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January 27, 2012

Grow a Fig Tree in your Midwest Landscape

-by Debra Anchors


Brown Turkey Fig Tree
I was pleasantly surprised today. I discovered that I could grow a fig tree in West Michigan. This 12- to 30-foot tree (or shrub) contributes eye-catching form to rural as well as urban gardens, especially in winter (USDA Zones 8-10) – where gnarled trunk and spreading limbs clothed with leaves stand silhouetted against an open sky. Dark green leaves shaped vaguely like human hands cast welcome shade on hot days and can grow large enough for a child to hide behind. No wonder Adam and Eve, aghast at their new-found nakedness, “sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons".

Despite their association with Moorish gardens in the Middle East, and other sultry environments, figs can flourish as far north as USDA Zone-5, with winter protection. Gardeners in regions where temperatures drop below 10°F wrap trunks and vulnerable branches in microfoam sheeting (the same material packagers use to protect breakable goods during shipment); a “coat” of burlap placed on top of the foam keeps the tree from heating up too much when sun hits the insulation. Other techniques for protecting figs in winter include severe pruning followed by a heavy blanket of mulch, or burial (after digging a trench adjacent to the tree, loosen the root ball, then lay the tree on its side inside the trench).

“A fig for a care, a fig for a woe!”
–John Heywood (1497-1580)
No matter where you plant them, figs should receive as much sun as possible; the south side of a building is ideal, as heat from the wall encourages the fruit to ripen quickly. Soil can be poor as long as it is well drained. After becoming established, figs would rather have too little water than too much. Feeding is unnecessary and can, in fact, be counterproductive, as excessive nitrogen encourages foliage growth at the expense of fruit. Figs should be pruned the first year or two during the dormant season to establish an open framework. In subsequent years, pinch back stems to redirect growth and maintain form.  Experts agree that short-jointed, sturdy shoots are the most fruitful.

Unlike peaches and pears, figs do not continue to ripen if harvested prematurely. This is why figs purchased at a supermarket never taste as good as fresh-picked ones. Low-acid figs are naturally high in vitamins A and C and offer a rich source of calcium and iron. Often, the only problem confronting cooks during harvest is an overabundance of fruit. The solution: dry the figs in the sun and then enjoy them throughout the coming months. Or, transform the excess into jam or chutney. Even the plants leaves can be put to use as “doilies” to decorate cheese or fruit platters. Based on such abundance, it’s no wonder figs make great gifts.

Secure in the knowledge that my gardens are now considered to be in the Zone 6a growing area, due to the updated USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, I believe I will include a ‘Brown Turkey’ Fig Tree in my planting plan this spring.





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-Debra

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14 comments:

  1. I planted my first fig tree this last summer, Chicago Hardy. I am hoping it will last the winter, and I will have figs soon. I have enjoyed your garden musings so much so that I have nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award in my last post. Thanks for such good reads.

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    1. Thank you very much for your nomination, Michelle; I am honored.

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  2. I can't decide whether to plant a fig tree or not as I know they can become quite invasive - maybe I would have more control if I grew one in a container -to be honest you don't really see them for sale anywhere so I may have to check suppliers out for this area.

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    1. I plan to plant a Brown Turkey Fig in a very large container, Elaine, because I have read that their roots can become a problem in urban areas. Also, I can then relocate it if it becomes necessary. I did find an out-of-area source to share with you - Martha's Secrets Plants.

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    2. Pruning is the answer, the more you prune the more control you have in shaping the tree.

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  3. I just planted a Brown Turkey fig tree last year, but it's in a bad spot. I really need to move it! However, I'm looking forward to eating figs and hope I get to them before the critters do! Great info.

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  4. Thanks, HolleyGarden - I hope it works for you. I think it would be quite lovely to grow a fig tree here, if only for the giant leaves and the fruit benefit to "the critters".

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  5. I've had a Fig Tree growing in a large pot for a few years but I doubt if I shall get any fruit in the Irish climate.

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    1. Bridget, I have read that the roots of a fig need a lot of room; is it possible your fig needs a larger pot? In a sunny spot, I hope you have good luck!

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  6. Thank you so much, I grew up in Alabama and loved figs. I've been in South Central Michigan for 13 years and have just become a gardener. I'm afraid it's too late to plant a tree this year but I am absolutely going to plant one next year!

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    1. Oh Penny I don't think you're too late! If you can find a fig tree hardy to zone 6A this late in the season you will be safe planting it in Sept, Oct, or Nov - the very best time to plant a tree in Michigan). Good luck and I'm so happy I could help! -Debra

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  7. Will the Brown Turkey Fig winter well without much care or will it too need to be covered? I am in a 6A zone as well.

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  8. Thank you so much for your information and video.

    My wife and I recently planted two fig trees in our yard here in San Clemente, Ecuador. Like everything else we have planted here, we are amazed at how quickly the trees are growing. We do not have winter, nor does it get cold at night, so the plants grow well all year long.

    Thanks again for your great site and helpful information regarding the ants. I will avoid putting the petroleum jelly directly on the trunk!

    John and Mary

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