By: Amy Grant
The common fig, Ficus carica, is a temperate tree native to Southwest Asia and the Mediterranean. Generally, this would mean that folks living in cooler climes couldn’t grow figs, right? Wrong. What’s a hardy Chicago fig? Only a cold tolerant fig tree that can be grown in USDA zones 5-10. These are figs for cold weather regions. Keep reading to find out about growing hardy Chicago fig.
Native to Sicily, hardy Chicago figs, as the name suggests, are the most cold tolerant fig trees available. This beautiful fig tree bears luscious medium sized figs which are produced on older wood in the early summer and fruit on new growth in the early fall. Ripe fruit is a dark mahogany contrasting with the characteristic three lobed, green fig leaves.
Also known as ‘Bensonhurst Purple’, this tree can grow up to 30 feet (9 m.) in height or can be restrained to around 6 feet (2 m.). Chicago figs do well as container grown trees and are drought tolerant once established. Fairly pest resistant as well, this fig can produce up to 100 pints (47.5 L.) of fig fruit per season and are easily grown and maintained.
All figs thrive in organically rich, moist, well-draining soil in full sun to partial shade. Chicago fig stems are hardy to 10 F. (-12 C.) and the roots are hardy to -20 F. (-29 C.). In USDA zones 6-7, grow this fig in a protected area, such as against a south-facing wall, and mulch around the roots. Also, consider providing additional cold protection by wrapping the tree. The plant may still show die back during the cold winter but should be protected enough to rebound in the spring.
In USDA zones 5 and 6, this fig can be grown as a low growing shrub that is “laid down” in the winter, known as heeling in. This just means that the branches are bent over and covered with soil along with mounding soil over the main trunk of the tree. Chicago figs can also be container grown and then moved indoors and overwintered in a greenhouse, garage, or basement.
Otherwise, growing the hardy Chicago fig requires little maintenance. Just be sure to water regularly throughout the growing season and then reduce watering in the fall prior to dormancy.
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I think you will need to cover your figs or grow them in pots and bring them in, it gets pretty cold there. I am in Baltimore and I tried minimal or no covering and they always had to grow back form the roots. Many varieties are hardy enough if you cover them (and if you bring them in you can grow any fig). The ones you mention are all good. Violette de Bordeaux is not as hardy but it has done fine for me covered.
I'm just outside Hagerstown and have a Hardy Chicago from Raintree that does really well in the ground on the SW side of my house. I covered it for the first three years and it's now about 7 feet tall. I'm not going to cover it this year. I have a fig from Home Depot that I planted at the corner of my house in 2006. It's supposed to be a Celeste but I'm pretty certain it's anything but a Celeste. I've never covered the thing and cold doesn't seem to affect it at all. For all I know, Home Depot dug it out of the arctic tundra and trucked it to their store. All of it's hardy traits are a cruel joke - it doesn't taste nearly as good as the HC. I secretly wish it would die, but I keep it around to see just how much abuse it can take. I recommend an HC, but don't get it from a big box store.
I have a Italian Alma/Honey that does great. so far unprotected at 5 F one year and 11F last year. This year been down to 9F. I have a brown turkey that did fine to 11, but froze to near ground at 5F. I have some sort of Black Mission (so I was told) that has done fine at those temps.
You might ask which figs do well in containers. I know some trees are pretty small growing. Desert King is a Giant tree here.
With all the cheap tarps being sold now, I think you could pretty easily cover a tree with one, if it was under 12 feet tall.
A bother, but at least you will get through the winter there.
My 'Italian Honey Fig' is a small tree, as is Violet De Bordeaux.
More or less, ALL figs (Ficus carica) have the same
hardiness. Some (e.g., Hardy Chicago) are claimed to
be more hardy, but actually they only bounce back from any
ground winter kill to produce fruit the following summer.
Others may be slightly less hardy (or more prone to rot -
e.g., PN, VdB), and may not come back at all.
The difference is not THAT big.
Two falls ago, I was in GreekTown Baltimore MD, and I have
seen some BIG unprotected fig trees. Speaking to some of
the owners, they informed me that, that location seems
to be a demarcation line. A few more miles up north, fig
trees need to be winter-protected, else they would be
winter-killed (at least when very young), but not there
in GT, MD. Also the Chesapeake Bay temperature-buffering
waters must be playing a very important helping factor.
In general, any location with a USDA Zone 8 or warmer,
it is considered safe to-not-winter-protect the figs.
For zones 7 or colder, it is advised to (somehow) winter
protect all the figs.
GT, MD is zone 7. (must be the water. ).
Spectrum20008 you are in luck. I live in Morgantown Wv and have about 100 ficus caria varieties. Come on by and I will save you a lot of time and money.
Hey Vinnie thats a very nice offer to Spectrum in trying to help.
People helping each other we need more of that in this world.
There are some massive fig trees in Baltimore that are certainly unprotected. Fruit well too. I will have to get a picture in.
-Werner J Stiegler
I'm in wv too and if you still grow them I'd love to learn a few things about em. I realize this is a very old thread, but I figure it's still worth a try.
I do know ill be in Motown in July. I'm close to buckhannon.
[email protected] aol.com
gorgi, I live in zone 8 and there are many fig trees not hardy enough to go unprotected even here. some have no winter dieback but some do and I've lost some varieties in the past. I think the hardiness depends mainly on the background of the tree itself. Where it's genes come from. I have friends overseas with varieties we've never heard of in places you wouldn't think could grow figs. I've made trades with friends in denmark, Russia, and Hungary to name a few. some are extremely cold hardy varieties. I also have 1 tree from Israel that dies back to the ground even in a pot stored in building overwinter, while everything else comes out just fine. Our best bet is to keep commenting on what works and what doesn't. then we can draw a better conclusion on each plant's individual hardiness.
posted 2 years ago
I have a Chicago Hardy fig tree, in the attached photo, that I planted last spring. I know I'm on the edge of the climate where it will survive the winter, so I planted it in the most protected spot of the area available. Looking at it now, it looks like the tips of last year's growth definitely froze, but I think the tree is still alive.
My question is: how should I prune it? It was pruned when I bought it and none of the pruned branches had any new growth last year. I'm thinking at a minimum I should prune those off and prune back to where I think is the end of damaged areas on the new growth. Should I prune it back even further, such as back to the main limbs that new growth came off of last year? I've also seen people say to cut them back to the ground each year if you're growing them more as a bush then a tree, but I'm wondering if that would be applicable in cold climates with a shorter growing season. Any insign would be appreciated.
posted 2 years ago
Chicago Hardy Figs are probably one of the most cold hardy figs. What makes them cold hardy, is the ability of the tree, to die back to the ground level from freezing, and regenerate all new growth in the next growing season, all while still being able to produce a main fall crop. Figs can produce two crops, the early berba crop, and the later main crop. Every type of fig is different in the way and time it produces, between these two cropping options. The berba crop is from small immature fruits pollinated and carried over from the previous year. While the fall crop often referred to as the main crop is all flowered and developed that same season. Some fig varieties only produce mainly berba crops. While the cold hardy varieties sometimes can produce berba crops, the cold doesn't allow the immature fruit to carry over winter, so the productive varieties must produce a strong main crop. If you're in an area that pushes the boundaries of what the woody tree tissue can handel temperature wise, the benefits of cutting your tree down to the ground in late fall and early winter. Is that you can mulch over the stump and roots to better protect them from cold. It also keeps the cut wounds smaller, and easier for the tree to close without rot issues. When pushing the boundaries of survival for the Chicago Hardy Fig, growing a bush styles fig tree is the only option, as the freeze will kill the previous years growth. Even if you successfully grow it tree style, at some point, unusually cold weather will cause sever damage, creating a bush like tree. The bush like tree is just the chemistry responce of continually bening cut back or frozen back. The annual fall cutting it down, is a preliminary way of dealing with the impending problem, while alowing you to mulch over the stump and roots for better cold protection and better regrowth the following spring. The tree will continue to grow stronger underground, and get better at regrowth with age.
If it were me in regards to your pruning questions, I would prune off only the dead. You can just trim off whats obviously dead, down to buds orientated to help it grow in a proper structure for this year. If your climate will allow your tree to grow as a tree, then grow it as a tree. But if complete die back is inevitable, I wouldn't let your trunk wood go much beyont this next growing season, before cutting it down. Mulch over the trunk and roots every fall to protect them, and know if it grows without the dormant fall cut back. At some point, you will most likely be cutting freeze damaged deadwood, down to the ground in spring. The yearly cutting back in late fall, is like pollarging at ground level, and when pollarging its important to do annual pruning, and when training, to keep the cuts not much bigger then 1 inch. Those principles help protect the heart wood from rot, but in this case its the underground trunk mass and root structure you want to protect from rot.