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Fun With Global Warming

Photo-4
On the principle that life is short, I stuck my fig tree in the ground this week in Saratoga Springs, NY.  Saratoga is a theoretical 5a. Theoretical, but in reality, I am sure that my fenced city yard represents a microclimate a least half a zone warmer, if not a full zone.  Plus, thanks to all the world's coal-burning power plants, we're warming up here and now consider negative 10 degrees Farenheit a shocking reading on the thermometer outside the laundry room, even in January.  Plus, we get consistent snow cover all winter that insulates the joint.

In any case, I am indifferent to the survival of the tree.  I got tired of lugging its big pot in and out of the house in exchange for four great figs a year.  Here is the problem with a fig tree in a pot: It develops figs in spring, but only the last ones, which reach ripeness outside in the actual sunshine, taste like anything.

Then it develops a second crop as the temperatures plummet.  These tend to drop off before ripeness. 

So, while I'd rather eat fresh figs than almost anything in the world, risking four figs a year on the off-chance of having hundreds doesn't seem like a stupid bet.

Here's what I mean: Despite the heavy wood chip mulch I will give it, the tree will almost certainly die off to the roots, in which case, if the roots survive, it will return as a broad, multi-trunked shrub.  I think such a shrub would be extremely attractive in front of my 'Alchymist' rose, which is awkwardly throwing its canes ten feet across the yard into the branches of a lilac, rather than doing anything remotely shrublike. There is a chance that the shoots of the fig will produce lots of fruit before fall.  That's what I'm counting on.

Of course, my fig may not be a variety that even stands a chance out of doors in the snow belt.  I bought it unnamed.  If it doesn't work, maybe I'll order a variety called a 'Chicago Hardy' and see if it's Saratoga Hardy. 

Posted by on September 16, 2011 at 6:37 am, in the category Uncategorized.
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19 responses to “Fun With Global Warming”

  1. Donalyn says:

    The idea of a fig tree has been teasing me the last few years – down here, near Ithaca, we are zone 5 as well, but probably not a warmer micro climate on my out-in-the-boondocks 2 acres. I may give it a try next spring & I would be just fine with a fig shrub too!

  2. Carolyn Edwards says:

    Here in central Texas I planted two figs. One in front of the house next to the porch and the other beside the carport. They grew exceptionally fast and provide privacy as well as late afternoon shade for my porch swing. Depending on rainfall, some years I get lots of figs, some years not many. But I love my trees as shrubs. The fruit is just an added benefit.

  3. žogi says:

    I hope I will get palm trees due to global warming 😛

  4. Kim Beierlein says:

    This was the first year I got figs off of my tree. After the tropical storms, the bees got the last four that were ripe-glad to share as I was warm and comfortable indoors during both storms. I lugged my tree indoors yesterday ahead of the cold weather. I will keep in mind what you have planted your tree and hope to hear from you next summer on its growth.

  5. barbara says:

    You probably have heard of this, but the old Italian families in Syracuse bend their fig trees over and bury them for the winter,then uncover them in the spring. It usually looks like they have a corpse they’re trying to hide, but people swear by it.

  6. El says:

    I remember bagged-up trees in Brooklyn too like Barbara said.

    I have two Chicago Hardy figs in tubs. One’s going nuts and one’s not: the one that’s not is the one I do the schlep in/out of my hoophouse yearly. The one that’s in the hoophouse (which gets to 90+ daily in the summer) grows like crazy only because its roots have gone through the bottom of the pot.

    That said, the only tasty figs I get off of it are like yours: the first figs. Hardy equals not tasty.

  7. shira says:

    Ditto to what Barbara said – families in our old neighborhood did in Connecticut did it all the time. There was also one that had an immense tree in their front yard. They would strip the leaves ealry forcing the fruit to ripen and go into dormancy earlier, then they would build a wood box around it (prob 6 ft high x 10 ft wide) to protect it for the winter.

  8. Frank Hyman says:

    I’ve read about Greek immigrant families covering their trees for the winter, but with a few twists. First they would cut around the roots and under the roots (of smaller trees) in a semi circle on one side. That allowed them to tilt the whole tree over and onto the ground. The half-rootball would tilt up and be supported by some scrap lumber. Then they covered the tree with plywood, old doors, whatever and then a covering of canvas tarp and a layer of leaves (timely). snow provided extra insulation.

    That way a medium to large tree could be protected for the winter without building a tall structure.

    The final step was to resurrect the tree–on Greek Orthodox Easter :-)

    Another option would be to use recommendations from an Ohio gardener in his book “You Can’t Grow Palms Here and Other Myths”–he probably has a few other tricks for keeping plants alive in freezing weather. Good Luck !

  9. UrsulaV says:

    Just planted a fig myself. My problem is not cold but damp–had to get something called “LSU Purple” that’s more tolerant of wet feet.

  10. Liz says:

    I inherited a fig tree – I figure it must be at least 25-30 years old – planted in the Brooklyn garden belonging to my parents. It was not wrapped that I can remember and I have continued to do the same. It’s been pruned inexpertly a number of times so it has weird octopus like branches. It grows figs like mad every year. I just wish they didn’t ripen so quickly all at once. I had baskets of figs for fig cakes, jam and just plain eating the past few years.
    Oh, and the tree made it through the hurricane just fine. The days after though the squirrels were grabbing figs like mad. They are messy eaters – a mouthful here and there leaving half eaten figs to rot on the tree.
    I think it has acclimated to the NYC weather and insensitive care. So, perhaps we don’t need to be so cautious with our fig trees.

  11. Jean Emery says:

    I hate to mention this, but the one of the evil big box stores (Lowes) in Schenectady is selling Chicago Hardy right now. The Lowes in Saratoga (I’m assuming there is one) probably has them also. I bought one last week and planted it in a not especially sheltered location, we’ll see how it does. I don’t even like figs but could not resist the beautiful oaky foliage. Love the posts about about overwintering maneuvers!

  12. Frank Hyman says:

    The fig in Brooklyn is a cold hardy variety.

    Most figs in commerce were bred in mild-winter Mediterranean countries or the south. The existence of one fig tree surviving in the Brooklyn (for which the present owner doesn’t know the name–there’s a small number of varieties that will survive winters there, plus with all the masonry, it’s warmer in a city than in the countryside) doesn’t mean gardeners above the mason-dixon line don’t need to be careful about which varieties they plant.

    And rather than lining the pockets of big box stores, check out the website http://www.ediblelandscaping.com.

    They carry Chicago Hardy and other fabulous figs and other fruit trees, brambles, etc. for the home gardener.

    On pruning figs, I cut the tallest branches to the ground (I can’t reach the figs on top of them anyway) and new, shorter ones grow out. Avoids the “octopus” look.

    And if you have a hardy and/or tasty fig that you want to share, they are super-easy to propagate: take a skinny branch that’s near the ground and set a brick on it to hold it against the ground. (scrape some of the thin bark off the side where it touches the ground, so it will root there) Wait a year (maybe less–your mileage will vary) for the branch to develop good roots, then cut the branch between the new roots and the original tree to create a sizable new little fig tree. I do about a dozen of these every year in summer to propagate and sell Violette de Bourdeaux fig trees at our spring plant sale.

  13. Michele Owens says:

    Thank you, everybody, for all the information.

    Jean, now I’m tempted to head to Lowe’s.

    And by the way, fresh figs are fantastic on a pizza with onion confit, prosciutto, and your favorite cheese.

  14. tibs says:

    I had my first fresh fig yesterday. visited some friends and they had a fig tree planted in a barrel and said go ahead, pick the only one ripe. Wasn’t that nice of them? If I had a bucket list of food, eating a fresh fig would have been on it.

  15. Jen says:

    I saw figs at the grocery store yesterday costing 3 for $2! So I’m very glad I’m growing them. I’m in zone 6A and have three “Brown Turkey” – one in a pot that I bring in, a new one in the ground that I got this year and one that I propogated – it’s in an earth box and only has about 6 leaves. Not sure what to do with it that one…it’s probably too small to try the tilt procedure that Frank described. Fresh figs are the best!

  16. Www says:

    In Toronto, my Chicago Hardy overwintered but died back. It’s growing more like a shrub. No figs this year, but that was the first try. Good luck!!

  17. Sarah says:

    Personally, I can’t stand the taste of figs. However, if I did, I would be making the same choice you are. If you’re only getting four edible figs a year, the plant’s not worth that much effort.

  18. Marla says:

    I live in North Carolina (supposedly zone 7), and have two fig trees growing outside — Chicago Hardy, Celeste, Brown Turkey. (Yes, those are three varieties, but one died after its first winter and I replaced it with another. Don’t remember which one came or went, though!) ANYWAY, to avoid winter dieback here, I cover the limbs with some mix of black garbage bags and old sheets, from late Nov – early March. I now have figs galore!

  19. Faith says:

    I’ve had a potted fig in Zone 4 for years (Celeste) but it never did much. I’d lug the pot in and out of the root cellar each year. But in the past few years I planted it in the ground in front of a south facing retaining wall and it’s been much happier. In fall I either have balled and bagged the roots and stored in the root cellar with all but the latest year’s growth pruned out or bent it over and covered as described above.

    Like Michelle, I love the fig leaves in the garden and have propagated a few new plants simply by making cuttings of the green stems from pruning and sticking them in a pot with potting soil. But I love the fruit too and have finally decided to pay closer attention to what makes it work.

    If you do a google search on “figs, breba” you can learn about the way fig trees produce a first crop of early figs (breba) that grow, on one-year stems, or aim for the fruit that ripens later and possibly not at all in the north! Different varieties are designed to put energy into one or the other of these two or three annual fruitings. I guess it’s trial and error and every season is different. But given how easy figs are to propagate, we all need to get busy trading varieties and experimenting away!

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