Caring for your Fig Tree
In-Ground or In a Pot?
We keep all of our nursery stock in 20 gallon pots in a south facing full sun location. With a 6+ foot tall tree and the pot filled with soil-less potting mix or peat moss and so the pot can be moved by one or two people. A hand cart makes the job even easier. Moving the tree is important because it will need to spend it's winter months (late November thru mid-May) in the garage or someplace that is dark, gets below 5 Celsius and stays above 1 Celsius. It's been our experience that a potted fig tree can withstand 1 Celcius without dieback. Some people say 0 is minimum.
Moving the fig tree outdoors during the very early spring gives it a longer growing season and the possibility of a greater yield of figs. Care must be taken that the newly opened buds not be exposed to frost. The fig tree must be brought back into the garage when there is a frost warning or when the night time temperature is forecast to be 5 Celsius or below. Moving a fig tree into and out of the garage based on the weather is called doing the "Fig Shuffle" by fig tree aficionados. Leaving your fig tree indoors until the danger of frost has past is ok too.
If your plan is to plant your fig tree in-ground pick a south facing full sun location. Two feet from a south facing brick wall is ideal. The tree will need to be bound and wrapped in the fall. If you choose not to "winterize" your fig tree and there is a cold winter (below 0 C) there is a good chance the fig tree will die back to the ground. If the roots survive, new branches can grow from the ground and most likely you will not get fruit for one maybe two seasons. Winterizing is the way to go if your fig tree is in ground.
We do all of our transplanting in the early spring or the late fall after the leaves have fallen off. It's the best time to do it and will result in the minimum stress on the tree. If it's necessary to transplant a leafed out fig tree during the warm summer months to an in-ground location it should be done during a cloudy period. Keep the fig tree well watered. Shade the tree for a week if possible. If transplanting your fig to to a container during summer, the container should be kept in shade for a week to allow the plant to acclimate.
For in-ground trees, in the evening, simply dig a hole deep enough to accommodate the size of the pot, tip the pot on its side and knock the fig tree out by hitting the bottom and gently pulling on the trunk. Put the tree with all of the soil from the pot in the hole and fill with the remaining dirt where required. Disturb the root ball as little as possible. Do not bury the fig tree any deeper than it is in the pot. The level of the soil in the pot should match the top of the soil in the hole. Soak with water a couple times a day for 2-3 days and less later as the fig tree recovers from the transplanting.
If you will keep your fig tree in a pot, start in the evening, fill the pot (20 gallon is best) with the soil-less potting mix of your choice to within 2" of the top. Dig a hole big enough to accommodate the plant. Remove the tree from the pot, put the fig tree, with all of the soil from the pot, into the hole and fill with the remaining soil where required. Disturb the root ball as little as possible. The level of the soil in the original pot should match the top of the soil in the new pot. Do not bury the trunk any deeper than it is in the original pot. Water the fig tree several times until water is coming out of the drain holes. Apply 1-2 " of pine bark mulch to the top of the soil to reduce evaporation. Water daily for a couple days and then check the soil with a moisture meter to determine when it needs water next.
During the summer our fig trees grow roots out of the holes in the sides of their pots and into the soil. Our nursery containers have a flat bottom where the holes are located at the lowest part of the side of the pot. Its easy to see when the roots are growing out of the pot and into the soil. These roots stabilize the pots and give the fig trees access to more water and nutrients during the growing season. In the fall after the leaves have dropped we cut the roots at the holes and move the pots into storage.
In-ground fig trees should not be planted in a location where there is standing water. An in-ground fig tree has the advantage that its root system can spread out and down to search for water. During the summer months water beneath the tree when the soil is dry.
We like to use a moisture meter with our potted figs to tell us when they need water. When it's very hot your fig trees may need watering every day. Larger pots generally require less times watering than smaller pots.
A potted fig tree should be brought indoors after the first frost and when all of the leaves have fallen off the tree. Water very lightly ( monthly ) during the winter to keep the soil moist when it's not frozen. Figs require a dormant period where the temperature is kept below 5 Celsius and above 1 Celsius with very little light. Many fruits require this dormant period.
To keep an in-ground fig tree warm during winter it must be insulated to the ground. The ground has latent heat available during the winter and can keep the tree from dropping to dangerous temperatures. One way to keep accomplish this is by binding the tree with rope slowly over a couple days, then wrapping the fig tree with burlap and filling the spaces with dry leaves or hay. Wrap this completely with tar paper (not plastic) and be sure it goes all the way to the ground. Create an apron with the tar paper at the base and hold it down with bricks or pile several inches of dirt all the way around so it does not blow away.