How to Grow Fig Trees in Containers
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
Have you ever eaten a fresh fig?
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
My unheated garage gets down to zero degrees in the winter. Could I safely store a dormant fig in my garage during the winter?
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.Helpful 10
Do the fig trees have to be kept in the dark and cold to hibernate?
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.Helpful 7
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.
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.Helpful 5
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.
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.Helpful 4
Can a fig tree be left outside in a container during winter in California?
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.Helpful 3
© 2012 Anthony Altorenna