Fig trees (Ficus carica) require the mild winters found in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 to 10. Because the state of Maryland is in hardiness zones 6b and 7a, it’s natural for you to assume that residents there can’t grow figs -- but you would be mistaken, according to agriculturists with the University of Maryland. For success growing fig trees in Maryland, you need to choose cold-hardy varieties. These include “Brown Turkey” (Ficus carica “Brown Turkey”), “Osborne” (Ficus carica “Osborne”) and “Celeste” (Ficus carica “Celeste”).
One way to assure that you grow a healthy fig tree in Maryland is to grow it in a container set on casters. This way, you can roll it to a winter-protected area when the weather turns frosty. Use a 30-gallon container filled with a well-drained, compost-laden potting soil to grow the fig tree. Wheel it into a full-sun area during mild weather, and water it when the top inch of soil is dry. Give the potted fig tree 2 to 3 gallons of water after the flowers fade and fruit begins forming.
Growing the fig tree in the ground presents several challenges. Choose the site carefully -- you’ll need the sunniest and warmest spot in the garden. If you have a south-facing wall, plant the tree next to it so the sun’s warmth will be reflected from the wall. If you’re growing more than one fig tree, space them 6 to 8 feet apart.
The fig tree isn’t particular about the type of soil it grows in, as long as it drains freely so its roots don’t sit in water for long periods of time. The optimal soil pH is between 6.0 and 6.5. Add a shovelful or two of compost or manure to the hole at planting to give the roots a kick start.
Your first fig tree task every spring is to remove suckers -- the growth from the soil around the base of the fig tree. These don’t serve any purpose and sap energy that the tree can otherwise be put toward producing healthy foliage, flowers and fruit. Use pruning shears to cut wayward branches that grow toward the center of the tree or cross over other branches. Finally, prune it to the size and form you desire. You can grow figs as trees or shrubs to any height you desire.
Expect a ground-grown fig tree to die back to the soil when temperatures remain below 10 degrees Fahrenheit. The tree is still alive underground, however, and you should see some sprouts in the spring. Unfortunately, you won’t have fruit again for another two to three seasons. If you grow the tree as a shrub, it is easier to protect it in the winter and avoid the dieback. Cover the shrub with tarps, old sheets or blankets or burlap. Hold the material to the soil with rocks or bricks.
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