Archeologists have found carbonized remains of fig trees aged between 11,400 and 11,200 years old, making the fig one of the first domesticated plants, possibly predating wheat and rye cultivation. Despite its historical longevity, this species is relatively delicate, and in some climates may require fig tree winter wrapping to survive the cold season.
The common fig, Ficus carica, is one of over 800 species of tropical and subtropical fig varieties in the genus Ficus. Found amongst this diverse group, one will find not only large trees, but trailing vine varieties as well.
Figs are native to the Middle East, but have been brought to all corners of the globe that can accommodate their habitat. Figs were first introduced to North America by early colonists. They can now be found in Virginia to California to New Jersey to Washington State. Many immigrants brought prized fig starts from the “old country” to their new homeland in the United States. As a result, fig trees can be found in urban and suburban backyards in many USDA growing zones.
Because of these diverse climatic growing areas, a fig tree cover or wrap for winter is often a necessity. Fig trees are tolerant of mild freezing temperatures, but extreme cold may kill the tree or damage it irreparably. Remember, the species heralds from tropical and subtropical regions.
To protect a fig tree from cold winter temps, some people grow them in pots that can be moved into an indoor area to over winter, while others undertake wrapping the fig tree for winter. This can be as simple as wrapping a fig tree in some type of covering, to folding the entire tree down into a trench and then covering it with soil or mulch. The last method is pretty extreme, and in most cases a fig tree winter wrapping is sufficient to protect the plant during the winter months.
Begin to consider wrapping a fig tree in the late autumn. Of course, this depends on where you live, but the basic rule is to wrap the tree after it has been exposed to a freeze and has lost its leaves. If you wrap the fig too early, the tree may mildew.
Before wrapping the fig tree for winter, prune the tree so it is easier to wrap. Choose three to four trunks and cut all others back. This will give you a good open canopy that will allow sun to penetrate for the next growing season. Next, tie the remaining branches together with organic twine.
Now it is time to wrap the tree. You can use an old piece of carpet, old blankets or a large piece of fiberglass insulation. Drape this winter fig tree cover with a tarp, but don’t use a black or clear plastic, which may result in too much heat building up inside the cover on sunny days. The tarp should have some small holes in it to allow heat to escape. Tie the tarp with some heavy cord.
Keep an eye on the temperature later in winter and earliest spring. You don’t want to keep the fig tree wrapping for winter on when it starts to warm up. When you unwrap the fig in the spring, there may be some brown tips, but these can be pruned with no damage to the tree.
We all love the fig fruit when it is in season. There are some lucky home owners who grow their own fig tree and enjoy the luxury of plucking their own fruit. However, this luxury comes with responsibilities and good care of the fig tree. Each winter fig tree owners do their best to protect their plant from the harsh cold and give it a safe transition to the warmer weather when they can enjoy its fruits. If you own a fig tree and are worried about the approaching cold weather, our step by step guide lets you know what other people do to protect their’s during the winter.
Wrap it if it's an Outdoor Tree:
Do it the natural way just like you wrap yourself up when you feel cold. When the fig tree loses its leaves, prune them away and clear the tree of any weak and diseased ones. Put a thick cover of mulch over where the roots are underground. Now gather the branches and tie them together without harming the bark. You should have a single or two main columns now. Cover these columns with several layers of burlap. Keep the top open for air and moisture. You can also dig a pole next to the tree and tie the branches to it for extra support.
Build a Cage Around Outdoor Tree:
Build a cage around the tree using chicken wire or any other material you have around. Fill this cage with leaves and straw that will protect it from freezing. Now cover the cage with a plastic shopping bag and insulation wrap. Put a basket over the top of the wrapped tree if it fits the size.
Relocate the Potted Tree:
Some people have fig trees in large pots. The best thing to do about such pots is to clear them off any leaves and stop watering them a week before you plan to bring them in. Bring them into the basement or garage. Water them infrequently during the dormancy period because over watering can cause them to rot. Take them outside when the temperature rises in spring and the plant sprouts new leaves.
Michele Vaccaro buries a fig tree in the yard of Mary Menniti in Sewickley, Pa. Hal Klein for NPR hide caption
Michele Vaccaro buries a fig tree in the yard of Mary Menniti in Sewickley, Pa.
On a gray, chilly December morning in Sewickley, Pa., Michele Vaccaro and his assistant are digging a trench in a garden.
"It looks like we're burying somebody over here — a body," Vaccaro says.
Cast your old Godfather stereotypes aside, because this Calabrian immigrant is carrying on a much more wholesome tradition: He's burying a 12-foot fig tree.
"It's been done for years. Probably [since] the 1800s," he says, when Italians coming to America first started bringing fig trees over from the old country. "They would put them always in the ground."
The trees get buried because figs aren't especially suited to growing in the cold climate of the Northeast. Freezing temperatures and whipping winds can kill a fig tree.
As Italian immigrants like Vaccaro age — the 60-year-old moved to the United States in 1976 — they're looking to pass this curious tradition on to a new generation.
Mary Menniti, a third-generation Italian-American and preservationist of Italian-American culture through her Italian Garden project, is part of that next generation of fig growers.
Some fig growers try other methods — including bringing potted plants into unheated garages, or wrapping their trees in burlap — to keep the plants alive. Those solutions often work during a mild winter. Menniti says that during a cold winter, though, "Only the ones in the ground were the ones that survive consistently."
Michele Vaccaro adds a piece of plywood on top of the tree before covering it with the remains of last summer's garden. Hal Klein for NPR hide caption
Michele Vaccaro adds a piece of plywood on top of the tree before covering it with the remains of last summer's garden.
So after the tree's leaves drop, but before the ground freezes, Italian-American fig growers in the Northeast pull their trees into a 2-foot-deep trench until spring.
Vaccaro is teaching Menniti how to bury the tree that he gave to her three years ago. Once the trench is dug, he uses an old electrical wire to tie the tree into something that looks like a rocket ship. Branches snap and pop while he does it. Then, with the tree still in place, he starts to bend it toward the grave. Thousands of capillary-like roots are broken as he pulls the tree parallel. By the time it's in the ground, it's hanging on by just a few of its strongest roots.
It's a lot of work for a few baskets of figs, even if those figs have an earthy, herbaceous flavor impossible to find at the grocery store. What's important to this group of immigrants is that these fruits connect them to their southern Italian roots.
"We cannot forget Italy. It's always in our blood. We left from there, but we still care in our hearts all the time. And that's something that keeps us in touch with our Italian heritage," Vaccaro says.
"It's like having a living heirloom," says Menniti. She also cares for a tree first grown by her late grandfather.
A basket of figs plucked from a tree in Pittsburgh in September. Hal Klein for NPR hide caption
A basket of figs plucked from a tree in Pittsburgh in September.
This heirloom is treated a bit more roughly than Victorian china, but fig trees are remarkably resilient. Vaccaro covers the grave with plywood, and then, in the Italian tradition of wasting nothing, covers the plywood with the remains of last summer's garden. Those tomatoes, beans and pepper plants will help insulate the trees and then, in the spring, decompose to compost to feed them.
"It's a lot of work. But when you eat those figs, it's worth it," says Vaccaro.
In the spring, Vaccaro, Menniti and other Italian-Americans in the Northeast will unearth and upright their trees — they pop back up as easily as they bend down. By summer, these fig lovers will once again reach into their trees' branches, twist off the fruits and taste a sweet bite of home.
Early budding trees, such as cherry and apricots, are most vulnerable to spring freezes, and you can use blankets or tarps as tree wraps to protect the buds. While some can be heavy on the limbs, especially if the tree is young, the solution is to stake the wrap, lifting it above the branches, depending on the size of the tree. Remove the covering during the day to allow the sun to reach the tree and to encourage pollination. If high winds are expected, stake the cover to prevent it from forming a sail and possibly uprooting a younger tree.
The best materials to use for a tree wrap are burlap or cotton. They prevent the cold air from coming into contact with the leaves and allow the moisture on the leaves to escape. An old comforter or light toweling is effective, but bedsheets do not provide enough insulation to keep the plant from freezing. Plastic is not advised, but if you do use it, don’t let it touch the leaves themselves.
For those that have Christmas trees - When do you take them down?
I need help for my backyard. We lost much of our grass this winter.
What remodeling projects do you have planned for fall and winter?
I only have to protect it again when 25F or less is anounced.I do not wrap it again i just trow a loose old blanket in top of it in those particular nights.Keep in mind that warm wether +Rain can do as much damage as freezing nightes by fungus grow on tree,so you have to unwrap the latest by 1st of April,but still cover the tree at least with a 55 gallon plastic trush bag if freezing temp fall under 25F in a few nigts in April.Fig Buds are more sensitive to cold in Spring,and if they die the tree has to start from grownd level,wich makes it to be late in maturing fruits .All this work is trying to avoid that.Also young fig tree in the first 3 years of life need more protection than after they become fully mature.Hope this will help.
Thanks herman, that is great advice. I really appreciate it.
To avoid molding wrapped figs, I tried adding a pvc pipe for ventillation that keeps the high humidity out. It does help. I usually unwrap them in april, just in case of a cold spell.
I uncovered mine yesterday. We are not going to have severe freezes, if at all and it will be dry and warm over the next couple of weeks. My fig even had buds on it that looked like they were ready to make leaves.
This was my first winter wrapping a tree. Here's what happened.
The tree is a little over 6 feet. After unwrapping it a bit, I found mold in some corners. I don't know how serious it is to have mold. Unfortunately I also had to cut back about 6-7" of black tips on each of 4 branches. I didn't prune the tree last year, and these were all very thin parts that died back. I was told I should have put a bucket over the top. Maybe that can help thin branches survive.
For a point of reference, my winterizing approach went like this:
1) First Wilt-Pruf to entire tree
2) Then wrap entire tree in black rubber pipe insulation and seal tightly with outdoor duct tape to keep water out.
3) Wrap over that in duct insulation and seal with outdoor duct tape (this insulation is 12" wide fiberglass with a foil backing -- foil facing away from the tree).
4) Wrap the trunk in two layers of tar paper, using duct tape again
5) Wrap the top in burlap
6) Add a mulch bern to help snow roll away from the tree
No criticism:Looks like you put a lot of efort and Care for your tree.I think that the little mold spots will go away now that you exposed it to Light and air.Congratulations.By next year do not forget to prune about a third to half of height to be easier to wrap.Brown Turkey also need pruning when mature in order to have a large harvest on new growth,the following year.Cut the dead ends right away and shorten it about a third right now if you want fruits.Also you can use the live tips to start new trees.Happy gardening
How do I deal with mold? I had a potted Golden and Brown Turkey in a black trash bag in the garage all winter. It was not vented and now I have mold on these 2 foot high plants. Some looks surficial but the tips of one have turned to mush. Just cut back and cross fingers or something else? I was planning on repotting this year. Same set up for a 4 foot Black Jack but it looks much better, just a slight dusty mold discoloration.
I unwrapped my 6 foot in ground Brown Turkey and it looks fine (leaf bags around the roots and a blue tarp and bungees). But what about the moldy ones?
In just a few steps, you can give your container tree a worry-free winter.
Pretty much, but some trees, like evergreens and fruit trees, do appreciate a little extra care.
Before choosing the best way to winterize your potted evergreen or fruit tree, consider this.
Glad you asked! Right before autumn arrives, you should not heavily fertilize your tree with a fast-release nitrogen product. That way, it likely won’t start any new growth too close to winter. It’s still OK to use a slow-release fertilizer if you please.
Also, throughout the fall, water the tree if it hasn’t rained for several weeks. Then, plan for one last deep watering right before the first winter freeze. In winter, water the tree whenever the soil feels dry to the touch.