Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Fig Trees Have Come Along Well

Remember the fig trees in containers I posted about back in early April?  I got them as one-year-old plants, and they were all just a bit more than 12" high.  Well, they've been roaring right along this year.  Just thought I'd post a picture to show you how much their pampered existence in the self-watering containers has agreed with them over the last five months.  (Click above to see what they looked like in April.)

Although I was told that small harvests of about a dozen figs per tree were possible this first year, we've yet to eat our first homegrown fig.  As you may recall, I bought three different varieties of fig.  The Verde set no fruit whatsoever.  The Neri began growing exactly one fig rather early, and it looked like it was going to a big one.  Then the fruit dropped off long before it ripened.  The Sicilian teased us by setting more than a dozen little figs rather late.  But they too all dropped off without ripening.  Sigh.  At least all the trees grew an impressive amount.  I wasn't really counting on any harvest at all until next year at the earliest.  From that perspective, even one ripe fig would have been an unexpected bonus. 

Fig trees can take light frosts.  These plants were outside from early April onwards, and we had several frosts that month.  They didn't even notice so mild a chill.  It's possible that the containers themselves provide enough retained heat to keep the leaves from frosting over.  Or perhaps it's the slight elevation that keeps the top of the plant above the coolest layer of air.  Our first frost of the fall usually comes in the first half of October, and these frosts can be harder than our late spring frosts.  So far we've dodged the frost bullet, but tomorrow night looks likely for our first.  I plan to pull the trees into the garage by the end of the month at the latest.

For most of this year the potted figs sat out where they got plenty of sun all day, but they weren't sheltered from any wind.  Now that our passive solar thermal system is finally completed, we have them snugged up to the south-facing wall of our garage, which does shield them from the wind. This will be their permanent home during the growing season from now on.  The shelter of the wall, the southern exposure, and a little extra reflected light will make them as happy as they can be in this climate.  We should see a decent crop next year if all goes well.

So far I'm pretty pleased with the fig tree experiment. They've been low maintenance, survived the heat, and have done well in containers.  I don't plan to allow them to much more than double in size from their current state.  And I imagine they'll reach that size by this time next year.  At that point the highest branches will still be within arm's reach for me.  So I think we can count on having three productive fruit trees in a very small space, and in a colder climate than would normally be possible for fig production.  If next spring isn't excessively crazy, I'll try starting some new saplings from the cuttings I make (plus the willow branch rooting hormone) during spring pruning.  It would be a kick to be able to offer fig seedlings to friends and family.

I'll update again next year, in spring if I try the seedling experiment, and certainly when we get our first harvests.  I can hardly wait!  I would certainly encourage others in the cooler hardiness zones, and those for whom only container gardening is possible, to consider the potted fig.


becky3086 said...

I will be interested to see if you get any figs. I have fig trees growing outside here in GA. They grow huge here. In about 3 years mine was over the roof of the house. Mine has grown about 6 years now and is way too large. I had to cut it back this year, still no fruit, that stays on until ripe but my neighbor gets plenty so I know it will eventually produce fruit(I got mine from starts from hers). I have two more trees growing in better light now. They have been growing 3 years and are about 5 ft tall. I have more hope for them than the other one which is tucked behind the house.
Good luck with yours. They really grow fast.

Phoebe said...

Great idea to keep them in containers! I just recently bought a small tree (read 30cm tall stick) and was wondering what to do with it because its so small and would get lost in the garden. I have a lovely large terracotta pots that it would look great in!
I haven't heard of those varieties here in Australia. Im interested to hear about the differences!

meemsnyc said...

The fig trees sure have grown. I've been on the look out for fig trees to buy in our area, but I was late in looking and the only ones I found were over $80! One was $20 but it looked so sad. So I'll have to wait until next year to pick one up. I can't wait to read about the tree progressing next year. Keep us updated!

Gardenatrix said...

It took me about three years to get my first figs off each tree. Now, I get dozens of pounds off the older one. So that isn't unusual at all. Just you wait!

EdgeWiseInAnnArbor said...

So, when do you plan on putting them in the garage for the winter? Or are you just covering them with burlap or something?

prue said...

Ahhh that gives me hope that my little Mr Fig Rwig might grow a bit over the Spring and summer. He is still a littl'un. Hopefully no fruit this year means a bigger better crop next year!

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

I feel the pain of your figlessness! We planted our Brown Turkey fig tree last spring. This year, it's about 5 feet high, and set about a half-dozen figs.

Two made it to ripe, and one of them fell off the tree before we could get to it. (The fact that some critter had nibbled it didn't stop me from eating the rest of it.)

We'll wrap the tree over the winter, and hope for at least 3 or 4 next year.

Kate said...

Becky, we had a fig tree at a rental in CA that was over the roof. It set lots of figs but never ripened them. The raccoons ate them underripe, while using the tree as an on-ramp for the roof superhighway. I'm hoping with the containers that I can keep the trees very happy and productive. We'll see...

Phoebe, containers are a good bet for small trees, even if you later want to plant them out. What sort of tree do you have?

meemsnyc, if you're in NYC and can make a run to Flemington, NJ, you can have your pick of at least a dozen varieties of fig. Google Bill's Figs for details. That's where I got mine. The ones I bought in April were $30 each and not sad looking.

Gardenatrix, I'm hoping we have figs sooner than that, but if I have to wait that long, well...I'd survive. In the meantime I think we'll have cherries and pears to console us.

EWIAA, third paragraph, last sentence. End of this month. ;)

Prue, I would expect to see pretty respectable growth this year. Pamper it with some worm tea or seaweed extract if you've got it. And remember that figs like a somewhat alkaline soil.

Tamar, critter nibbles don't deter me either, most of the time. They certainly wouldn't for a long awaited first fig. Here' hoping we both have fig gluts next year!

Kristi said...

This looks like a fantastic idea. Do you think it work work up here in Maine in zone 5?

Kate said...

Kristi, I certainly think it could work for you in Maine. The key is to get the trees in out of really severe weather, especially wind. They can take temperatures down to a little below freezing, but not in combination with wind. If you have an attached garage in your area, I'd bet that would be fine. If your garage or storage area is detached and gets much colder than that, try the other technique: wrap the trees carefully with strands of christmas lights. Plug them in anytime you think the temperature is going to get too cold. The lights are inefficient enough to put off quite a bit of heat. They'll protect the trees during the coldest weather.