Since most fig varieties survive only mild winter cold, growing figs above plant hardiness zone 7 requires either special techniques, hardy varieties, or both. Unprotected, the brown turkey or Texas everbearing fig survives winter minimums as low as 10 degrees F without serious damage. Colder temperatures kill the tree back to the ground. Because the brown turkey fig regrows vigorously and fruits later in the year on new wood, crops of figs from outdoor plantings are possible as far north as Indiana. Growers willing to take extreme measures may be successful with other varieties as well.
Choose the hardiest possible fig varieties to grow outside in Indiana. Indiana's winter minimums drop as low as -20 degrees F although warmer winters with lows of only slightly below zero are common. Even hardy varieties such as brown turkey, blue celeste and Brunswick will need extra protection.
Plant fig trees in areas with protection from winter's north winds. Don't plant figs in low-lying areas which become frost pockets in early spring. Locate the tree on the south side of a heated building for extra shelter in the winter and extra warmth and sunlight in summer.
Prune fig trees to grow with multiple stems and a spreading bush shape. Winter damage naturally limits the size of the fig tree, and multiple stems provide more summer foliage and a faster recovery.
Protect fig trees by wrapping and insulating limbs in early winter after the tree goes dormant. Bend limbs alongside the trunks and tie with cotton cord. Wrap the tree with fiberglass insulation and a reinforced nylon tarp as an outer wind barrier.
Remove the cover in early spring before new growth begins. Release the limbs from the cord bindings. Prune out any winter killed wood.
Things You Will Need
- Cold-hardy fig tree
- Cotton cord
- Fiberglass insulation
- Reinforced nylon tarp
- Pruning shears
- Limb loppers
- Garden spade
- Fertilize only if the fig trees show less than a foot of growth per year after pruning.
- Wrap and bury fig trees for the best winter protection. Dig a shallow trench perpendicular to the tree and equal in length to the tree's height. Bind limbs to trunk before severing the main roots on the opposite side and tipping the fig tree towards the trench. Cover with insulation and a waterproof tarp and seal the protective layer with dirt. Restore the tree to an upright posture in early spring.
- Bending the tree to the ground and covering well shelters the fig from all but extreme cold without the intentional root damage.
- If last year's new wood survives the winter cold, brown turkey figs may produce two crops in one year. The first spring crop sets on over-wintered branches, while the second sets on new wood in the fall.
- Fig trees adapt well to containers and store well in garages or unheated rooms for the winter. Water only enough to keep the soil slightly damp. Growing fig trees outdoors in Indiana always increases the risk of serious injury to the tree.
- Plant fig trees in full sun. Only long periods of sunlight and warm temperatures will ripen figs.