Chicago hardy fig trees

Chicago Hardy Fig Tree

Fresh, Delicious Figs…Even at -10 Degrees

Why Chicago Hardy Fig Trees?

No matter how cold it gets, the Chicago Hardy Fig Tree will never let you down. Why? For starters, the Chicago Hardy can literally freeze over and still come back strong the following spring, producing bushels of plump, delicious figs.

And you get a ton of fresh fruit. Perfect for peeling and eating right off the tree in late summer to early fall, you’ll be enjoying these amazing figs in your first season after planting. The numbers may surprise you: Your Chicago Hardy will yield as many as 100 pints of figs each season!

Why Fast-Growing-Trees.com is Better

Aside from the versatility in use you get from your delectable figs, whether they’re tossed into salads, added to oatmeal or wrapped in prosciutto for an unforgettable appetizer, our Chicago Hardy Fig offers proven performance. Because we’ve planted and grown each of our trees for success, along with healthy roots and developed branching, you get amazing results in your own landscape.

We’ve done the hard work so you don’t have to. Now, you’ll reap the rewards of our painstaking processes at the nursery. Order your Cold Hardy Fig Tree today!

Planting & Care

1. Planting: Keep in mind that Fig Trees perform best in full sun (6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day). They can tolerate shade, but prefer full sun and need protection from harsher winter winds. Fig Trees grown in containers should be placed by large, sunny windows if kept indoors. And as always, well-drained soil is ideal.

Once you’ve selected the perfect planting site, dig a hole that’s three times wider than your tree’s root ball and just as deep. Position your tree and make sure it’s level with the surrounding ground and standing straight up. Begin to back fill your hole and gently tamp the soil down to eliminate air pockets from forming. After the planting process is complete give your fig tree a slow, deep watering by holding a hose at its base and counting to 20. Finally, mulch around the base to conserve soil moisture.

For container trees, select a container that’s slightly larger than the root ball (2 sizes larger than the initial container the fig came in works best). Add a mixture of potting soil and organic planting mix to the container before you place your tree in it. Make sure your tree stands straight up in its container and give it a good drink of water until you see water coming out the bottom of the pot. If your pot doesn’t contain drainage holes, you can quickly add some with a small drill.

2. Watering: Fig Trees have a fair drought tolerance. Once established, they will need a deep watering once every one to two weeks. Feel your soil – if it feels like it’s drying out close to the surface, then it’s time to water your tree. Trees kept in containers will often need more water than those planted in the ground. Water your trees more often during times of extreme heat or prolonged droughts.

3. Fertilizing: Usually Figs don’t require any fertilizing, but if you feel you need to bolster your tree’s growth, it’s best to do so in the early spring. Use a slow-release, well-balanced organic fertilizer, like formula 10-10-10.

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What Is A Hardy Chicago Fig – Learn About Cold Tolerant Fig Trees

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. Meet the Chicago Hardy fig. 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.

What is a 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 of fig fruit per season and are easily grown and maintained.

How to Grow Chicago Hardy Fig Trees

All figs thrive in organically rich, moist, well-draining soil in full sun to partial shade. Chicago figs 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.

When the Indonesian island volcano Krakatoa erupted in 1883, the waves it sent forth crashed into Bantam, some 50 kilometers away in western Java, and flattened forest for a distance of more than 300 meters inland. All that remained standing, said French scientists who visited a year later, were tall fig trees, their bare branches reaching skyward.

Back on Krakatoa there was no trace of life. Much of the island had vaporized, and what was left was buried under a 60-meter deep blanket of ash. Yet before long, several species of fig trees grew there too. They had arrived as seeds defecated by wandering birds and bats. They soon produced figs that drew in more flying animals, which in time carried the seeds of dozens of other tree species. And so, from black lava, a forest grew anew.

The physical strength, resilience and animal magnetism of fig trees are powers we can tap as we grapple with the Earth’s fast-changing climate. As my new book Gods, Wasps and Stranglers* shows, humanity has long benefited from these trees as sources of materials and medicines, food, shade and security. As the world warms, we may need them more than ever.

That’s certainly true in the Indian state of Meghalaya, the most rain-soaked inhabited place on Earth. The Khasi and Jaintia people who live in the forested hills there train the aerial roots of Ficus elastica fig trees into living nets that prevent landslides and living bridges that save lives when monsoon rains turn streams into raging torrents.

Some of these bridges are thought to be centuries old. By contrast, steel suspension bridges last just a few decades. Bangalore-based architect Sanjeev Shankar says fusing fig roots with steel bridges could create stronger, longer-lasting hybrid structures. He also thinks people in other countries could use the living roots of their own local Ficus species to create structures that build resilience to extreme weather.

But fig trees aren’t only valuable in wet places like Meghalaya. They are also helping people adapt to the growing threat of drought. Farmers in Ethiopia, for instance, are embracing a fig species called Ficus thonningii. These trees need no irrigation, yet their leaves provide vital moist fodder for livestock. They enrich the soil with leaves that fall and decay, and they improve the growth of crops planted in their shade instead of the blazing sun.

Research by Mulubrhan Balehegn and colleagues at Mekelle University shows that planting this species instead of the usual fodder crops can boost production by 500 percent, while reducing inputs of water by 95 percent. Goats that eat the fig tree’s leaves produce more and better quality meat than those given only commercial feed.

Over the past decade, Balehegn and his colleagues have encouraged 20,000 households to plant this tree. They hope farmers will follow suit in the 33 other African countries where Ficus thonningii grows, and urge people to take similar approaches with fig trees in arid areas of India and China.

Crucially, planting fig trees doesn’t just improve livelihoods and help people adapt to the changing climate. By storing carbon, the trees can also play a part in slowing the rate of warming. All trees store carbon as they grow, but—as on Krakatoa—fig trees also encourage the growth of other tree species because their figs attract a diverse range of seed dispersers. In Costa Rica, Thailand and South Africa, researchers are harnessing this power by planting fig trees to accelerate reforestation on logged and mine-scarred land.

Elsewhere, people have traditionally used the presence of Ficus species to divine water, helping them decide where to plant crops or dig wells. Others have planted, or left standing, large fig trees as natural umbrellas against the heat, or have stored dried figs to turn to in times of drought and famine.

In fact, fig trees were among the first plants people domesticated. They have been helping people survive in hot and arid lands for thousands of years. As the world warms, the edible fig (Ficus carica), now grown in at least 70 countries, will grow in importance.

Rising temperatures also pose challenges to fig trees and the tiny wasps they depend on to pollinate their flowers. But this relationship between the plants and their pollinators has endured for 80 million years longer than humans have walked the Earth. The fig trees survived the extinction event that saw off the giant dinosaurs, and lived through periods warmer than what we experience today.

By contrast we are new here. Our future is made insecure by the slow pace at which we are removing carbon from the atmosphere, and our limited capacity to adapt to the resulting climatic change. The good news is that fig trees can help us to do both.

*UK title: Ladders to Heaven

How To Grow Figs

Learn how to grow fig trees like this ‘Papa John’ Ralph Lee Anderson

Every garden should have a fig tree. These iconic plants produce delicious fruit with flavors best experienced ripe from the tree. “Taste and beauty are fleeting things,” says fruit expert Dr. Arlie Powell, professor emeritus at Auburn University. “You have to enjoy them while you can.”

How To Choose Fig Trees
Figs are self-fruitful, so you need only one plant to produce fruit. Mature fig trees can be 15 to 30 feet tall. If you have more room, plant several. Choose early-, mid-, and late- ruiting selections to extend your harvest from summer into early fall. Some figs will produce bonus fruit early in the season, called a “breba” crop, as well as the main crop. Figs can vary in size, shape, flavor, texture, and time of harvest and can be black, green, brown, violet, yellow, or purple.

Where To Plant Fig Trees
Fig trees thrive in the heat of the Lower, Coastal, and Tropical South. Plant near a wall with southern exposure in the Middle South so they can benefit from reflected heat. In the Upper South, go with cold-hardy selections, such as ‘Brown Turkey’ and ‘Celeste.’ You can grow figs in big pots and protect them during the winter by storing them in a cool garage or basement. During the first year, as plants become established, water regularly and mulch. Once established, figs can be very drought tolerant. Fertilize with a food such as Espoma Citrus-tone (5-2-6) in late winter and early spring.

How To Harvest Figs
Arlie says full sun is key for an abundant harvest and the sweetest fruit. When fruit is developing, it’s important to water regularly. Check daily, and pick just as they ripen. To deter birds from eating your fruit, hang reflective tape or plant figs that stay green when ripe such as ‘Marseilles’ or ‘Green Ischia.’ Clean up fallen leaves and fruit in autumn to discourage pests and disease.

For a good selection of fig trees, visit your local nursery or buy plants from petalsfromthepast.com, justfruitsandexotics.com, johnsonnursery.com, and almostedenplants.com.

Home Garden Figs

Circular 945 View PDF picture_as_pdf

G.W. Krewer, Extension Horticulturist
Floyd Hendrix, Plant Pathologist

  • Purchasing Plants or Propagating Your Own
  • Fruiting or a Lack of Fruiting
  • Soil Preparation and Planting
  • Varieties
  • Training and Pruning
  • Fertilization and Watering
  • Fig Diseases
  • Additional Information

Most people are fond of figs and rightfully so. They are very tasty and can be eaten fresh, preserved, or used for baking and making desserts like ice cream. Figs will do well in most parts of Georgia except the mountainous areas (see map.)

Sections of Georgia Suitable for Fig Culture

Site and Soil Requirements

Figs will grow in many types of soils, but they need a site free of root-knot nematodes. Contact your county agent for information about testing your soil for nematodes. In the colder areas of the state, the ideal site is the south side of a building. Cold injury will be further reduced if the fig does not receive direct sunlight early in the morning or late in the evening during the winter months. However, the site should receive a minimum of eight hours of sunlight daily during the growing season.

Purchasing Plants or Propagating Your Own

Fig trees from nurseries may be grown in the field and sold bare-rooted or grown in containers and sold in the container.

Because considerable confusion exists about fig variety names, order fig plants only from reputable nurseries in the Southeast. Never purchase or attempt to grow the kinds of figs grown in California. They require pollination by a tiny wasp that cannot survive under Georgia?s climatic conditions. The only types recommended in Georgia are the common ones that produce only female flowers and set fruit without cross-pollination.

Figure 1. Figs propogated from hardwood cutting six months after cutting.

Fig trees are easy to propagate, and a home planting can be started at very little expense. The simplest and easiest method of propagating figs is by stem cuttings from an older bush. Make cuttings in late February. The cutting should be 8 to 10 inches long from 1-year-old wood. The upper end should be cut just above a node. Tips and soft growth do not root satisfactorily. Set the cuttings directly in the nursery row in well-drained and well-prepared soil. The cutting length governs the planting depth. Cuttings should be planted so only one bud is exposed and spaced 10 inches apart in the row (see Figure 1). In case of dry weather, watering will aid the growth of the cuttings. These cuttings root early, grow rapidly and make good trees for permanent planting in the fall.

Figs may also be propagated by rooted side shoots. Shoots below the ground?s surface frequently root; they may be separated from the parent bush and transplanted.

Figs can also be propagated during the growing season by rooting leafy cuttings under mist, or by air layerage. The use of these procedures, however, is seldom warranted.

To make an air layer, a ring of bark ¾ inch wide should be removed from a large twig or small branch. Moist sphagnum moss should be placed over the wounded area and covered with polyethylene film, and the film should be tied at both ends.

Fruiting or a Lack of Fruiting

If you look for blossoms on your fig tree, you probably won?t find them — they are inside the fruit.

A number of conditions may cause the fruit not to ripen or to drop prematurely. The following are the most common in Georgia in order of importance:

  1. Young, vigorous plants and over-fertilized plants will often produce fruit that drops off before maturing. If the plants are excessively vigorous, stop fertilizing them. Quite often, three or four years may pass before the plant matures a crop because most figs have a long juvenile period before producing edible quality fruit. If the distance between the nodes (leaves) on the current season?s shoots is more than 3 inches, the plant is probably excessively vigorous.
  2. Dry, hot periods that occur before ripening can cause poor fruit quality. If this is the case, mulching and supplemental watering during dry spells will reduce the problem.
  3. The variety Celeste will often drop fruit prematurely in hot weather, regardless of the quality of plant care. However, it is still one of the best varieties.
  4. An infestation of root-knot nematodes can intensify the problem when conditions are as described in items 2 and 3 above.
  5. You could have a fig plant that requires cross-pollination by a special wasp. If this is the case, then it will never set a good crop. The best way to resolve this is to replace the plant with one from a rooted shoot of a neighbor?s plant you know produces a good crop each year. This is a rare problem.

Soil Preparation and Planting

Soil preparation should always include a preplant soil test. If your soil pH is low, adjust the pH to 5.5 to 6.5 with dolomitic limestone. Spread the limestone evenly over the entire area where the figs will be planted, then till the soil. If possible, till at least a 6-foot by 6-foot area where each bush will be planted at least 8 inches deep.

Figs grown in the bush form may be set as close as 10 feet apart in the row and 15 feet apart between rows. Figs grown in tree form should be set 15 to 20 feet apart in the row and 20 feet apart between rows. Plant fig trees while they are dormant. In warm areas, bare-rooted trees can be set out in fall or early winter. In middle and northern Georgia, it is best to set them out in spring after danger of hard winter freezes have passed. Container-grown plants can be transplanted later than bare-root plants.

Before planting a bare-root tree, prune about one-third of its top, unless it was topped by the nursery. Container-grown plants can be transplanted without being pruned; just remove them from the container, spread their roots, and set them in the planting hole.

Set trees in the planting hole 4 inches deeper than they were in the nursery to encourage low branching for bush form. Fill the hole with soil; water heavily enough to settle the soil around the roots. Do not apply fertilizer in the hole at planting.

Varieties

There are many varieties of figs available, but only a few are well adapted to Georgia. If you want to try to grow figs in the mountains, select a protected site and try Celeste or Hardy Chicago. In addition, some varieties such as Brown Turkey will produce some figs on the current season?s growth after being killed to the ground by a freeze. In the Piedmont, Celeste, Hardy Chicago, and Conadria are fairly well adapted. South of the Fall Line, any of the varieties listed can be grown, but Celeste and Conadria are two of the best. If you would like to extend the season with a late ripening variety, plant Alma.

Fig Varieties for Georgia
Variety Color of Fruit Size Quality of Fruit
For Fresh Use For Preserving
Alma Greenish brown Small Very good Good
Brown Turkey Bronze Medium Good Excellent
Celeste Lt. brown to violet Small Very good Excellent
Green Ischia Bright green Medium Good Good (seeds objectionable)
Hunt Dull bronze with white specks Small to medium Good Excellent
Kadota Bright greenish yellow Small to medium Fair Excellent
LSU Purple Reddish to dark purple Medium Good ?
Magnolia Bronze with white flecks Medium Fair Excellent

Training and Pruning

Although fig plants can be trained to either tree or bush form, the tree form is not practical for the Piedmont area of Georgia. In this region, fig plants are frequently frozen back to the ground, making the tree form difficult to maintain.

Bush form is generally recommended for other areas of the state as well. In the bush form, more of the fruit will be closer to ground level and easier to pick.

Begin training to bush form at the time of planting by cutting off one-third of the young plant. This forces shoots to grow from the base of the plant. Let these shoots grow through the first season. Then, late during the winter after the first growing season, select three to eight vigorous, widely spaced shoots to serve as leaders. Remove all other shoots.

Be sure the leaders you select are far enough apart to grow to 3 to 4 inches in diameter without crowding each other. If they are too close together, the leaders cannot grow thick enough to support themselves and their crop, and they tend to fall over or split off under stress of high winds. If this happens, remove the damaged leader and select a new one late the next winter by choosing one of the many suckers that arise annually.

If more branching is desired, head back the bush each spring beginning the second year after planting, after danger of frost is past but before growth has started. Do this by removing about one-third to one-half the length of the last year?s growth.

Also, prune all dead wood and remove branches that interfere with the leaders? growth. Cut off low-growing lateral branches and all sucker growth that is not needed to replace broken leaders.

Do not leave bare, unproductive stubs when you prune. These stubs are entry points for wood decay organisms. Make all pruning cuts back to a bud or branch.

Fertilization and Watering

Recommendations for South Georgia

Fertilizing: Fig trees grow satisfactorily in moderately fertile soils with limited fertilizer. But fertilizer is needed in soils of low fertility or where competition from other plants is heavy.

Although nitrogen is usually the only needed plant nutrient, other nutrients may be lacking in some areas. If your soil is not very fertile, follow these general guidelines:

  • Use a fertilizer with an analysis of 8-8-8 or 10-10-10.
  • Apply fertilizer three times a year to bushes you are trying to bring into full production: early spring, mid-May, and mid-July. Mature bushes can be fertilized just once a year in the early spring.
  • Fertilize newly set bushes with about 1½ ounce of fertilizer at each application. Spread the fertilizer evenly over a circle 18″ in diameter with the bush in the center. On second-year bushes, increase the amount of fertilizer to 3 ounces at each application and the diameter of the circle to 24″.
  • On bushes 3 to 5 years old you are trying to bring into full production, apply 1/3 pound per foot of bush height per application. If the fruit are not reaching maturity and ripening properly, excess fertilizer or drought may be the problem; fertilization should be reduced.
  • Mature bushes 6 years and older should be fertilized once a year in early spring. On bushes spaced 10 feet apart, apply ½ pound of fertilizer per foot of height, up to 5 pounds per year. On bushes spaced 20 feet apart, apply 1 pound of fertilizer per foot height, up to 10 pounds per year. Scatter the fertilizer evenly under and around the bush. A satisfactory amount of shoot growth for mature plants is about 1 foot per year.

Watering: For highest yields, figs need watering throughout the summer. The frequency and the amount of water depends to a large extent on the soil. As a rule of thumb, 1 to 1½ inches of water per week from rain or irrigation is adequate. Yellowing and dropping of leaves may indicate drought.

In lawns, the grass beneath fig plants may wilt in the heat while the rest of the lawn does not. This indicates the figs need water. Figs grown with lawn grasses may require one or more waterings a week during hot, dry periods.

Mulching: Figs respond well to mulching with organic materials. Mulch may reduce the effects of nematode problems.

Recommendations for North Georgia

Winter injury in figs is directly related to the amount of vigor. A vigorous, fast-growing plant is easily killed by low winter temperatures in the Piedmont. If figs are frequently winter injured in your area, halve the fertilization recommendations.

If you are attempting to grow figs near the mountains, limited fertilizer should be applied to make the plants as cold hardy as possible.

Fig Diseases

Nematodes

Figure 2.

Root-knot nematodes are the leading killer of fig trees in South Georgia. Root-knot shares this honor with cold damage in North Georgia. An on-the-spot diagnosis of root-knot infection is possible. Dig up a few roots and look for the characteristic galling caused by the nematode (Figure 2). There is NO other similar problem in figs.

Root-knot nematode infected fig trees CANNOT be cured with chemical treatment. Pruning the tops to balance with the weakened root system and attentive watering and fertilization may prolong the life of root-knot infected fig trees. Usually, however, they will die sooner or later regardless of the care they receive.

In planting a new fig tree, select a site as far as possible from any old garden sites. Take a nematode sample in this site. If root-knot nematodes are present, do not plant figs.

Rust

Fig rust attacks the leaves, usually in late summer. Severely infected leaves turn yellow-brown and drop. The underside of the fallen leaves will have numerous small, somewhat raised, reddish brown spots. These spots are often covered with a dusty golden-yellow mass of rust spores.

Fig rust is usually not fatal, but repeated epidemics will weaken the plant. In any given year, heavy leaf drop from rust will reduce size and quality of the fruit.

Gather all infected leaves from the ground under the bushes in the fall and remove them from the area.

Souring

Fig fruit souring is caused by yeasts spread by insects. Souring becomes noticeable as the figs begin to ripen. A souring fig will often show gas bubbles, scummy masses oozing from the eye, or both. These figs will give off an offensive fermented odor. Souring cannot be controlled with chemical sprays. The only control is to grow fig varieties that have a tight or closed eye that prevents insects form entering the fig fruit.

Pink Blight

Pink blight appears as a dirty white to pale pink velvety growth on dying and dead twigs. It usually occurs in the interior of the tree. Remove infected branches and prune the tree to allow good air movement within the tree.

Leaf Blight (Thread Blight)

Leaf blight is another fungus disease that attacks leaves and fruit. Infection may start as a semicircular brown spot at the base of the leaf. Some leaves shrivel and die; others may be covered with brown spots that break out to leave irregular holes. During hot, wet weather, leaves can die and drop very quickly. Dead leaves are often matted together and held to the tree by threadlike strands similar to spider webs.

Additional Information

A good source of information for fig enthusiasts is North American Fruit Explorers, 1716 Apples Road, Chapin, IL 62628.

Status and Revision History
Published on Apr 01, 1999
Unpublished/Removed on Feb 24, 2009
Published on Apr 20, 2009
Published with Full Review on Apr 25, 2012
Published with Full Review on May 25, 2017

Hardy Chicago Fig

Ficus carica

A brown fig, rich and sweet. Good for potted culture, although it is our most dependable outdoor fig. Hardy Chicago ripens its figs from August until fall frost and will have some fruit in July. Has produced as many as 100 pints of figs in one season. Does extremely well in NC and we send this one to enthusiasts up north, because of its early fruiting tendency. Success will vary with every location, so be sure to give it the warmest, most protected place. It’s our best fig and came to our attention in the 1970’s when cuttings for propagation came from Fred Borne, a North American Fruit Explorer member. Cuttings were supplied to him from a man from Chicago with a “U” shaped house, from a bush he had protected for some years. Without protection the mature bushes top would die back from winter cold, but sprouted from the roots and ripened some figs at the end of the season. Most fig varieties do not share this trait. Usually, a fig’s above ground growth must survive the winter in order to fruit the following season. Leaves are the 5-lobed type and the plant has a bush form in the east. Space 8′ to 10′ circle in Zone 7. Zones 6-8.

Plant Characteristics
Pest Resistance Very Good
Disease Resistance Very Good
Drought Tolerance Very Good
Heat Tolerance Excellent
Humidity Tolerance Fair
Sun Tolerance Excellent
Wet Soil Tolerance Fair
Shade Tolerance Fair
No Spray Good
Salt Tolerance Good
Fresh for Kids Excellent
Deer Resistance Good
Thorns No
Plant Type Shrub
Soil Type Well Drained
Edible Type Fruit
Self Fertile Yes
This information is accurate to the best of our knowledge, comments/opinions are always welcome

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