Anthony enjoys spending time in the workshop, kitchen, garden, and out fishing. Many of his DIY projects are featured in his yard.
Fig Trees Are the Perfect Backyard Fruit Tree
Growing figs is challenging for northern gardeners, especially those gardening in zone 6 and colder. Strong-willed gardeners devised several methods to combat the cold of winter, each with varying rates of success. Some recommend pushing over the tree each fall and then burying it under a pile of dirt, leaves, and mulch. Other say to wrap the tree with a thick blanket of burlap stuffed with straw. Both methods are a lot of work, and neither adds to the visual appeal of your winter garden.
My grandfather used the "Bury Method" for years to protect his figs from the chill of winter, and he was very successful in growing several varieties of figs. I have no idea which varieties of fig he grew, but the fresh fruit was delicious! Every fall, we helped with digging out one side of the fig trees, pushing them down to the ground and wrapping the branches in burlap, then burying the trees under layers of straw mulch and dirt. When I moved further north to New England, he gave me a couple of rooted cuttings from his favorite fig trees to plant in my yard.
Unfortunately, the little trees were no match against the harsh New England winter. The wrapped and buried trees did not survive. Undaunted, we tried again, but this time, I potted the fresh cuttings into a container. The little fig trees happily spend the warm spring and summer months soaking up the sunshine on my deck. As the cool weather approaches, I move the containers and the fig trees indoors to rest for the winter in the garage.
Growing Figs in Containers
Figs are the perfect tree fruit for growing in containers. Their foliage is attractive and tropical in appearance, and the trees do not require a lot of space; even fully grown fig trees are quite content growing within the confines of a large pot. Fig trees are easy to care for: they do not require a lot of fertilizers, fig trees grow quickly and respond well to pruning to keep their shape, and they are relatively pest free.
They are also self-pollinating, so you can grow just one, and it will bear fruit. And unlike many of the more commonly grown fruit trees that require years before the first harvest, figs often bear fruit in just their second or third growing season.
Fig trees are readily available through online retailers and nurseries, and the local gardening center often carries varieties of fig trees that may be suitable to your climate. The Brown Turkey fig is typically offered in our area, though even this relatively hardy fig requires protection from freezing in winter. Or if you are fortunate, a fellow gardener (or generous grandfather) might share a cutting from their favorite tree.
Steps for Container Planting:
- For a small fig tree or cutting, choose a planting container that is at least 12" to 14" in diameter and fill it with a quality potting soil. If you compost, mix some of the screened compost into the container along with a quality potting soil to add nutrients and to help retain moisture. The small planting pot will work well for the first few years. Eventually, it will need transplanting to a larger pot.
- A planting container filled with soil is very heavy, so consider using a lightweight plastic or resin pot. I prefer a plastic pot because it retains moisture well and weighs less than a clay pot, and it is more forgiving when moving the potted fig tree between its summer and winter locations.
- Place the pot in a sunny location, and keep it well watered to prevent the container from drying out. Fig trees are not heavy feeders and do not require a lot of extra fertilizers, and mine do well with just an occasional shot of soluble fertilizer added to the watering can. They do not need an abundance of water, but during spells of hot weather, it may need watering daily to prevent the plant from drying out.
When It Gets Cold Outside, Move the Tree Inside for the Winter
As the growing season progresses, little green buds of fruit begin to form along the branches. Depending on the variety, the fig will swell and turn color as it ripens; my figs become streaked in bronze and red, and the color intensifies as the fruit ripens. When plump and soft to the touch, a ripe fig releases its hold from the branch with just a slight tug.
In autumn, it is time to move the tree indoors when the leaves start to yellow and fall. Store it in an unheated garage or basement, where the tree will go dormant for the winter months. The dormant trees do not require any sunlight, and they can be stored in total darkness. Water the tree periodically throughout the winter, allowing the soil to dry out completely between watering.
As spring approaches and the days get longer and warmer, move the fig tree outside for several hours each day. When the dangers from any late frosts have passed, move the fig tree to its sunny summer home. After a few short growing seasons, the happy tree will reward you with sweet and tasty figs.
The Fig Poll
Fascinating Fig Facts
Did You Know?
- Fig tress do not produce any flowers. The tiny blossoms develop inside the fruit of the fig tree.
- The fig tree is a symbol of fertility.
- Many believe that the fruit in the Garden of Eden was actually a fig.
- The 'food of the gods', figs are very high in calcium and dietary fiber.
- The Spaniards brought the fig to California in the early 1600's. California produces nearly 98% of all figs grown commercially in the U.S.
- The Mission fig is the mostly commonly grown variety of fig.
- Figs must ripen on the tree. Unlike many other fruits, the fig will not continue to ripe after picking.
- Figs hold moisture well in baked goods, and fig puree can be used as substitute in baking recipes for butter and oil.
- Dried figs taste good. Fresh figs taste even better!
- Never eaten a fig? Figs are the fruit in Fig Newton cookies.
Potting a Fig Tree in a Container
Can Figs Grow Where You Live?
USDA Plant Hardiness Zone MapThe USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is now interactive: Search using your zip code or click on your state to find your exact plant hardiness zone for your area.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: My unheated garage gets down to zero degrees in the winter. Could I safely store a dormant fig in my garage during the winter?
Answer: Zero degrees is too cold for many varieties of fig to survive. Some varieties such as the Brown Turkey fig are more tolerant of the cold.
Question: I water my fig plants daily but still, it is not growing well. The leaf is new but they still curl or tear-out. What should be done?
Answer: It's hard to say why your fig isn't growing well, though you might be overwatering your plant. I only water my fig tree two to three times a week. It gets plenty of direct sun, is protected from the prevailing wind and it's planted in a large pot with room for its roots.
Question: Do the fig trees have to be kept in the dark and cold to hibernate?
Answer: I keep my fig tree in the basement where it stays relatively cool (typically in the low 60's), but the plant does receive some indirect sunlight. It gets watered when the soil looks dry, and it has wintered over successfully for several years.
Question: I haven't been very lucky with keeping fig trees alive for the winter. Is it okay to keep fig trees inside where it's warmer? Do they need to be kept in the dark? Mine always seem to start growing again.
Answer: A friend winters their fig in a greenhouse where it gets sun and warmth all winter. They take their plant inside after the leaves drop in the fall, and their plant does re-sprout leaves over the winter. They say that these leaves often (but not always) drop off in the spring when they move it back outside while the New England nights are still cool. Your plant may experience similar symptoms. Just keep it watered so the plant doesn't dry out and die of thirst.
Question: Can a fig tree be left outside in a container during winter in California?
Answer: Check the winter hardiness of the fig tree variety that you are planting in containers. Many varieties of fig trees are hardy in Zones 7 to 10. Your local garden center may have several different types of figs that are suitable for your specific area and climate.
Question: Could I grow a fig tree on my patio? I live in Parker, Arizona, and my patio is in the shade, and it faces west.
Answer: Figs prefer a good dose of daily sun. I live in the northeast and do not have any experience gardening in your climate. Maybe a gardener from your area could share their local knowledge.
Question: I have a potted fig tree that survived nicely in my garage over winter. It is in a very large pot but the dirt settled down to about half the pot. Can I fill the pot up, burying half of the trunk?
Answer: Fig tress have shallow root systems that grow best just below the surface of the soil. Rather than filling the pot by burying half of the trunk, consider re-potting the tree by removing the plant and adding more soil to the bottom of the pot.
Question: I am in Zone 5a (Upstate NY). My fig tree has been in a big container, but last summer, the figs were either small or fell off. The tree is about 5 feet tall. The roots were trimmed in the Fall. Should I try to grow my fig tree in the container again or plant it in the ground?
Answer: My figs have grown happily in a container for several years, but I've also had seasons where they didn't bear any fruit or the figs didn't ripen even though the leaves and new growth looked great. While disappointing, it's part of gardening. And the fig trees still look great growing on our deck throughout the summer.
I've tried growing fig trees in the ground but the cold winters and inconsistent spring weather here in Connecticut make it difficult (for me) to grow healthy figs outdoors.
© 2012 Anthony Altorenna
Tell Us About Your Container Garden Plants
Kurt P. Hansen, on October 10, 2019:
I have a fig tree in a pot, it grew pretty well and had fruit on it branches. That fruit never grew bigger than a quarter. What did I do wrong?
Ghislaine on March 09, 2019:
Can a in house potted fig tree survive three weeks without care in May? How can I prepare it?
Anthony Altorenna (author) from Connecticut on September 10, 2018:
Figs ripen at their own pace. Some say that if your figs are almost ripe, then you can pick them and let them fully ripen on the counter. I leave mine on the tree until they are fully ripe and juicy.
Roseann Caruso on August 29, 2018:
I have a "Chicago Hardy" fig in a container. I live in Zone 5a. It has 26 figs on it that are still green. Any way to accelerate ripening. I do water well and have been fertilizing.
Gloria Berry on June 02, 2018:
I am excited about learning to grow fig trees in containers. I have always wanted to grow a fig tree! I love fresh figs!
Barb Johnson from Alaska's Kenai Peninsula on September 29, 2015:
Loving this info on growing fig trees in containers Anthony. I'm a lover of figs. Might just work here in Alaska. The weather has been warmer the last couple of years too. And with the recent successful experiments with high tunnel gardening here, maybe I can keep my own fig trees flourishing. If you're a gardener, you at least give it a try. Thanks again, Anthony!
microfarmproject on February 07, 2013:
We grow figs at The Micro Farm Project. They are very well adapted to our area in the desert southwest. If left to their own devices, they can grow very large in our climate. Great info!
ggpalms lm on November 25, 2012:
@archetekt lm: Most reputable garden centers and nurseries offer common figs that do not need a pollinator. You can grow many types. Here are a few to consider.White Genoa, Brown Turkey, Violet De Bordeaux, Green Ischia, Texas Blue Giant, Celeste, Panache, Lsu Purple and I can go on and on.... Just look up the variety that is good for your zone. Easy to grow organically. Pepe's Fruit Trees. Just my two cents worth.....
archetekt lm on November 25, 2012:
My neighbors have 2 small fig trees that did pretty well with dozens of fresh figs harvested this year, we're in zone 8 so I'm going to try 2 myself. What do they need for pollinators?
ggpalms lm on November 23, 2012:
Excellent and very enjoyable lens. Good work and keep growing those figs!!
mecheshier on November 22, 2012:
This is a fabulous read. Figs are a favorite tree and fruit of mine. Thanks for the share!
Lorelei Cohen from Canada on November 20, 2012:
My youngest daughter told me that she had a fig tree in her yard and I had no idea what one looked like. Now I remember thank you.
Deadicated LM on November 20, 2012:
Great Lens, that's how I knew my once predominantly Italian American neighborhood was changing, when all the fig trees disappeared. Brings back memories.
Linda Jo Martin from Post Falls, Idaho, USA on November 10, 2012:
I love this lens... your story of helping your grandfather, and now growing the figs yourself... that's what makes a lens fun to read. Now I'm wanting to grow figs and protect them during winter snow. Thanks for the inspiration. Blessed. Seems like all the angels that fly by here want to bless this lens!!
LaurenIM on November 05, 2012:
I'm somewhat of a container gardener myself. Figs are great because they are so nutritious. Actually, I think I'll pass this info along to my niece who loves learning about gardening. That way, she can grow them and I can help her eat the figs!
Rose Jones on November 01, 2012:
Excellent lens. Figs are a real powerhouse. I want to have them in my garden, I did but gophers pulled up the young trees, I am intrigued by growing them in pots. This lens is well thought out, and I really like the personal experience you encouraged. Pinned onto my "how does your garden grow" board so I can find it again, and blessed.
MartieG aka 'survivoryea' from Jersey Shore on November 01, 2012:
I have printed this and will definitely give it a try. We have been trying to grow fig trees for years with very little luck. -- Very good instructions! ~~Blessed~~
anonymous on September 27, 2012:
Love to have fresh figs! :)
anonymous on September 03, 2012:
My husband loves figs, I'll have to give it a try!
Melissa Miotke from Arizona on August 20, 2012:
Great lens. I also really like the Plant Hardiness link. Thanks for that.
InnovativeToys on August 16, 2012:
Very interesting! It's cold here, so any figs would certainly be a container gardening project!
Peggy Hazelwood from Desert Southwest, U.S.A. on August 13, 2012:
Oh, this makes me want to try growing a fig tree. I'm in the desert and know they love the heat. Thanks for the information!
Ilona E from Ohio on August 12, 2012:
If only I lived one zone further south I would certainly try to grow figs. i just don't want to risk the disappointment. I gladly buy fresh figs, but they are never quite like home grown fresh off the tree!
TamarWrites on August 10, 2012:
My late father-in-law gave us two fig trees in pots that we later replanted. My husband made one into a third tree. We are overflowing with figs right now. The season is so short! I love them! Fantastic lens!
Lorelei Cohen from Canada on August 09, 2012:
We have a lot of fruit trees in our yard as we live in a southern area of Canada but I have never seen a fig tree up our way.
KandDMarketing on July 31, 2012:
Ahhhh ... now I know what my next fruit purchase will be! Thank you.
eccles1 on July 30, 2012:
I love figs I grew up with them, came to America and I never saw them for a long long time and when I did find them I eat all of them in 10 minutes flat ! They are so good . Now they are in season every year and I keep my eye for them scoping for the black ones but the brown are good too ! I have never tired the green ones yet. Growing them sounds like a good idea
anonymous on July 12, 2012:
I was just telling someone in the last couple weeks about your success in growing figs in containers, they'll be giving it a try.
Ellen Gregory from Connecticut, USA on July 10, 2012:
My grandfather and many other people in the Bronx grew fig trees. I remember in winter they all pruned them back and wrapped them in tar paper. They were really ugly in winter, but the fruit was great.
anonymous on March 24, 2012:
We are in SW.Ontario, Canada. My father in law built a greenhouse from old windows around his fig trees once they got larger, to protect them. He used the burrowing method too at first. These trees produce so many delicious figs, we have to give lots away to friends and neighbours. They really are delicious.
Einar A on March 24, 2012:
This is great information! I never even considered the possibility of growing figs where I live due to the high elevation and harsh winters, but it sounds like container gardening might allow me to do so. I would love to be able to grow my own fresh figs.
hntrssthmpsn on March 15, 2012:
What a great idea! I'd never have thought fig trees would do so well in containers! I actually live in an area where we can grow them in the ground with little trouble, but my house gets WAY more sun on its paved front-yard side than it does in the backyard garden, so I've been migrating my garden to containers. How delightful to include a fig tree!
Tamara14 on March 13, 2012:
Oh thanks for reminding me of my long summers in my family's summer house in Dalmatia. So many fig trees on our islands and although I prefer dried figs, my family loves them fresh. It's very healthy too. Great lens, thank you.
anonymous on March 07, 2012:
I have two fig trees but not in pots as I have nearly an acre of land. I like the white genoa fig and the black turkey. Fig trees will grow well from cuttings
Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on March 04, 2012:
Great lens, I've never tried growing fig trees, but after reading this lens I realize that even a tree from the Mediterrenean climate is possible.
Chazz from New York on March 03, 2012:
I remember my grandfather wrapping his precious fig tree in blankets and topping it with an inverted pail to get it through the winter. It worked but wasn't very pretty. I like your alternative. A friend has rooted a fig tree for us and it will be ready to plant this spring so this was timely advice. Thank you!
Stephanie Tietjen from Albuquerque, New Mexico on February 29, 2012:
I live in the Southwest US and want to get a fig tree, but my neighbor's tree died over winter. I didn't know about the methods for overwintering. Thanks!
SophiaStar LM on February 27, 2012:
I love figs! I didn't realize I could grow a fig tree in a container thank you! Now I want to grow my own fig tree.
anonymous on February 27, 2012:
A mouth watering introduction to growing figs Anthony! I love how you tell of the challenges of growing them in a more northern climate and I'm thinking that using your container method would work nicely even up in my zone 3-4 combination. I found it interesting how easy it is to grow figs and that they may actually give fruit in only 2 or 3 seasons, easy to care for, pest free and even self pollinating. I guess I've always thought of figs as being more exotic, so you will be making many people happy here. Figs are a little on the expensive side, so what a special treat to grow yourself...and now we can all do it with your excellent instructions. Oh, I especially like how you tell a ripe fig will "release its hold" with that little tug, for some reason, that sounded almost poetic to me. Also, folks will appreciate your counsel about using a light weight container, they do get heavy quick with dirt and water adds even more weight.
Angela F from Seattle, WA on February 27, 2012:
I agree - fig trees are perfect container plants.