Winterizing Container Fig Trees | Where to Store them & How to Avoid Season Ending Setbacks

Updated: Nov 20

I get this question every year. What do I do with my container fig trees come winter? Where should I store them? What do you think is best? I have a basement that's dark. Is that a good place to put them? Here is the most recent version of that question and I thought my response to this particular case study would help clear up all of the confusion to make it easy for everyone.

I have a small cabana like room where I keep some herbs basil rosemary etc. it has a window so the fig trees will get some sunlight. Is that ok or should I put them in a basement with no sunlight? Someone said I should leave them in the dark and let it go dormant. Not sure what is right way.

Basements are usually too warm and your fig trees will wake up in darkness way too early. Yes! They can in fact be too warm. You need to keep the tree in an environment that is between 15-50F ALL winter. Total darkness does not matter. It is the soil temperature that sends the signal to our trees to wake up from dormancy. The sun is only raising those temperatures. By about 1-2 months prior to your last frost, your fig trees should be naturally starting their wake up process and that's normal, but if it's in an environment over 45-50F for extended periods of time, your tree may wake up prematurely at a time that's very far away from your last frost date. It'll be stuck growing inside or somewhere not ideal because frost or temperatures below 32F could damage our fig trees after they wake up. In this scenario, getting fruit will be quite difficult next season and you may also kill the tree depending on how good your green thumb is in an indoor setting. At that point, they become houseplants and plenty of people (including myself) kill houseplants.

Before I get into a few alternatives, I would be remiss if we didn't talk about preparing your fig trees for winter storage.

This involves making sure that they are dormant! This is so critical. If they're not fully dormant, it's much easier for them to wake up prematurely. Allow them to get in contact with 1-4 frosts. At least a hard frost around 25F. After this you'll see the leaves look very sad, dry up and fall off the trees. In addition to a lack of sap flow in the branches, this is the indicator that they're ready to go away in storage. Additionally, I would prune them if necessary, give them some food, water them in very well and mulch the containers. This will allow you to forgo watering them during dormancy (at least for 3-4 months).

Now onto the alternative locations or methods of fig tree winter storage:

If an environment cannot be provided like the one I'm going to mention below, your best course of action is to plant it in the ground now and cover it. This is called heeling them in. There are so many methods of protection. Wrapping, bending the branches over to the ground and covering them with LOTS of mulch and potentially a tarp layer. Or even just creating a mulch ring with chicken wire.


It's even possible in warmer zone 7 and zone 8 climates to just leave them outside all winter. Again, if you're not seeing something lower than 15, there's no need to move them. Even here in the suburbs of Philadelphia a friend of mine who is a local grower left a number of his fig trees outside all winter for the last two seasons! We saw a low of 10F this winter and his hardier fig varieties actually made it through the winter without any damage (his less hardy varieties did not). Simply by placing the trees near your house or something that holds a lot of thermodynamic heating within, you'll see good results. Stack all your trees on their side near your home, throw on many layers of straw or other insulative materials and cover them with a tarp. Wouldn't it be nice to skip the fig shuffle completely? Here is a list of hardy fig varieties that could survive outside all winter at your location: https://www.figboss.com/post/a-hardy-fig-tree-starts-with-the-variety - And this video below will detail the process of leaving them outside all winter. Lots of insulation is key!

Use a root cellar or wine cellar. By putting your fig trees in an environment like these, they stay at a mild temperature all year because of stable ground temperatures. In the winter, they stay above freezing and in the summer, the opposite occurs. They stay actually quite a bit cool. I've stored my fig trees in an environment like these for years. We have a 3-4 ft high storage area underneath our sunroom. It's actually perfect because they typically wake up at exactly the right time before our last frost. This method however is not all that different from an unheated basement and as discussed at the beginning of this blog post, an unheated basement can be a disaster due to warmer temperatures waking them up prematurely in a dark environment! Not all wine or root cellars are created equal. Just like every basement isn't. But I can assure you that if the temperatures are too warm in those locations, you will not be a happy fig grower.

Use a greenhouse. Depending on the greenhouse, this could be the best option outside of actually just not moving them at all. Again, the temperatures are your main concern at those winter lows, but if you can construct something or put them even in a small greenhouse like the one below, you'll have no issues if you insulate it. I add a small space heater in there that turns on during cold nights, but that's not necessary if it's insulated well. The big benefit here is that when the fig trees wake up in the spring, they're already in direct sunlight. Unlike an unheated basement. The video below will show you how I insulate my greenhouse to prepare for winter:

This is how I store them in the greenhouse. Nowadays, I don't go higher than stacking them 2 containers high. Light is a premium in the spring:

Use a garage or shed. Similar to the greenhouse idea above, either of these two options could be your best bet. Why? They usually stay quite cold all winter. Unlike the heated basement, they take a bit more time to warm up in the spring. A lot of folks have windows in their sheds or can open their garage door to get some sunlight in once the trees wake up.

I would also check out my 2022 Spring Container Fig Shuffle. This video shows you my winter storage and the amount of work it takes to get them out of storage.

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