Thursday, May 22nd, 2014...10:13 am

Taking Care of Your Fig Tree in the Winter

TheGardenLady received this question from Cheryl on the post “Buying a Fig Tree in New Jersey“.

I have a 15 year old turkey fig tree that I started from shoots. Last year I could not keep up with the amount of fruit growing on the tree. This May there are no leaves on the tips of the branches. The branches are red, turning to a deep gray almost black, which is different from the natural color of the tree bark. The branches snap in half and are not pliable. I cut a large branch. Inside the branch it is hard yellow in color with a white center. Has my tree died from the cold winter freezing? I have never covered it in the past. Was this winter too much for the tree? Help!

It was a really harsh winter through much of the US. This winter my fig tree froze and died. I was so disappointed. I understand your feelings. I lost a number of shrubs this winter.

I know a fig grower in NJ who takes all his fig trees into his unheated garage every winter. If you have no garage for your fig trees here is what is recommended – from a website called How Not to Kill Your Fig Tree.

“Fig trees can be grown out of doors if they are given frost protection. Brown Turkey, Brunswick and Blue Celeste cultivars are some of the best choices. Plant against a wall or structure which provides some heat by radiation. Or grow as a bush, pruning the trunk to near ground level at the end of the second year. Allow several stems to replace the trunk, and grow as you would a lilac. For further protection, erect a frame over the plant, covering and surrounding it with heavy carpet in winter. Keep the roots as dry as possible during winter, raising a berm to exclude melting snows during thaws. In northern climates, the fig is best grown as a tub or pot plant that can be brought into a warm location in winter and taken out again in spring. Dormant buds are more susceptible to freezing than wood. Freezing may also create a trunk without live buds; regrowth is possible only from roots.”

Figs really like Mediterranean weather- nothing as icy and as prolonged as the winter we had in the Northeast this year.

Another article about figs and freezing weather is from the Eugene Weekly.  The advice is to scrape off a tiny bit of the bark with a thumbnail to see if anything is bright green underneath. If it isn’t bright green that part is dead but the root may still be alive. You can always throw out the tree. Wait a little longer to see if you have any growth and then prune- or toss.

Though your letter makes me think that your poor fig tree was frozen, fig trees, like all fruit trees, are prone to lots of different diseases. Here is a Texas list of diseases that figs can have.

Not seeing your fig tree, I can just make an educated guess. For a more educated opinion, take the dead branches with some living parts, if any part is alive, to your local Master Gardener office. They will look at what you bring in to determine the cause of dying or death.

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1 Comment

  • My fig tree in Georgia was infected with Chinese ambrosia beetle. It did not leaf out well this spring. We cut the tree to the ground and left a few new sprouts to see if it would come back. Look for tiny toothpicks of sawdust extending from the trunk. The beetles introduce a deadly fungus that will kill the tree. They bore into figs, crape myrtles, and redbuds. They will attack a healthy tree.

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