I would take measures to protect your tree. As mentioned in my prior blog post here on late frosts, it's important to avoid a hard frost or temperatures below roughly 25F. A light frost can be nothing to worry about, but certainly, as you get lower the new growth on your fig tree can take damage impeding the fruit set of the new growing season.

Should I grow my fig tree indoors for the rest of the winter instead of trying to force it into dormancy?

Can I grow my fig tree indoors?

Growing a fig tree indoors comes with many challenges. Most growers fail because it's difficult to mimic the sun. Grow lights can get you fruit, but if you have the option to allow it to go dormant and then move it outside in the spring, there is no comparison. The indoor fig tree, which is a houseplant at that point, cannot compete and I would only do so if you had no other option. Natural sunlight is critical at the beginning of the season for strong healthy growth and therefore the formation of the main crop figs that form on the new growth.

How can I care for my indoor fig tree?

Unlike other houseplants, the fig tree produces fruit. Therefore, caring for a container-grown fig tree indoors requires some heavy-duty grow lights. These typically need to be on 16 hours a day (buy yourself an automatic timer) with a full spectrum color temperature for optimal plant growth. Additionally, fig trees are prone to root rot, so the common problem of overwatering leading to root rot when growing houseplants is even more likely with a grower's less than a bright green thumb.

What part of the house should my fig tree be?

If you expect them to fruit, fig trees should be in the warmest and sunniest window of your home. When they're awake, they need warm soil temperatures to grow and fruit well. A sunny window warming the side of a black container can go a long way.

This video will also tell you exactly what to do if your fig tree has woken up prematurely in the wintertime before spring:

And below is an interview with Canadian Fig Grower Steven Biggs and me talking about a comprehensive guide to fig tree winter protection:


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3 Comments


Alexa
Alexa
Mar 14

Thanks for all this awesome information. I have a question about my fig tree! I purchased my fig tree in Houston Texas in January 2024. By that time, the temperatures have been on the lower end, and the 3 gallon celeste fig tree had only 2 green leaves left before dormancy. For the entire winter, we kept the tree in the garage so that it can go dormant. The leaves never naturally fell off, the got forcefully knocked off accidentally during transport. Fast forward to March, our temperatures rose, and we placed the tree outside for sun exposure and warmth. New leaf growth began within this past week. Is my tree healthy and on the right track? Should I have…

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Adam Odeh
Adam Odeh
Jan 18, 2023

Excellent write up. Thanks for the advice. Your website has come a long way.

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Ross the Fig BOSS
Ross the Fig BOSS
Jan 18, 2023
Replying to

Thank you, Adam!

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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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