Figs are a sweet treat that is usually grown in a warm climate. As cold climate gardeners, figs usually do not even cross our minds. Till someone in a cold climate shares something about their figs. Growing figs in a cold climate is possible. We get asked a lot about how we grow figs in our cold climate and short growing season, so here we share our experiences and as usual, we will add more information as we go.
Before you order your fig tree
Figs are warm-weather trees but can be small enough to be able to grow in a container. This ability makes it possible to grow and enjoy figs in virtually any climate.
Things to consider before getting a fig tree are:
- How much space will that tree need and do we have it? A fig tree in a cold climate needs two to three places to grow, depending on the season and conditions. More on this below.
- Can we handle a big and often heavy tree? Since the tree cannot be planted out in our cold climate, unless you have a greenhouse sheltered enough, you will have to move and transplant the tree regularly.
- Is there sufficient heat and sunlight in my growing spot for figs to ripen? We often just think about the winter, if we bring a tree through the winter it is all good. That is not so. The tree will not produce if the summer is too short and cool. So you will end up with a green tree and no fruit.
- Do we like figs enough to make going through extra hassle worth it? One can grow almost anything imaginable, but to make it worthwhile, we also want to enjoy the fruit of our labor.
Where to order
We got our Chicago Fig tree from T&T seeds in Manitoba. For Canadians, this is a great place to get a fig tree. They have even added another fig, the Negronne Fig that is smaller and maybe even better for beginners.
Also, local greenhouses often have a good collection of trees. It is advisable to take a look or even ask when is the best time to get one.
I was comfortable buying our tree from a Canadian source and a climate similar to ours, knowing that if it grows there, it should be fine here. Stores are not always concerned about local conditions, so do your research to know if the fig variety you’re getting will grow in your conditions.
Transplanting the Fig Tree
Our fig tree arrived in a small pot and needed to be transplanted right away. T&T seeds suggested transplanting the tree directly into a 10-inch pot to start and upgrade the pot later to a 5 to 10-gallon container.
We transplanted our tree again in February, before bringing it into the sunroom. We choose a slightly bigger pot. Figs like to feel secure in their containers and will grow well in a tight container. The container itself will also help to shrink the overall size of the tree. A 10 to 15-gallon container could be this plant’s final home, but we are not there yet.
For soil Mel’s Mix from the All New Square Foot Gardening book is great. Mixing together 1/3 compost, 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 peat moss. A good potting soil works too.
The tree will continue to grow year after year and respond to trimming. These can easily grow to about 12 ft tall and about 10 ft wide. Depending on how you trim them you can shape them to grow as a bush or as a tree.
Pruning a fig tree
We do know nothing about pruning just yet, so I will leave a video here that seems to be very helpful. As we learn and gain experiences with cold climate fig trees, we will edit the post.
Location for the fig tree
We got our tree in spring 2018 and after transplanting we kept it in our geodesic dome greenhouse. To our surprise, it developed some fruit and the fruit ripened already in our first summer.
We could see though, that a late spring start does not give the tree enough time to develop and ripen a lot of fruit.
We left the tree in the greenhouse till late October, so that the tree could go the natural way to lose all the leaves and get ready for winter. Our Chicago fig tree is hardy to zone 5, meaning it can handle some frost and should have a resting winter time.
For the winter, before it got freezing in the greenhouse, we moved the tree into our unheated garage. Again, we are in zone 3, so the unheated garage does get frost, but not more than a zone 5 garden would.
I don’t recall watering the tree during the winter, and our garage only has west-facing windows, meaning the tree did not get any sunlight. I don’t think any of it matters since the tree was dormant at this stage.
In February, we brought the tree into our growing room, at the back of our garage, gave it a new pot and watered well. The tree reacted with buds and new growth.
It seems that our fig tree produces two crops during the summer. One early that ripens mid-summer and one that ripens in late fall.
Figs are ripe when they change color and are soft. At that stage they are very sweet and delicious, a real treat.
We had to learn that the window when the figs are perfectly ripe is quite small. If not picked, the tree drops the fruit and it rots. We lost a few due to not knowing this.
Adding a fig tree to our garden has been a real joy. We would recommend it to anyone who is open to some growing adventure.
If you grow a fig tree, please share your best tips with us.