Hard to believe, but I had big plans for these two little sticks the moment I laid eyes on them at Costco last March. What gardener isn’t hungry to play in the dirt after a long winter? They didn’t look like much but the moment I realized they were Chicago Hardy figs (Ficus carica) I was instantly envisioning fig jam, prosciutto wrapped figs, figs stuffed with blue cheese. Figs. Figs. Figs. The reality however, is that I haven’t got a clue how to grow a fig tree, but the fact that it’s got Chicago AND Hardy in it’s name has to mean I might not kill them. Right?
At just four inches from root to tip, the saplings were on the dry side, the tiny leaves crisp and barely hanging on. A bit of condensation on the inside of each bag told me they weren’t completely parched but the roots would benefit from a good drink. So I approached it as I would a bare root rose and made a “bath” in a mixing bowl with about a half gallon of water and an 1/8 teaspoon of SUPERthrive, a concentrated liquid multivitamin for trees and plants. I give my human children vitamins, so why not my plants! They soaked for about 30 minutes.
I really didn’t want two trees (they came two to a package) but thought it might be interesting to train the trunks to twist together. So I potted them up in MiracleGro Organic Choice potting mix and watered them in. Since it was March, temps were well below what these tiny saplings could take and they found a home in my living room where the southern sun could work its magic until May when my patio would become their summer hangout.
And voila! By the first week of July, this is what my four-inch sticks had become. Not bad for a first-time fig pig! It thrived in the exposed, extremely sunny conditions on my patio, requiring only regular watering like the rest of my containers. Using a soft rubber coated tie, I secured the two trunks but not well enough to prevent them from rubbing together a bit when the wind blew. I’ve since added more ties and continued to twist the trunks around each other. As the plants grew I removed the lowest leaves and pinched off the small green fruits to discourage the trees from throwing energy into fruit production this first year. A white latex sap oozed from the wounds as I pruned and since I have a latex allergy, gloves were necessary and are a good choice for anyone working with fig. Latex allergy or not, the sap can cause skin irritation that intensifies with sun exposure.
The greatest challenge was determining where to let the trees chill this winter. From what I’ve read, getting a fig through a zone 5 winter can be dicey, even if it is “Chicago Hardy” in zones 5-10. So my unheated garage seemed like a good choice and there they’ve been since October. Because of my shorter growing season, a cultivar geared to my conditions was the only way to go. “Brown Turkey” is supposed to be a toughie too. The trade-off for the faster growth is smaller fruit but I’ll take it. Beggars can’t be choosers.
Garage life seems to be working out just fine and I’ve been careful not to provide too much water during this dormant period. Sometime in May, likely around Mother’s Day when the danger of frost is gone, I’ll transplant it to a larger light-weight pot and slowly reintroduce the trees to the patio. For now, I’m content to imagine a bountiful fall harvest that hopefully will include an abundance of honey sweet figs.
Have you had luck growing figs in a cold climate?