The Q&A Archives: Winter Protection for Fig Tree

Question: We live in Colorado and recently purchased a fig tree. It is growing in the nursery pot and I have not planted it into the ground. We were adviced to keep it in the pot and bring it indoors during the winter months.
Is this the correct advice? How should we care for our fig tree? When should we plant it into a larger pot?
Any advice is greatly appreciated

Thank you Geri & John

Answer: First, let your fig trees go fully dormant. This may mean leaving them out for a couple of frosts, so that the leaves all drop and the sap is already moving downward in the stems. This increases the plant's cold hardiness and reduces the need for extra care. Be sure to remove any old leaves, unformed figs and anything else extraneous on the branches.

Check the plants, the pots and the soil for any pests: beetles, slugs, etc. and make sure to get rid of those - for your plant's health and your housekeeping peace of mind.

Move the plants to their winter location in an unheated or cool basement or shed. If the surrounding temperature will drop below 15 degrees, consider wrapping some paper or fabric around the plants and pots for additional insulation. Also if the area receives a lot of light, wrapping the figs in newspaper or dark fabric will reduce any early response to sunlight before it is time to bring the figs out in the spring. Check your chosen spot - folks have been surprised at unexpected heat sources from vents, ducting etc that have caused figs to begin growing early. This also applies to figs that have been wrapped and cuddled up next to a building or shelter outside - watch that the chosen spot doesn't get so warm that the fig thinks it's spring in February!

The pots should stay almost completely dry. At this stage it is easier to rot the fig plant with overwatering than to kill it with dryness. A good way to check soil moisture is to shove a bamboo stick or part of a yardstick into the pot when you put the fig tree away for the winter (the stick must be bare wood). Every month or so, pull out the stick and check for any moisture - the wood will look darker and feel slightly damper. As long as the stick shows ANY dampness, do not water the pot. Just let the fig sleep in complete dormancy until spring.

When warm weather arrives and you can move your fig to a sunny, protected location, bring the pot up for the new season. In a protected sunny spot close to the house, you can "jump" a few weeks on those who have their figs in ground. Water the soil very well, allowing excess to drain out the bottom holes. Fertilize with a balanced, timed-release fertilizer or one of the good organic fertilizers, add a few spoonfuls of lime to the pot surface and prepare to enjoy the warm fig-growing months.

If a sudden frost or freeze threatens, bundle up the fig (lghtweight beach towels seem to be very popular for this with smaller fig trees, but give some additional support) and keep it safe until the weather warms up. (We very much prefer paper or fabric wrap to plastics which can overheat when the sun comes out if you are not there to remove the cover at once.)

Voila! It takes about an hour to get a good-sized fig tree set down for the winter and about 1/2 a hour to get it back up for spring - for that little effort, you are now ready to start a new gardening season with a beautiful fig tree, larger and healthier than last year - more figs for everyone!

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