Overwintering Fig Trees

Fig tree closeup showing fruit.

Mature fig tree showing figs developing.

You may be hesitating to buy a fig tree because you’re not sure if it will survive the winter. Fruit from your own tree is already a thrill, but semi tropical fruits like figs are especially wonderful and exotic.  You can’t expect a fig tree to survive a Canadian winter on its own, but it’s possible to keep them with a little preparation.

Figs are hardy to Zone 7 USDA (United States Department of Agriculture).  A zone 7 minimum temperature is -12 to -18C. Be careful when considering zones, as Canadian zones are a little different, especially when buying US-grown tropical plants. Toronto Gardens blog offers a little help in explaining the differences in zones.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture or USDA system is simple: it’s based solely on average annual minimum temperatures. Although Canada considers a larger range of factors than the USDA, we still talk about zones in terms of temperatures: the lower the number, the colder the climate. Both systems also subdivide zones with a letter (a or b). So, Zone 6a is little “colder” than Zone 6b.

In Canadian terms, Toronto is broadly Zone 6; in USDA terms, it’s Zone 5. Our closeness to the Great Lakes moderates temperature highs and lows and increases precipitation.

Within the GTA, the specifics of your landscape can push you higher or lower. Close to Lake Ontario, you’re more likely to be Zone 6b and might have a microclimate (a pocket that is a zone unto itself) that’s Zone 7. In a more exposed situation, or farther from the lake, you might be Canadian Zone 5a or 5b.

So what do fig lovers do to overwinter their trees? Turns out, lots of things. If you are growing the tree in the ground, you can wait till it goes dormant, then bend it down to the ground and bury it. This method is often used with standard rose trees. If you are growing in a pot, you can put it in an unheated porch or garage, once its dormant, or try the methods below for overwintering your fig.

Pick off any fruit remaining after leaves drop in the fall. They will not ripen. Bend down boughs of in-ground, multi-stemmed trees, then build an A- frame of wood and styrofoam over the top. For potted trees, lay pots on their side in wooden boxes forming (2- inch wide boards, a wall 12 to 18 inches high.) Cover the top with plywood, Styrofoam and a tarp. In partially heated area such as sunrooms, water only occasionally. Dormant figs don’t require light.

To get your fig into dormancy, use this method:

Taper off watering the week before your first expected frost and expose the tree to a few light frosts. This encourages sap to move down the stems and leaves to drop.

By the way, if you are growing any tropical tree in a pot, make sure its a big one. Man-made containers of dense foam are probably best, as they add another layer of insulation to the roots.

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