threshold for figs dying back to ground

cousinfloydMay 7, 2014

This is the first winter I've had major die-back on established figs. The coldest we saw this winter was about 3 degrees, but we got down to 3 degrees three or four winters ago without any losses, so I know fig die-back isn't a straightforward matter of coldest low temperature. Nonetheless, coldest winter low probably correlates (especially comparing within this region: mid-Atlantic/Southeast) to fig die-back more closely than anything else that can be quantified, at least so far as I'm aware, so I'm interested in hearing what thresholds others in this region have observed. I also wonder how much the threshold varies between varieties. I have three or four varieties that all died back, but I'd love to have another variety if it could weather a winter like we just had without any die-back. What can you all tell me about winter thresholds for figs and differences between varieties?

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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

My impression has been that dieback is more due to length of cold/windy weather that desiccates the shoots. A month of lows of 10F every night is much worse than one night of 3F. Spraying with an anti-dessicant may help preserve figs through the winter. I used to do it but you really need to refresh it many times if its to be on all winter and thats one chore that fell off my work queue.


    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 1:59PM
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What scott says

I have had some tropical house plants take -5C no problem for a little bit at night and take it no problem. The next seaso the same plants died taking 3 nights at -3C.

While the dieback sucks, in your area they will come back from the roots no problem. I dont think figs can take much more then -10C before dying back.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 2:14PM
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I had one small brown turkey die back, but it's coming back from the roots. All of the others did fine.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 5:34PM
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meredith_e Z7b, Piedmont of NC, 1000' elevation

Italian Everbearing from NY died back to the roots, but it usually doesn't. So that's one to keep off your super-hardy list. It will still have great fruit by the fall. I had your exact weather, sounds like. I'll miss earlier figs this year, too.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 6:33PM
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The past two winters I had a "Chicago Hardy Fig" die back to the roots, but those two winters combined brought only 3 days where the temps went below zero.

This winter I lost track of how many times I woke up to see the thermometer at -22 F, and there were a few days where we never reached 0.

As expected, the fig is toast, as are a lot of other shrubs.


    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 7:44PM
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blackrag(6A East PA)

I am new at figs. I planted 4 Chicago hardy from Stark a year ago. When would I expect to see them coming out of dormancy? I almost condemned them tonight, while looking for evidence of life, but after looking at 4 new Bensonhurst that came in the mail today, and reading this thread, maybe I can't expect them to act like my apples, peaches and plums that are all in different stages of bloom?

I did wrap them all in burlap & twine for the winter...

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 9:20PM
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I should mention that with mine, I cut back the branches to about 1.5 feet long, covered it with leaves, and put a ventilated trash can full of leaves over it and staked it down so it wouldn't blow away.


    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 11:23PM
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Up here in zone 4 I did the same with mine except mine was small enough to bury it in a big pile of leaves and throwing an old wash basin on it then burying that in leaves. Plus 5 feet of snow. So far it looks like it may have survived but only time will tell. It is either chicago hardy or brown turkey.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 11:50PM
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shazaam(NC 7B)

We were in the 8-10 range on a few mornings, and, although all of my unprotected figs had more die back than I'm accustomed to seeing, none were killed to the ground. I also found that a little bit of protection made a big difference...

  • Of the 5 unprotected, in ground trees (4 brown turkey + 1 Celeste), all lost somewhere between 20% and 50% of their canopies.

  • I protected one Brown Turkey and one Violette de Bordeaux by bundling the branches with twine, putting a 5' tomato cage around them, packing it with leaves, and wrapping the cage with landscape fabric. Those two came through with virtually no die back at all.

  • My six potted figs (Chicago Hardy, Brown Turkey, LSU Purple, Conardia, Strawberry Verte, and Marseilles) were all under an Agribon heavy weight frost blanket, and the pots were insulated with leaves. They, too, had little or no damage.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 10:23AM
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I agree with Scott I don't think it has as much to do with the actual low temperature as it does with duration. I have a fairly large hardy chicago and this is the 1st year I can remember the top dying back to the ground except maybe its 1st year in the ground. It is at least 12 years old.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 11:50AM
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meredith_e Z7b, Piedmont of NC, 1000' elevation

I should say that I only protected the base (maybe 9") of my Italian Everbearing. I still hoped in vain to have some cane left, but the main thing was that it didn't die, lol. I just couldn't figure out a good way to try to protect the higher parts, so my fault :)

Blackrag, mine is just now budding from the base at the soil line, so even if yours look awful, treat them well and check the soil for new life. Expose the base to sun by clearing out mulch, etc, and it shouldn't be too long before you start seeing growth, I'd think.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 1:57PM
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bhawkins(8A Dallas)

Figs at my house all died to the ground due to temps dropping to 17 degrees April 5 or so; they had started to leaf out. Coming back from the roots now.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2014 at 7:54AM
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My Chicago Hardy fig planted last spring shows no signs of life so far. Should I cut it back to the ground if it's going to resprout from the roots? Or how late should I wait for it to wake up from dormancy?

6A, eastern PA

    Bookmark   May 9, 2014 at 9:12AM
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I would wait a bit. My celeste in N. VA just started putting out shoots from the ground. The limbs above ground are dead.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2014 at 10:13AM
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blackrag(6A East PA)

Thanks. I'll wait awhile before condemning them. Starting to get some real warm temps here now with rain tomorrow.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2014 at 10:08PM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

Any wood that is dead and dry can be cut out. I don't remove anything else because I have been surprised in the past.

I only have three mature figs sprouting at the base now, five are still showing nothing. What I have found in the past is some need to sprout from deeper roots and the deeper the longer it takes to see something.


    Bookmark   May 10, 2014 at 10:28AM
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You might get more answers if you try the fig forum also!

    Bookmark   May 11, 2014 at 10:22PM
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I don't think it hurts to give them plenty of time. That's what I do anyways. I'll wait until my figs have grown enough that everything that's going to grow has, and then I'll prune the dead out. I generally prune my figs in the spring anyways. I don't know if that's generally the best way to do it, but it seems to me the pruning cuts heal best when the tree is actively growing. It seems winter pruning cuts have led to injury on down the remaining stem, and I wouldn't prune in the fall, because there's still fruit ripening into late October if not November for me.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 7:25PM
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