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.

 

Chicago-hardy-fig-tree

 

And it has figs.  6 figs.

 

immature-chicago-hardy-fig

 

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. amy watson says:

    Hmmm, well l grew up in the South….the real south, Georgia, not the southern most state where l live now (Florida), because there is nothing southern about this state or the Northerners who live here…sorry l got carried away, anyway l grew up on a patch of farmland that my grandparents lived on too(a commune?) sorta, my great aunt had a house there too, and beside all 4 of our houses were huge fug trees, it gets cold there very cold we get to single digit temps in winter, these fig trees never got any kind if wrappings or bent over and covered, but they were huge and old….l was told my great great grandfather planted them, l am still eating fig preserves from those trees, l know the people who bought the old homestead and she always sends me fig preserves….good luck with your baby, they really are beautiful trees to me….Lenny…really dude that is embarrassing, just sayin’

  2. Su says:

    I’m in zone 5 here in Illinois. I have a friend who has a fig tree in a HUGE pot and every fall she tips it over, covers it with shredded leaves. The leaves are soaked with a hose to keep moisture around the thing and then she walks away and forgets about it. Come springs she brushes it off and stands it up…. she’s had it three or four years now….

  3. Kellie says:

    Ok, I can provide some info and tips. I know exactly the sign and driveway where you got the first one. I think a little more sinister than you though. Living in the Evil Empire does that. I bought one a number of years ago at the Mohawk collage yard sale for $6 – I danced all the way home. I put in in a big pot and it grew like crazy, I brought it in the winter. I kept it alive for 3 years and then I planted it in the ground and buried it like you are planning. It died. When I dug it out of it’s crypt it was all rotten and soggy.
    So I’ve gone back to the pot, mind you with another plant but it’s doing really well. I keep it in a nice pot I picked up at Terra (looks very Italianish) and I just keep it barely watered over the winter and then stick it in my greenhouse as soon a I can. I bought a hypothermia blanket that I use to wrap it if the weather is if-y. If you have any questions let me know, I’d be glad to help.

    • Karen says:

      Well I’d like to know where you got your hypothermia blanket for one! Sounds like a great idea for either wrapping around it in a garage or outside. ~ karen!

      • Kellie says:

        You can get the blankets at any Hardware Store. I got mine at Canadian Tire – in the hunting and fishing section. They were really cheap, I just opened them up and use them over top of my seedlings in the spring time too. Only thing is that they are bright silver and since my greenhouse is in the driveway I notice cars slowing down to check things out. Like anyone would grow dope in their driveway. Sigh and he,he.

  4. christine hilton says:

    Spit my coffee! I drive by that sign all the time and want one.Your second option is to over winter it in my vaulted sun room.I would be happy to try it.Then if it dies I haven’t wasted MY money.

  5. Heather says:

    You had me at Liam Neeson.

    Sorry no fig tips.

  6. Carswell says:

    I saw a bunch of those fig trees for sale at my local Loblaws this year. I wondered whether it was really possible to grow a fig in this climate and gave them a pass. Now I think I’m regretting that.

    One of the nurseries in my neck of the woods has a huuuuuuge fig tree growing in one of their greenhouses. I swear I go there sometimes just to admire that tree and dream about fresh figs.

  7. laura n says:

    When I was a child, our Italian neighbors always put a wooden shelter up around tree. We live in Cleveland. I love figs, but not from grocery store. Once, I asked my husband for a fig tree for a present, he rolled his eyes like I was crazy.

  8. Alana says:

    I have a Brown Turkey fig, name of “Ishmael”. Yes, I name my plants! When left in the 10 gallon pot and moved into the garage each winter Ishy was “okay”, but less and less productive each year. Two years ago I put him in the ground, and the winter killed him. (Pennsylvania had a bad turn that year. Our Zone 7(a) may as well have been a Zone 3!)

    Last summer I got a few sprouts, no figs. So last fall I piled some mulch up over him, and this year I have a lovely 4′ x 4′ bush , with almost 30 figs ripening on him! This winter I will put hay and mulch on him, and shrink-wrap him, and see if I can’t keep more alive. They will absolutely regrow from the crown, but they need to be in the ground. Come fall, trim off non-productive branches so it stays in an open form, with three to four main branches in a cup formation. See, I’m making the gesture with my hand, you should totally be able to see it!

    Best of luck!

  9. Ann says:

    I have a Brown Turkey fig(I think), in the ground. Here in south central Tennessee they still die back to the ground any winter that we get temps below 10 degrees. I have tried to insulate it each winter with many bags of leaves and still it dies back to the ground and regrows each summer. I may need to try putting a Chicago Hardy in and see if I get a plant that doesn’t die back quite as much so that I can get bigger crops than I am getting now.

    There are 2 of the most gorgeous huge fig trees in the near by botanical gardens that somehow never die back. Not sure what variety they are as they have been there for as long as the gardens have been which is at least 25 years. And no one remembers which variety got put in as much of the work has always been done by volunteers to the garden.

    I have a neighbor who comes over weekly to buy eggs. She watches closely when the figs start to get ripe and asks if I have even just 1 extra for her to eat one fresh. This year I may have to tell her no, since I only have about 15 on the entire tree. With that few they will be precious and need to be all mine

  10. Jody says:

    You should read or listen to Stuart McLean’s “The Fig Tree”. I think you would really enjoy it because of the story and I think you and Stuart McLean tell stories in a similar fashion.

  11. jennifer says:

    I am way south from any of your followers, S.C. but my brother in-law had a fig tree right next to his house, which I don’t recommend. When we went to harvest the figs, we had to battle bees, wasps, and various other bugs, who love them as well. Not just when we picking them, they are very territorial, so we pretty much had to run in, when we were visiting, a little hard with luggage and children in arms!

    • Karen says:

      The reason anyone in a colder climate would plant it next to the foundation is because it increases the chances of the tree living because the house absorbs so much heat which radiates to the plant. It helps with tomatoes too! ~ karen

  12. Alex says:

    Call ourselves Canadians, and no one has referenced Stuart McLean’s wonderful story about his neighbours and The Fig Tree yet?? Americans excused – but you’d love this lovely story of Eugene and Maria too.

    http://www.cbc.ca/player/Radio/The+Vinyl+Cafe/ID/2660637512/

    • Beckie says:

      Off topic: I adore his Polly Anderson’s Christmas Party!!! It’s a *must listen* in my house!!

      • Alex says:

        Is that the one where the bowls of punch get mixed up???
        How about Dave Cooks the Turkey? UnBEARable!

      • Beckie says:

        That’s the one! “Lalique crystal?” “crystal Lalique?” …and then the doorbell rang..

        LOL

        I’ll have to look for Dave Cooks the Turkey! Thanks =)

  13. Melissa says:

    I have a Chicago Hardy fig tree and live in Chicago! We’re zone 5 (I always get pissed that I live in a colder climate than Canada…) and mine has made it through 3 winters. My secret? Nothing. I do nothing to it. It’s not near my foundation, I don’t mulch it, it’s in the ground so it’s not coming in each winter. Every year it comes back taller and fuller. So maybe it’s more of a Fig bush for me?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Melissa. So you don’t mulch it, bury it or do anything like that? Ideally that’s what I’d like to do, lol. ~ karen!

      • Liss says:

        I literally do NOTHING. I don’t prune it back, I don’t mulch or bury it. I just let it be. It’s in the corner of my yard away from my house, just hanging out! :)

      • Karen says:

        Wow. So far this sounds like the best option, lol. Does it die back to the rootstock and have to grow from scratch every year? ~ karen!

      • JSM says:

        I am in Nashville Tennessee. 4 seasons ago I got a Chicago hardy fig. The first year in a planter we got 1 fig. It “died” outside in the winter. The second year in the planter, it came back to life and we got 3 figs. was maybe 3 feet tall and just a twig. Then we planted it 1n the ground. The third year it grew to 10 feet tall and we got hundreds of figs. This year (4th year) it is 15 feet tall and we have harvested about a hundred figs with about a million (not really a million but a BUNCH) of green figs still on the tree Last year it produced until frost (mid November-ish). Very happy with it. I really love coming home and getting 3 or 4 ripe ones right off the tree!

      • Karen says:

        Things get a bit colder here so every year I’m starting from scratch with my Chicago Hardy fig. It lives, but all the stems die off and it has to send out new ones each spring. This year I have about 10 figs but they’re the size of grapes for some reason, lol. Uch. ~ karen!

  14. mimiindublin says:

    I would never, ever have thought that a fig tree could grow in your climate…learning!
    It sounds cool to bend it over and cover it with loads of insulating material.
    Will be very interested to see how this goes; if it’s successful, I’ve a fabulous recipe for fig and apple chutney. If the project fails, you can make the chutney using dried figs!
    Keep us posted please Karen!

  15. Jim says:

    Karen:
    Many years ago my in laws lived next to an Italian neighbour.
    He grew a fig tree between the two houses in Etobicoke.
    Every fall he would heel it over and cover it with earth, I’m not sure if he ever wrapped it but I recall he tied it to pegs in the ground.
    That lasted for many years until he passed away.
    Not sure if this helps you but at least you know it can be done.

    Jim

  16. Roxy says:

    My hairdresser’s Italian father has a fig tree that he babies. He is located in the Montreal area and every year he gets lot of figs! According to my hairdresser, every fall he buries the tree under lots and lots of leaves and then come spring (probably around Easter) he resurrects it. I believe he has been doing this for about twenty years.

    • Karen says:

      Yes, it is possible. That’s what I need in this comment section. A good, old Italian man. He’d know exactly what to do. ~ karen!

  17. Sherry in Alaska says:

    I’m too far north to be of any help with the fig tree. But I am curious about your knowledge of Liam Neeson’s private parts. Have I missed something?

  18. Pam'a says:

    You could bring it in and stow it in your basement, where it could pout out of sight until spring. Keep watering to a bare minimum and don’t fertilize it. Then, shove it outside again. Leaving it in a pot will keep it a manageable size (kind of like how goldfish stay little in a bowl) for a longer time also.

    • Karen says:

      It’s over 9 feet tall, even just since writing this post. I don’t have 9′ ceilings and definitely don’t in my 170 year old, rubble basement, lol. No, it has to stay outside. I just have to figure out how to do it. :/ ~ karen!

      • mothership says:

        I live where the figs can tip houses- got rid of that one, it’s baby (a sucker off the main tree)
        I keep in check by SEVERE pruning- sometimes monthly!
        Before that it was in a 5 gallon pot for about 5 years & I kept it about 4′ tall-
        Don’t be afraid to prune it! Lop that sucker down to size & drag it inside.
        In fact in marginal fig climates, a freeze will kill the plant down to the ground, but the plant will come back from the roots the next year to bear again! but it sounds like the earth freezes where you are so keep it potted & pruned.

  19. Sandi says:

    I know nothing of figs or their trees. What I do know is that this blog is so much fun and the comments are always worth the read. Reading this makes a great ending to my evenings.

  20. Luanne says:

    Woah hey! That’s what I have! And had. And have.

    I grew one from roots wrapped in moss, and had it for 3 years. Because I live in Winnipeg (Zone 3), I brought it in during the winters. The first year I tried to keep it lush and green. Most the leaves fell off soon after bringing it in, and it was an eyesore all winter. Winter #2, I brought it in, and kept it in a spare room. It was an eyesore in a rarely used spot. It was truly a beautiful outdoor summer plant. Winter #3, I drove it out to the folks, and left it to winter in my folk’s garage. It was an eyesore in someone else’s home, and it received less than one drop of water. It was an eyesore outdoors this summer, as it was dead as a doornail. Summer #4, I purchased a new plant from the same vendor. It is beautiful, and also has a handful of figs, and leaves big enough to provide modesty to Liam Neeson, too. (Or Lenny Kravitz.)

    I think you could probably keep it in the chicken coop have it keep the girls company.

  21. brenda says:

    OMGosh – first of all – Lend Lenny a Leaf

    I love that this could take over an allotment and tip over a house … maybe give it to an enemy … I’ll take two ;)

  22. Jessica says:

    How timely, I just made jam with the last batch of figs off my tree.
    Sorry, no pointers. I’m zone 9 and inherited a big healthy tree when I bought my house. Just looked it up…. pretty sure I have Italian black figs. They are exceptionally sweet, and gorgeous.
    Enjoy your new baby.

  23. kate-v says:

    I have Zero experience at growing that type of fig tree in your type of climate but I do have some experience with fig trees – but have to say – after reading Cynthia Jones comment – I just say: “What she said.”
    I do have experience with fig trees in the temperate San Francisco Bay area and just say “a fig gets BIG!!” and spreads way OUT!! They are wonderful, though. — Do you have room out on the 40 acres in your community plot for it?

    • Karen says:

      I actually didn’t even think of that kate-v! The only issue there is now it’s too big to transport, lol. And I have a hunch we aren’t allowed to plant trees. Otherwise the whole place would be covered in fruit trees. I’ll look into the logistics of it all. Good idea. ~ karen

  24. Cynthia Jones says:

    I don’t think it would work for Lenny Kravitz.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4TLszn7PLJs

    I live in Tropical Queensland and my fig tree is different. I kept it in pot for five years and it didnt move. I put it in the ground five years ago and it is now twice as high as my house, which is on stilts. It has lifted the concrete path with its roots and my neighbour has been muttering and wanding around his desolate yard with chainsaw.

    This is the neighbour who sprays possums in the face with ammonia and wears no shirt while he is mowing.
    It’s not good.

    The Horticulturalist who lives in my street shakes his head in horror and talks about it tipping my house over eventually.

    So, I can’t help you. Sorry. I really only wanted to encourage you to look at Lenny Kravitz busting his leather pants and exposing all his glory as he had no underwear on.

    • IRS says:

      Cynthia, you should be a lot more proud of your fig than Lenny should be proud of that little twig. Perhaps your neighbor could pay Lenny a visit with the ammonia bottle. And the chainsaw.

    • Mary says:

      I’m laughing out loud at work reading your comment!

    • Karen says:

      LOL. I managed to avoid looking at the Lenny Kravitz penis picture until you posted it. (I always think I’d prefer if naked pictures of me made it out into the world I’d be very grateful for those who didn’t look at it) You must have some sort of magical powers Cynthia because … yup … you made me look, lol. ~ karen!

      • Cynthia Jones says:

        I’m glad Karen. Yes, I do have magical powers cos I believe I am a faerie, fey, wise wicca woman ‘n all that oogly boogly stuff.

        I think in this case, it’s ok to look at Lenny’s penis picture because I believe Lenny is a really nice guy. He lives in a caravan on a beachfront site, talks like a gentleman and is not influenced by dollars.

        That’s why I looked at his penis picture, anyway. You know, being supportive of him. :)

        More thoughts on the fig tree.
        I am going to let my fig push my house over, it is beautiful and there is nothing wrong with a wonky house. If my neighbour gets his chainsaw out, I will squirt him in the face with ammonia.

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