Outside Living

Growing outside is low maintenance

Fig tree on a mid-Summer morning
Fig tree on a mid-Summer morning

When you grow your fig tree outside, all you have to do is plant it and let it grow. Here are some suggestions to consider.

Watering

Watering trees outside as often as possible depends on your weather conditions. At least once every 3 days. If you have a lot of rain, your tree may grow at a rate of about 2-3 ft per season (without fertilizer). Mine grew 4 ft during the first year I planted it.

Training

Train your tree to grow outside with one base trunk (not like what you see in the photo above) by clipping off additional branches that grow from the base. See these Training tips. For pruning tips, scroll down to item number 6 on this page.

No Pesticides

I suggest that you not add pesticides outside if you can help it. Once figs begin to grow in the middle of June, they stay on the tree throughout the entire growing season until they become plump and juicy. Pesticides are poisonous because they’ll absorb into the figs and then bitten revealing a terrible cocktail. Peeling the skin off does not provide protection against consuming the chemicals.

Winterizing

Studies suggest following this step when trees grow up to 3 years or less than 5ft tall.

When the Fall season approaches after the figs have a harvest and all the leaves have fallen off, prepare the tree for Winterizing. To prepare, gardeners can insulate by surrounding the tree outside with garden stakes and either wrapping that with chicken wire then fill the interior space with leaves from other trees, wrap Frost King SP57/11C Water Heater Blanket, 3in Thick x 48in Tall x 75in Long, R10 around the stakes and then encase that with a TopSoon Plastic Mattress Bag for King / Queen, Size 78″ x 96″.

Styrofoam box encasing a fig tree and held together with wire.
Styrofoam box encasing a fig tree and held together with wire.

 

You may encase the fig tree in sheets of thick DOW Craft Styrofoam Foam Sheets, 2 x 24 x 48, (2 sheets) and then covering with plastic.

 

Fig tree insulated with water heater insulation and clear mattress bag.
Fig tree insulated with water heater insulation and clear mattress bag.

 

Wrapping with water heater insulation: use duct tape to wrap the plastic tight. Do not let any of this plastic touch the branches. I like water heater insulation because it does an excellent job with warming the tree and the exterior plastic keeps the fiberglass from spoiling. Insulation in good condition following the winter, reuse it next time. This insulation prevents the branches from freezing. You may also dig up the tree, lay it on its side on the ground, cover with burlap and dirt. But I don’t recommend it. I know all too well what happens when no insulation covering around the tree. Most of the time, the tree dies back and essentially has to start all over again with its growth if it doesn’t die entirely.

 

Note:

I’ve found that if the branches are a minimum 1/2 inch thick on a 3 yr old thick trunk, those branches will survive the Winter frost when you do not winterize the tree.

Pruning

Pruning timetables are set from February thru March. Spring arrives by April, but if the temperatures return to freezing wrap it back up. Between March and May, green growth should appear and all insulation separating even if outside temperatures reach upper 30s to mid 40s. Why bother pruning it when it looks fine the way it is? Your other question might be, why prune in February or March? After all those harsh cold months, the sap has fallen deep into the tree. Pruning it at this point will give you a clean-cut without sweet sap oozing out. Pruning causes it to grow more branches and therefore more figs. Once the form of the tree has been reached after the initial years of pruning, then there is no need for heavy Winter pruning.

How do you prune it? Look at the branches and you’ll notice bumps where new branches emerge from. Now look at the entire tree. Picture the shape of the tree in your head and remove only 1/3 of the tree from the top. Cut just above those bumps on the branches. If you’re cutting back an entire branch, cut it back only to about 2 inches away from the main branch or trunk.

During growing season let the tree grow and don’t prune the branches. Pruning during the growing season causes the sweet white sap or latex to ooze out of the branch. Sap attracts insects and all sorts of fungus that may rot the tree.

Suggestion:

Clear away branches in the center to allow sunlight to reach the entire tree when it grows. OK, now it looks like you are killing your tree. Don’t worry, it’s still alive.

Whitewashing

White wash on winter damaged wood
White wash on winter damaged wood. For pruning, just apply the white wash in the cut area. Wipe away excess with damp cloth.

Whitewashing is important for the cut the ends of the tree to prevent a hole from developing too soon at the center (branches have a soft center where the milky sap flows) of the branch, which can provide a haven for fungus and insects once dried. To white wash, mix 50/50 of water and Rust-Oleum 1990730 Painters Touch Latex, 1/2-Pint, Flat White paint and dab it on with these Plaid Foam Brushes, 44269 (3 Pack). I sometimes use white wash on wood that has the potential for winter weather damage or any other damage to the wood.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Fertilization

When To Apply Outside: Regular fertilizing usually applies to potted fig trees and when grown in sandy or clay soils. Readers usually purchase inexpensive soil pH testers without questioning on whether or not fig trees need fertilizer. Scientists say that the pH should read between 5.0 to 5.5 for potted trees and 6.0 to 6.5 for trees grown in the ground. I use a MoonCity 3-in-1 Soil Tester Kits, Soil Meter for Moisture, Light and pH / acidity Meter Plant Tester,Good for Gardener or Planter Both Indoor and Outdoors (No Battery needed). An example of this meter I like it because it comes with a convenient chart/guide on the back of the package.

Note:

Nitrogen fertilizers encourage foliage growth, but the fruit often ripens terribly, if at all. Fertilizer should only be used if the tree grew less than 1 foot the previous year. Application should be broken into 3-4 applications starting between March and May, then ending in July. To read more on this topic, see this Fig Fruit Facts website.

3-Way Soil Meter
3-Way Soil Meter

Natural Fertilizer

Depending on where people live in the Northeastern climates, their outside trees may begin to show leaves anywhere between April 1st to May 1st and then the cycle begins all over again. Gardeners are suggested to not add mulch to the tree at this point. Mulch can actually rot the base of your established fig tree after the first year of growth. Fig trees love water, but they also like well-drained soil otherwise they can rot. Readers have chosen The Dirty Gardener Dolomite Limestone – 2 Pounds chips when fertilizing. Some people claim that outside fig trees LOVE limestone for it’s slow release properties.

Researchers have no solid evidence that fig trees need excessive amounts of Ca or Mg. With that said, as mentioned above under the Fertilization topic, fig trees prefer a pH of 6.0-6.5 when planted in a mineral soil in your yard and 5.0-5.5 when in a pot. If your soil is very acidic, then you can buy the bag of dolomite lime mentioned above and sprinkle it around the base of the tree. Most of the time, there is no need to add limestone to the soil if it was from a potting mix or if you’ve added it when making a pine bark/peat based medium. Store purchased potting mixes are generally pre-limed with dolomite to a pH of 6.2. If you determined that your soil needs fertilizer, be sure to water the tree afterward to allow the nutrients to reach the roots.

Drought Conditions

During a dry spell or Summer drought conditions, water the tree outside everyday. If your town has restricted lawn watering use. Just use a Union Products 63065 Watering Can, 2 gal, Hunter Green and give the tree some water.

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17 thoughts on “Outside Living

  1. Hi, I have a fig tree that I have purchased last year . 1st year grew up to 12 in and begining of winter I winterized it pritty good I hope . This spring I took all the protection off and thinking it was ded I cut it down to 2-3” till I saw some green. Some green was showing on the stem. My question is if I kill it ? It’s a Chicago hardy. Thank you.

    1. It’s possible that your tree may have some life left in it. What you can try doing is encapsulate it by placing a plastic bag over the tree and pot. Be sure to stick a dowel or other stick under it to hold it up like a tent. Doing this creates a mini greenhouse. Spritz water into it to elevate the humidity and place it into the shade and wait 2 weeks. I once saved a tree by doing this. The tree was chopped down by some animal and the tree sprouted again.

  2. It seems that there is conflicting information on the desired pH of the soil. One early sentence recommends using the tester to insure a pH greater than 7. That is alkaline and would be caused by higher calcium / limestone applications. Further along, near the end, you seem to recommend an acidic soil with pH at 6 or below. I have read some university research recommendations to have the pH between 6 and 6.5. While that is slightly acidic, it is in a range that makes all soil minerals readily available to plants.

    1. Hello Charley, Thank you for your comment and concerns. I did write that fig trees prefer a pH of 6-6.5 when planted in the ground. It’s not conflicting information because I’m drawing a line between growing out in the yard vs growing in a pot. So, where is this university research that you speak of? Do you have a link for all to see? I would like to add that one of my potted fig trees is doing exceptionally well and it has a pH of 4.0.

    1. Hi Tyrone! I’m happy to see your comment. The Styrofoam box didn’t work out too well, because the person who assembled it, didn’t fasten the lid appropriately and then then wind blew it off, exposing the branches to the cold weather. After trying out other methods of winter protection for this tree in Connecticut, I ended up building a ShelterLogic structure. The tree is flourishing now.

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