Winter Protection for Fig Trees

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The fig tree (Ficus carica) thrives in areas with a Mediterranean climate -- hot and dry in the summer and warm and wet in the winter. Actively growing fig trees will be damaged in temperatures lower than 30 degrees Fahrenheit, but a dormant tree can tolerate temperatures to 15 F. USDA zones 8 through 11 are the official U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones for the fig tree, but with extra care you can grow them in cooler places.

Fall Tasks

If you fertilize your fig tree, give the last application before late summer. As late summer turns to fall, allow the soil to dry out around the fig tree. Both the withholding of fertilizer and water prompt the fig tree to enter dormancy.

Winter Protection

Begin preparing the fig tree for winter before the first frost date for your area.

The tree should be as compact as possible, so prune any branches that are growing horizontally and those that are significantly taller than the others.

Tip

  • Some disease pathogens can survive the winter, so disinfect your pruning tools before using them on the fig tree. Soak them for five minutes in a solution containing 1 part of household bleach and 3 parts of water. Rinse the solution off before pruning.

Use heavy twine to tie the remaining stems together. If the tree is large, you may need to wrap the twine around it several times.

Soil is the fig tree’s best winter protector, so pack it around the bottom 6 inches of the tree’s trunk. The thicker the layer of soil, the more insulation it will provide.

While soil is your tree’s friend, excess water is its nemesis. To divert the water from melting snow, create a 12-inch-high soil berm -- packed, mounded soil -- completely surrounding the fig tree. Place the berm 3 feet from the tree’s trunk. Fill the area between the berm and the tree with a 3- to4-inch layer of mulch.

Wrap the tree in burlap, securing it with twine at the bottom, the middle and toward the top. Next, wrap it again with a tarp or heavy plastic, overlapping it as you wind it around the tree and leaving the top open. Secure the tarp the same way you did the burlap. Finally, use a bucket or a flower pot to cover the opening at the top, to keep the rain out yet still allow a bit of air circulation.

Tip

  • Use a ladder to reach the top of the tall fig tree.

Protection for the Smaller Fig Tree

If you grow your fig tree as a shrub, or prune to keep it a manageable size, you have an alternative protection option available.

Install four sturdy posts, equally spaced around the fig tree. Wrap chicken wire around the outside of the posts, securing it to each post. Fill the interior of the fenced area with leaves and then throw a tarp over the top.

Protection for Potted Fig Trees

Help the fig tree go into dormancy by cutting down the amount of water you provide and allowing it to experience one or two early frosts. As it begins dropping leaves, remove any remaining fruit and apply a ready-to-use dormant oil spray to kill any pests and pest eggs. Ensure that the spray hits all parts of the tree and the undersides of any remaining foliage.

Warning

  • Don’t apply the oil spray if the temperature exceeds 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Clear the area of other people and pets and wear protective clothing and a breathing mask when applying dormant oil. Wait until the spray is dry to bring the fig tree indoors.

Move the fig tree to an indoor area that remains dark and where the temperature remains just above freezing. These conditions will help the fig tree remain dormant.

Two weeks before the last frost date in your area, move the fig tree to a sheltered outdoor location. Next to a wall is ideal because not only will the tree be sheltered from the wind, but the wall will also radiate the heat required to break dormancy.

Water the soil slowly until water drains from the bottom of the pot and apply a liquid 10-10-10 fertilizer, according to label instructions. As a general rule of thumb, dilute 1.6 ounces of the concentrated liquid fertilizer in 5 gallons of water and pour it slowly over the soil until it drains from the bottom of the pot.

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