The Chicago Hardy Fig Tree by way of an Italian driveway.

The sign had been at the end of the country driveway for as long as I could remember.  It was facing the highway, with the message hand written in black paint.  Fig Trees for sale.  Every time I drove past the sign I wondered if fig trees really were for sale, or whether the sign had been put up and forgotten long ago by whoever it was that thought they’d try their hand at selling fig trees.  Maybe they’d moved on to selling soap or  painted mason jars or something else that could be listed on Etsy.

For years I drove past that sign, sometimes wondering about it, sometimes not even noticing it was still there.  Then one summer day, 2 years ago, I pulled into the driveway.  One minute I was going 80km an hour down the paved road and the next, my tires were crunching down the long, gravel driveway.  Before I knew it I was parked, out of my car and knocking on the door asking if there really were fig trees for sale.

There were.  I bought one.  I killed it within a year.

Technically I didn’t kill it, the Southern Ontario winter did.  The cutting for my little fig tree was a descendant of a fig tree originally from Italy, brought back by the current farm owner’s father in the 1960’s. The original cuttings were bundled under his shirt and disguised by his sparkling smile and charm at customs.

But the past 2 winters in my neck of the woods were too much for even the roses that have been on my property for decades, let alone a young, lithe,  Italian fig tree.

I swore fig trees off until I saw them for sale at my grocery store.  They were half the price and probably half as good.  They’d never grow, they’d die over the winter, they were probably common.  The sort of plant someone who buys their plants at the grocery store would buy.  I immediately bought one.

That’s right. This spring I bought a 2 foot high, Chicago Hardy fig tree with absolutely no spectacular provenance to speak of.

 

Chicago-Hardy-fig-tree-2

 

It’s now 8 feet tall.

It has leaves large enough to act as a modesty cloth for even the most alarmingly large private parts.  Liam Neeson private parts.

 

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And it has figs.  6 figs.

 

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And I have no idea WHAT I’m going to do with this thing in the winter.  You have two options with a fig tree, I know that.  You can bring it into a somewhat sheltered area like a garage or shed, wrap it in something insulating and forget about it until March or April when you start watering it and putting it outside again.  OR you can plant it in the ground, bend that whole tree over and cover it with mounds of insulating straw.  Planting it close to the house foundation is also a good idea because the house retains heat and makes the area more livable for the fig tree.  That wasn’t an option for me.

Actually, now that I think about it, there’s another option.  You can leave it standing up and wrap it with straw and burlap the same way you would for cedar hedges in the winter.  Not that I’ve ever done that for my cedar hedges.

Based on everything I’ve read I think my best choice is wait until the fall, plant the tree and then bend and insulate it.

The Chicago Hardy fig tree is supposed to be hardy to zone 5 and I’m at zone 6b which makes it within the range of being able to grow it.

Do you know what?  I actually think I have yet another option.

I could move to Italy.

(If you have any experience with growing this type of fig tree in this type of climate feel free to impart any and all information from pruning to protecting.)

90 Comments

  1. Gayle M says:

    Ada, Michigan USA 49301 here. According to my zip code, it’s zone 6a; however, I find my tiered garden out back is mostly a zone 5a-ish to b-ish microclimate. Four yrs ago, this 69 yr old couple dug and moved 560 feet of dirt–quack grass infested dirt sloping 2 feet down diagonally over 35 feet of garden space to create 3 level tiers–the bottom tier definitely is 5a as it’s the low spot. My first Chicago fig perished during the winter down in my basement. My second perished after a winter in the attached garage. I left my third attempt at keeping a fig tree last year–so by leaving it outside last winter in a 30 inch insulated planter pot snugged up to the 2 ft stone tier wall down there. We buried the pot in shredded leaves and uncovered it when my raised garden beds reached 60°F. Outside figs can die back to the ground. The finger thick trunk of my fig died, but there are new shoots growing from the base as I type. I have not repotted cuz I heard they like being pot bound. I water often, give balanced fertilizer monthly. I don’t prune, other than pinching off new growth that will crowd or cross on the inside of the tree. Fresh figs are sooooo good! Good luck, Karen. As you know too well, gardening is a risky business (we had frost May 29! And my entire garden had been in for 2 wks…I saved it by spraying warm water on the plants once it was 34°F. They all made it–yay for internet gardening resources!) Have you checked out the aspirin spray yet? I also use Epsom salts and Tums sprays…people think I’m nuts, but graciously accept my excess produce. 😊

  2. Gigi says:

    This is an older post, I understand that, can you explain the wasp/fig connection needed for fertilization? Is it standard custom to split the fig before consuming in case of a living wasp inside? I always thought the wasp laying her eggs inside was mandatory to fertilization process, but then she flew away. Now I’m a bit confused

    • Karen says:

      Hi Gigi! The fig wasp enters into the fig through a teeny hole. Once in the fig, the fig is pollinated and the wasp can’t get out! This happens when the fig is very small. By the time it matures, the fig has basically digested the wasp and it is 100% gone. ~ karen!

  3. Saundra Bowers says:

    I just bought two this year. First time ever owning one. I live in zone 3-4. Moved into lightly heated garage. Am HOPING it will over winter fine. Lost all it`s leaves, watered once since Oct. Looks great…so far!

    • Karen says:

      Mine is still sitting forlorn in the front yard, but I’ve planted it right in the soil. So far this winter has been WARM. Like, don’t even have to wear a jacket really yet warm. So it might just make it through this winter. Fingers crossed! And good luck to your fig. Don’t forget to water it once a month! That’s always my downfall. ~ karen!

  4. Sarah says:

    Make a bubble wrap tent for the creature? Dollar Tree has plenty of the stuff and so do most Dumpsters.

  5. Vanessa says:

    We have a HUGE fig tree. My grandfather planted it probably 60 years ago. In the summer, anytime I can’t find my youngest son I look in the fig tree. He is usually up in the branches towards the top because “That’s where all the good ones are.”

  6. Colleen Smith says:

    I have often wondered about that sign at the end of that driveway….thanks for solving the mystery for me. :)

  7. Sarah says:

    We bought the same fig tree! But I bought mine at the grocery store at the very end of the season for a ridiculously low price, It’s still pretty small but it has one fig on it! I’m bringing mine inside for the winter.

  8. Ashlee V says:

    I have a Hardy Chicago on the south side planted next to my house. I am in zone 5b. I just realized that I live in Kansas City, MO and I am in a colder zone then you. This makes me sad. Anyway, back to point. My plant in 2012 got 13 feet tall and 4 foot wide because of mild winters before. The last two winters it has died to the ground and comes back as a shrub. No matter how much I bent and covered it is still dies to the ground :(
    By end of summer it is a 5×4 shrub and gives me a bowl of figs. I think I a may buy another one for a large pot, let it go dormant and put it in the basement for winter.

  9. Ruth says:

    Pruning would slow down the plant’s need to make a larger root ball and would have the side effect of prompting ‘side shoots’ and more area for next year’s fruit. It would probably count as a shrub instead of a tree by then, allowing you to find a loophole in community garden regulations.

    Problem solved. ;-)

    (*scrolling back up to finish reading predictably hilarious comments) :D

  10. Mindy says:

    They grow like weeds here, so I’m no help. Unless you want to make fig jam. Which I did, with the nine pounds of figs my neighbor gave me. It’s delicious. I also came across this recipe today that sounds fantastic.
    http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/fig-leaf-coconut-rice-recipe.html
    I have to go steal fig leaves in the dark now…..

  11. Debbie D says:

    I would keep the fig tree in a large container and move it to a garage or covered close to the house when it goes dormant. I had two figs in large containers for years and they produced beautiful fruit. I would allow side branches to grow to keep the fig trees only about 6 feet tall or so. They produced tons of figs. Make sure you feed the fig tree after it starts to come out of dormancy. Here is an article on fig trees in colder climates.

    http://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/garden/grow-fantastic-figs

  12. ronda says:

    totally off topic … is it Aunt Jean’s 101st birthday tomorrow? was catching up on some older posts and found pics of last year’s birthday party.

  13. Fereshteh says:

    I bought a fig tree from loblaws last year. It grew figs but I never harvested any as the neighbourhood critters got to them before I did. The tree lived in my parents attached garage over the winter (with monthly watering) and it survived very well. This year I have about 10 figs but I don’t get a lot of sun so I don’t know if they will ripen or if the critters will leave any for me. For information about growing figs in southern Ontario check out this article http://www.thestar.com/life/2012/07/27/yes_you_can_grow_figs_in_ontario_and_its_not_that_hard.htmland

    Also google Steve Biggs. He has videos and more online re: growing figs.

  14. Aspasia says:

    I just got back from Provence, where figs grow wild. The lady I was staying with had one in her garden that she keeps trying to kill (it rudely keeps coming back). The reason she tries to kill it is because it doesn’t set fruit, but she also claimed they damage walls (it was growing next to her stone garden wall). I never asked her to elaborate because I didn’t expect it would be information that would ever be relevant to my life (silly me), but I get the feeling that planting a fig next to one’s house foundation might not be a great idea.

    Please update us on how your homegrown figs turn out :)

  15. Ana says:

    An old beau had a fig tree planted outside. We are in New England, so our winters could be said to be comparable to yours, maybe. His tree lived through the winter wrapped in straw and burlap as you described. His was a bit further on than yours is though. Good luck! Nothing better than fresh figs.

  16. ellen says:

    Oh now you’ve done it. There is a fig up the street from me (Cape Cod, unreliable zone 6 at mid-Cape) and I had always tried to ignore it because I was sure they were having to heel that monster over and I will have none of that. Now I am thinking…Do you have to have 2?

  17. Elen G says:

    I vote for Italy! Pretty cool fig tree, though. :-D

  18. Carol says:

    My former neighbours (he: Spanish, she: Italian) received a fig tree as a present from his father. They planted the tree in the ground, buried it in the winter and covered it with leaves and straw. The tree was fine next Spring, and the figs were tasty! Then one year, he didn’t bury the tree in the ground over winter. The tree died, his father was miffed, his wife was ticked, and I missed getting some of the abundant figs. This was in the old part of Toronto

  19. Rondina says:

    Judging by my experience with oranges, you keep it in the pot and move it to the shed. It still might die though.

  20. Jessica says:

    I have one of these as well, and after nearly killing it its first winter by forgetting to water it its doing fine. Mine is still very short, probably since its in a small pot and has never been fertilized, but this year it has 9 figs. Not sure if they are ever going to ripen or how long it takes but they are there! Last year it only had 1….maybe 2. Not sure because the squirrels in my area love to destroy them. Anyway, mine winters in my insulated garage, in its pot, with no kind of protection near a window for some light. It is VERY IMPORTANT to remember to give it like 1 cup of water every month. Or if you are me, every other month….or 3. I’m in southwestern michigan (no idea what zone that is) and as long as I’ve remembered to water it, its done fine. That first winter I forgot to for almost 6 months (it was the year of the never ending snow) and it nearly croaked. I’m planning on keeping mine in a pot till its about 10 feet tall, then putting it in the ground, as this was what I found on the internetz. I think I read that height was suggested due to animals devouring parts of the tree. 10 feet preserves some new shoot potential in the spring since most animals can’t reach that high? Anyway, I love mine. Hope yours lives!

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