Question: I planted a fig tree early this spring. How can I protect it so it survives the winter?
Answer: In New Jersey, many people successfully grow varieties of common figs like brown turkey, mission, celeste and black figs for years. However, fig trees are evergreen plants in warmer climates and need protection in most areas of the northeast to protect them from winter temperatures that fall below 15 degrees Fahrenheit.
Young trees can be damaged by early fall frost when the temperature is 25-27 degrees. The trees will lose their leaves during this time and must be protected from the dormancy season’s low temperatures to survive and flourish. In our area, the average first frost can be anywhere from mid-October in most of Atlantic and northern Cape May counties to late November in far southern Cape May County, so now is the time to think about protecting these trees.
Fig trees need to be insulated to prevent winter kill, and there are several methods that can help. Trees planted where soil and weather conditions allow them to keep their leaves into early winter should be planted in a wind-sheltered site that will protect them from drying wind and extremely cold temperatures. Close to a house or a backyard wall is best. However, the wood of even the most cold-resistant varieties and well-placed trees may be killed back to the ground by early winter temperatures that fall below 15 degrees. Fig trees can be wrapped with burlap or tar paper to protect them. Another method is to build a cage around the tree using chicken wire and filling it with either hay or composted mulch. Those living in coastal communities like Atlantic City and far southern Cape May county may find that a wind sheltered location is enough and wrapping is less necessary.
You can also grow fig trees in large pots so they can be moved to a greenhouse, garage or other protected area when the temperatures are expected to dip into freezing. Pots should be large enough to support the tree so you will need them to be 15-gallon or larger. When growing them in containers, growers should be aware that the roots can be killed if subjected to freezing temperatures.
In the late winter, fig trees will begin to break dormancy and need continued protection until the temperatures moderate to above 40 degrees and the danger of spring frosts has passed.
If you have more questions about figs, you can contact your local extension office. Atlantic County residents can contact the Master Gardener Helpline at 609-625-0056. Cape May County residents can call 609-465-5115, ext.3607.
Events: Atlantic County Master Gardeners will be available to answer gardening questions and take samples for plant identification or diagnoses throughout the county this fall. We will be available at the following Atlantic County Library branches evenings from 5:30 to 8 p.m. on the following dates: Somers Point Oct. 15, Nov. 19; Egg Harbor Township Oct. 16, Nov. 20; Mays Landing, Oct. 16, Nov. 14; Ventnor Oct. 16, Nov. 14; Pleasantville Oct. 21, Nov. 18; Egg Harbor City, Nov. 5; Hammonton, Nov. 6; Galloway Township, Nov. 7; and Brigantine, Nov. 13.
Are you interested in becoming a Rutgers Master Gardener? We are having an information session and preview class on October 23, 2019 at 10:00 am at the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Office located at 6260 Old Harding Highway, Mays Landing. Dr. Gary Pavlis, Atlantic County Agriculture Agent, will give a short preview class over Backyard Grapes. Certified Master Gardeners will be on hand to answer questions about the program and share their experiences. RSVP appreciated, but not required. Please call 609-625-0056.
Do you have a gardening related question you would like answered here? Please forward your questions to Belinda Chester, Master Gardener Program Coordinator, Rutgers Cooperative Extension Office, 6260 Old Harding Highway, Mays Landing, NJ 08330. You can also submit questions at Rutgers-atlantic.org/garden or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org; please include “garden question” in the subject line.