How to winterize a fig tree in Chicago, Ill.

edarenaSeptember 24, 2009

I had given a friend a Hollier fig tree this spring so its 1 year old growing in a five gallon pot. It is living on a outside deck on the 30th floor of and apartment building on Lake Shore Drive.

Can a stake be placed in the pot to support a white tarp. Wrapping the tarp around the fig and pot and watering once a month. The potted fig could be pushed up against the building to help shelter it.

Is there any hope for this fig to survive a winter on the deck?

I grow figs in Long Island, New York so any winterizing advise from Chicago fig growers would be greatly appreciated



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if his balcony is on north side of building i would say no.
There is some pretty nasty winds in winter time in that area especially right off LSD. A good cold winter and the whole thing will freeze solid even if not facing north in my opinion in a 5 gallon bucket 30 stories up high and even at ground level outside.It might have a chance if the whole bucket and container was put inside a cardboard sleeve and then put into a protective 1/4 homemade plywood box then wrap it.Come February he might be able to take plastic wrap off and give it a drink as that month the temps start to get a little better except for the snow. Otherwise i would tell him give the maintience man a nice tip to have him put it down in the storage room which his building should have at underground level.Last winter a cold one i could not water my plants in garage as the top part of soil a good couple inches down was frozen, my containers were hard as cement, mid february i was able to give them a small drink .
Just 1 opinion.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2009 at 9:17AM
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Hello Martin thank you for the information. The prospect of the fig tree freezing to death was depressing so I have delayed till now. Surly something had to be done to the fig now or face it's death.
Your wrapping instructions for this novas fig grower was to involved. I tried to simplify it by using a wood stake and a heavy duty patio umbrella cover .

So His 3 choices are-
1- Wrap with the umbrella cover and leave on the deck.
2- Tip the maintanceman
3- Bring the fig inside

The answer is - He brought the fig inside.

So it is living near a sunny window.
Will it live or will it die?
Will it fruit next spring when brought back onto the deck next year. or does it need deep sleep in the winter?


    Bookmark   October 20, 2009 at 1:06AM
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jenia(5b NY)

How about setting it on a piece of foam board insulation, wrapping it in fiberglass insulation and putting a large plastic or metal garbage can over it? I've used that method for some potted roses on my deck that were too heavy to move and they did well.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2009 at 9:13AM
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I'm new at this - so I need help! I brought my fig in, and put it near a sunny window. Now the leaves are turning yellow and dropping. Help! Should I wait til they all drop, then wrap it and put it in my unheated garage? Cut it back and leave it in my living room?? Any help would be appreciated!

    Bookmark   October 20, 2009 at 3:18PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

You can bundle up and insulate a tree all you want, but unless your efforts are to trap an extraneous source of heat, they are for naught. Wrapping trees on decks & balconies is completely ineffective at insulating the plant against killing lows, unless you're building an insulated structure that insulates against the cold air, but is UNINSULATED at the building wall so heat from the building can get into the shelter. You have to allow heat from building walls, the ground or other sources in, or the insulation simply reduces the amount of time it takes the soil to reach killing low temps. Ultimately, simply bundling your plant up has no effect on the actual killing lows, which are the all-important consideration.

I would never try to over-winter a deciduous tree indoors. It's just not worth it - reduced vitality and a winter's worth of headaches when you could let the tree rest and awake full of energy in the spring. Mother Nature's model is something we could all use to great advantage, if we paid a bit of attention to it.


    Bookmark   October 20, 2009 at 5:45PM
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Hello Dr. Al
Thank you for your explanation,and I agree that trying to add insulation to a wrapped fig tree is useless without a source of heat to hold in.

So with a well wrapped fig tree protected from wind and rain and left on the 30 story deck against a south west wall in Chicago. Will it hibernate and come back to life in the spring?
What would you expect to be killing temperatures.?

I have seen my garaged figs reach near 0 degrees Fahrenheit that freeze to a solid mass and recover in spring with out damage. It is my understanding that its wind chill that dehydrates the branches that is the killer? Possibly freezing rain on branches is also a killer. But that is resolved by protection from wrapping.

Interestingly I brought one of my fig trees into house last week as a comparison to see what would happen to it. I also have noticed that leaves are starting to yellow.

So does the fig tree sense the angle of sun and length of day during the fall and try's to hibernate regardless of the warm temperature in the house?

Thanks Ed

    Bookmark   October 20, 2009 at 9:28PM
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Ed, i dont know how that process works but i have brought in fig plant before and it lost its leaves but i dont think it goes Fully dormant like in my garage but like a semi dormant where it does not grow or anything which i dont think is a proper rest, along with that each year i bring in my potted oleander and jasmine plants from outdoors into home and they always lose there leaves and do the same that the fig tree i once brought in then. In spring i do the same as with fig trees ( bring in and out )and they wake up. Personally i think a Prolonged cold spell could spell death for the one on balcony but afer seeing my garage temps last year for a good while (several weeks) in the teens with no sunlight to speak of as they were covered with bed sheets i think if properly stored on balcony it would be ok because we do get days in winter that do fluctuate enough as opposed to a place that stays cold period like say a MI upper pennisula in winter.
Gong back to what i said Prolonged cold spell could spell death for the one on balcony, from reading the forums about folks northeast like in New York who have seen trees around neighborhood that are good size and therfore cannot be winter covered i can bet every so many years that plant does get harmed but because of its root system will grow back pretty fast and may not produce like the year before but will produce somewhat and be back to size the year after. Then it may take another 10 years for that 1 real cold winter to do that cycle all over again.
Like Tapla said once root freeze thats it for plant and im sure it can do that quicker in a pot than inground because of limited root size in pot than inground. So in short i think the plant will survive on balcony but a good enough cold winter which will happen here every so often will kill the plant one winter, last winter Might have been the one if that plant was out there even protected in its pot.
Best Health

    Bookmark   October 21, 2009 at 7:57AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Ed - killing lows vary by tree, but I would do all I could to ensure that actual root temperatures never see 20*. You can be assured that there is a fair amount of root damage to succulent rootage by the time temperatures drop that low. If your garage figs were on the floor, they probably saw actual soil temperatures anywhere near 0* because of the heat conducting/radiating through the floor. Wind is usually only an issue when the soil is frozen. Trees in unfrozen soils are usually able to keep themselves well-hydrated. Wrapping helps if your capturing heat and against dessication, but wrapping too thoroughly and eliminating air movement introduces a much greater risk of fungaluglies.

Photo-period/day length (night length, technically) is the driving force behind the move to dormancy; and yes, the tree will try to go dormant at the appropriate genetically predetermined time regardless of whether it is inside or outside. Warm temperatures can trump the dormancy response, however.

Martin - it's not prolonged cold, or even many, many freeze/thaw cycles that spell trouble for trees, it's killing low temperatures.


    Bookmark   October 21, 2009 at 10:12AM
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Hello Martin it seems your 1st suggestion of finding a unheated possibly subterranean storage area that stays colder than 40 degrees would be my friends best option if this can be found.
Martin to you track the temperature of your garaged figs. If un heated one would think that they would get freeze damage.

Al thank you again for your information.
I must admit that I am puzzled as my practical experience in growing figs has always led me to believe that the wood branches and trunk of the fig tree was most susceptible to dehydration freeze damage.I never realized that the roots die from a cold freeze.
I have been lucky and never seen fig roots die from cold in containers or in ground. Zone 7 where I live might be on the borderline of a figs ability to survive root freeze.
I grow maybe 70 container figs. 40 containers are placed directly on the garage cement floor so they may be getting some benefit from geothermal heat transferring thru the cement as Al suggested. The other 30 containers are double stacked sitting on top of the lower 40 so they should get the full effect of the cold. I have been very lucky as I have never had a twig or bud damaged by the cold as long as it was protected from wind and ice in the garage. I do use one of Al's soil mixes which certainly helps the figs general vitality.
I now feel less confident about my container fig trees winter survival. This winter I will monitor the temperature in the garage.
I had thought that the fig had some type of mechanism that protected the roots during winter hibernation.

It would be interesting if other forum members would list the Max. winter temperatures that their container figs have survived.
Thanks again

    Bookmark   October 21, 2009 at 9:47PM
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last season was first year i monitored my attached garage temperatures and it was the coldest winter the trees have seen since growing for last 8 seasons. They were on the garage floor and not sitting on wood like i used to do with them and had a bedsheet on them.We has a spell of cold outdoor temps the coldest being 23 or 24 below zero 1 night and several with nights 10 to 18 below zero that week,
i noticed garage temps had dipped to 6 to 8 above yes it was a cold winter here that we have not had for some years. For 2 to 3 weeks garage temp held at between 10 to 20 above zero and i thought i might get severe damage to the limbs but come spring even though it seemed they were slow to wake up because our spring was slow to come around there was no damage to trees at all to my surprise. Although our winter was coldest the plants have seen in garage looking at the darn thermometer made me lose a few precious hairs on my head and plants were fine in the end so if my plants did ok i know they can survive each winter in my garage. When they were young i did get damage to the plants in normal winters and would notice come spring that from tips to maybe 4 inches down was very dark and i would cut that part off, last several years though no damage at all to them. This season i have some young ones a season old on floor, some half season old on top of freezer and i expect perhaps some tip damage come spring.
Ed your probably a zone up on me and i think growing and storing your plants in attached garage is ok just dont leave garage door oopen when you clean snow off driveway and keep it close as much as possible, worry but not to point of loseing your hair! ; )
i always value information from your posts and they have been helpful to me and im sure many many forum members as well and thanks for always taking your time in doing so.
Best Health

    Bookmark   October 22, 2009 at 9:44AM
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Hello Al and Martin
Thank you kindly for all the information. I have a better understanding of what's going on with my friends fig.
I think he made the correct choice of bring the fig in side against the window wall.
I will go and visit in early Nov. and see how the fig is doing.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2009 at 10:59PM
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Did you ever find out what happened to the fig tree that your friend had? I have a fig tree growing on my balcony right now,and I don't know what I should do. Did bringing it inside for the winter work?


    Bookmark   August 14, 2010 at 5:57PM
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No body mentioned any thing about Xmas lights, I have 5 Fig trees. Three get into my Garage and I am planning to hang Xmas lights on the other two. A friend told me Xmas Lights work good. I never tried it myself.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2010 at 1:35AM
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I was given a Chicago fig last year and it was a smallish stick with a few small leaves. I planted it in a large pot on my patio facing east. I live in Metro Detroit and placed the fig in my basement for the winter about constant 65 degrees with a grow light on for 12 hours a day, watered once a week. I got figs the first year none ripened. Over the 1st winter the tree lost all it's leaves for about 2-2 1/2 months then started to develop new leaves in Late February. I placed the now 3 foot tree outdoors once all threats of frost were gone (early April). The tree is now 5 foot tall with about 24 figs, only 3 figs ripened this year and they were fabulous. I never knew I had to pinch back developing figs/leaves and I'm not following how to pinch back. The whole 5/6 leaf discussion is confusing. 5/6 leaf from where all limbs? My Italian grandfather had a fig tree in Windsor Canada (South of Detroit) same zone that he bent over and buried every year, the tree grew at a 45 degree angle and had a diameter of 6 inches, it produced smallish figs but dozens every year, they were fabulous, I plan to winter my fig again in the basement until it gets to big and heavy to move.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2013 at 4:52PM
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