As a final note, growers of Chicago Hardy do have one warning I plan to take to heart. This particular variety of fig fruits much less if unpruned, so be sure to cut stems back to 30 inches every year and clear out all but three main branches.
“Each spring, feed established plants with a balanced organic fertilizer or a topdressing of composted manure before renewing the mulch.
“Pruning fig plants is best done in spring, after surviving buds have begun to grow. Pruning figs back to live wood is often necessary in Zone 7, where plants are occasionally frozen back to the roots. In other areas, prune to thin plants back to about five strong branches, and to remove old and damaged wood.
“Figs are very easy to grow from rooted stem tip cuttings taken in late spring, and sunk into warm, moist soil. When new plants are desired, simply stick 10-inch-long cuttings in a nursery bed, and keep them moist for a few weeks. They should be well-rooted and ready to transplant by fall, or you can wait until the following spring.”
If temperatures drop to 10 degrees or colder in your area, and you’re growing cold-hardy figs
outdoors in the ground, you can protect them with a cylindrical cage of hardware cloth filled with straw for insulation (don’t cover it with plastic, which can overheat).
Or you can trench the figs each fall and unearth them every spring. To trench plants, prune them back to about 6 feet in late fall and head back any spreading branches. Tie branches with rope or twine to make a tight cylinder. Dig a 2-foot-deep trench as long as the tree is tall, starting at the root ball of the tree. Place boards on the bottom and sides of the trench. Dig out soil from the roots opposite the trench until the tree is free enough for you to tip it into the trench. Wrap the tree in heavy plastic, bend it into the trench (this will take some effort), and fill around it with straw or dried leaves. Put a board over the tree and shovel soil over the board. Resurrect trees in spring after danger of hard frost is past.
Never try to grow figs in the ground north of zone 6, and even there, plant the most cold-tolerant cultivars. Instead, grow your figs in containers and bring them indoors for winter. Keep them in an unheated garage, shed, or other protected area where temperatures don’t dip below 20 degrees. The figs will drop their leaves and go dormant, but you should still water them when the soil dries. Figs will stay green all winter in a greenhouse
, and may even bear fruit in the warm, sunny greenhouse climate. Make sure you water them regularly, and watch the undersides of leaves for greenhouse pests like aphids. In either case, bring plants back outdoors when the weather warms and the last frost date is past.
Generally, figs do not suffer from insect or disease problems
in North America. Keep birds away with netting; spread wood ashes around the base of trees to keep ants from climbing up to fruits. Keep plants well watered to avoid leaf drop, especially when they’re growing in containers.