My mom has two fig trees in her backyard that are enormous. Growing up I used to play outside and eat them as I pleased when they were in season and routinely help my mother collect the harvest so she could make her fig preserves. Not everyone likes figs, but to me, they were a delight.
I got curious about growing figs in a cold climate because I’m trying out life in Minnesota. With my new kiddo on the way, I was thinking it would be nice to provide some of the things I grew up with.
The problem is I moved from growing zone 7 to zone 4. It feels like it is cold all year and only hot for maybe 40 minutes and cold again (I’m exaggerating but still). The growing season is pretty short and the climate is much colder. While I’m not ready to plant a fig, I’m trying to plan how a future cabin or housing plot might go if I can afford it sometime soon. I was technically FI/RE in my old life, doing my FarmFire thing, but divorce tends to mess things up.
Figs are a tree meant for warmer climates. The cool thing about figs is they can be kept reasonably small in containers and still produce decent crops for their size. Such perks make it easy to enjoy figs anywhere so long as you can keep them alive.
Things to Consider
Any trees I get that require special considerations will need their own assigned space. Will it stay in a pot? Will I plant it every season and dig it up for wintering? The nice thing about figs is they are very hard and in my experience pretty hard to kill. They also clone readily so chopping a tree up every season doesn’t seem so bad as I could root the cuttings for clones or to sell.
Fig trees need a bit of heat in order to produce fruit. If the season is too short or cool, there won’t be any fruit.
How to Acquire Figs
A lot of local stores carry figs. You should be wary though as not all stores are concerned about selling the best plants you can buy for your climate. Always know what you are buying before you spend the money.
For special varieties, I like to use eBay or the Facebook group called North American Scion Exchange.
Indeed doing a quick search online of local stores should return various options. My first buy will probably be the Negronne Fig. It is said to do well in colder regions and is highly rated for container growing of figs.
Transplanting a Fig Tree
Figs are a very forgiving beginner plant. When I was a teen they were probably the first thing I attempted to clone as my mother had a gardening book so I wanted to test it out.
If you order a scion, you just put it in water and let it form roots. If your fig tree arrives in a small pot then you should probably transplant it very quickly. A small scion or tree should probably be placed in a 10-inch pot to start and eventually upgraded to a 5 or 10-gallon container depending on what you can manage.
Growing Figs in Containers
I have no experience with growing figs in Minnesota yet, however, I have a lot of experience of how they do in pots. In Louisiana they would grow well and were a prime cash crop if you have an interest in running a small plant nursery.
I would clone them and make a bunch of starter plants and often give them away to friends and friends of friends, but each small plant could have been sold for $8-$50 depending on size. They grow well in tight containers and stay pretty small depending on how they are cared for.
Don’t demand a lot in terms of fertilizer, they almost seem to thrive on neglect. They do need a splash of water at times, otherwise you mostly ignore them
For soil, I generally used a good potting soil from a local farm store. Sometimes I’d add in some light compost to help with the soil not compacting.
The trees grow year after year and respond well to pruning. You can end up with a plant that looks like a huge tree or something that has a very bush looking growth habit. My mom’s trees look like a hybrid of tree bushes.
This isn’t an overly complicated process because figs are pretty hard to kill. Generally, you want to do a topping if the tree is a bit out of hand. This is where you hack off the top-heavy part of your tree.
Doing a topping helps reduce weight and encourages more side growth. The cuttings also make for a valuable item as people will pay money for fig cuttings or you can trade them or you can clone them for more plants.
My usual process was to chop in a way where I could reduce my trees down but also have it end up where I’d have 6 inch and straight cuttings. These were the most ideal for rooting. I’d cut them off and then throw them into some water.
My Old Winter Process
When I lived in Louisiana it was pretty easy to overwinter my fig clones. Before it reached freezing temps I’d move them to my garage. It was kept unheated, but I was in zone 7. The main switch to trying to overwinter in Minnesota is going to be keeping the max low temp higher than 0° & 5° F.
They did not require much or any watering and they got no sunlight in my garage. Around February to March I’d get the trees moved to my indoor growing space I set up in my dining room (another story and no the husband was not happy).
With the change in heat, new pots, and a bit of water. The fig trees start to put off new buds and visible growth.
Some figs produce one crop and some figs produce two crops. My mom’s trees had figs that would be ready sometime in July (usually then end of June to first week of July). She would usually get a second crop sometime in late fall.
Figs are one of those funny things where they are growing, growing, growing, and then rotten and nasty. The window for collection and proper eating is very small. If you catch them at the right time they are very sweet and wonderful. They need to be collected and either frozen, dehydrated, eaten or turned into preserves very quickly. This fruit does not last long at all if not converted somehow.