Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Posted by Kate at 1:55 PM
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.