Miss Floribunda - December 2008

Dear Miss Floribunda,

My family loves fresh figs and I have been trying to grow a fig tree for some time now, with two failed attempts. The first was an unknown variety (possibly not fully cold-hardy for zone 7) and upon reflection, I suspect  it got too much wind. The second was sold in a local nursery as cold-hardy in Maryland but didn't make it through last winter. My research shows that a variety called "Brown Turkey" has survived in Maryland.  Before I make another attempt I wonder if you could provide some advice.

Figless on Farragut Street

Dear Figless,

There is an even more cold-hardy variety of fig called Celeste (aka Malta) and it is not only more cold-hardy than Brown Turkey but it has a richer flavor. However,  Aunt Sioux has had success with just the common variety, and the key may be location. You mention "too much wind." A fig tree in this area should be in a place sheltered from wind, while still getting plenty of sun. Aunt Sioux's tree faces west, and is not far from her house walls. While fig trees do get big, and have an extensive root system, the roots are shallow and fine so should not harm the foundation of your house. Fig roots can also be pruned.

Another consideration is soil tilth. The fig must have light, well-drained soil in order to thrive. Our heavy clay when it freezes
acts like concrete boots on the delicate roots of this tree. Add sand, gypsum and compost  to the soil when you first plant the tree, and Aunt Sioux always rakes leaves around it in the fall to mulch it well for winter. Aunt Sioux asks me to tell you that if you do this your greatest concern will not be winter survival so much as harvesting fruit in summer before the squirrels and raccoons do. She suggests picking fruit twice a day, first in early morning before the squirrels are active and then in the evening before the raccoons come out. At peak season the fruit ripens from hour to hour.

As a rule of thumb, whenever you consider planting any non-native plant think about the climate and soil conditions of native land. The fig comes from the Mediterranean region, where the soil is light and there is lots of sun.  It doesn't need very rich soil, though it's a good idea to fertilize it  while it's fruiting. However,  if you hope to have your tree to survive the winter you must not fertilize it after August. It must be completely dormant by first hard frost.