Rabbit Protection

Rabbit protection, a necessity

Sometimes when you do all that you can for protection of your fig trees from natural forces, nature and a rabbit will prevail somehow.

This winter was a rather harsh one. Snow was protection over the ground for over a month with several snow storms and frozen temperatures. Most winters in New Jersey have periods of snowfall where the snow melts completely between storms, but not this year. The result is that the wild rabbits in the area couldn’t feast on their usual meals such as grass, ornamental plants and bushes. It turns out that when their normal food sources are eliminated, they go after tree bark. But not any ordinary tree. They go after the sweet stuff, such as fig tree bark. Today, I looked out the window and noticed a white coloration on my trees as though the bark had been scraped off.

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Shaved fig tree bark eaten by rabbits
Shaved fig tree bark eaten by rabbits

So, I figured OK, some animal or bug has come in contact with my trees. I mixed up some whitewash (a 50/50 mix with water) and trudged through the deep snow to get to the trees. Once I reached them I saw extensive damage to the bark and evidence of rabbit droppings surrounding the trees. The rabbits chewed away at the smaller branches before zeroing in on the tough bark surrounding the main tree trunk. Some branches had the bark completely stripped clean.

Eaten fig tree with rabbit scat close to the tree
Eaten fig tree with rabbit scat close to the tree

I went ahead and painted all the affected areas to help prevent rot and insects while the weather warms up. It would be a miracle if the affected branches survive for the Spring season.

Gone are the days of a free-range tree

So, how would I protect the trees in the future? Since the affects of winter are generally unpredictable, I’d say that a way to protect the trees from future onslaughts from rabbits is to wrap the base of the tree with foil up to about 2-3 feet off the ground. I’m sure that other materials could be used such as burlap encased in plastic or simply surround the tree with Poultry Netting Mesh with a 2 foot radius that is at least 2-3 ft high. The wire is fastened together with Fence Posts. Rabbits can stand pretty tall when they get up on those hind legs.

Chicken wire protection from rabbits that works
Chicken wire protection from rabbits that works

After installing this chicken wire fencing, this problem never reproduced itself. Since then, this fencing material has been set in place because it also keeps the landscapers from whacking the tree with their weed whackers.

Life Emerges From Death

This tree was so badly damaged from the rabbits, that it didn’t survive. When the tree died, I cut down the trunk to a couple of inches from the ground and left the fencing in place with weeds growing where the tree was. Two years later, a fig tree began to grow from the original root system. Let this be a lesson learned that when a fig tree appears to be dead, the root system might be very much alive.

Young fig tree emerging from the roots
Young fig tree emerging from the roots
A young fig tree growing in cleared area
A young fig tree growing in cleared area

Killing Freeze

What is a killing freeze (hard freeze)?

A killing freeze is when temperatures fall to or below 28ºF for at least a week. Most trees can survive brief periods of 32ºF. The killing freeze weather condition can kill a young fig tree if not protected. You can’t always make the best judgement when a freak cold blast comes down from Canada.

When autumn emerges, a tree will gradually drop it’s sap down to the base of the tree to help protect the branches from the Winter season, while it remains dormant. The problem that usually occurs is an early Spring during the month of March. At this moment, the weather warms up and the tree begins to leaf out as the sap returns to the branches.

Fig tree leafing out as Spring returns avoids killing freeze
Fig tree leafing out as Spring returns avoids killing freeze

As the Spring season emerges, the climate goes through a thawing/freeze period. Sometimes when the month of April approaches, a killing freeze could drop down suddenly. So, it can be difficult to judge when to unwrap your young tree.

Killing freeze from experience

I once had a situation in Connecticut where I had a 3 year old tree that suffered from a killing freeze in the month of April. All the branches died off down to the trunk of the tree, but because it had a very deep tap root, it sprung back to life in June where the new trunk system grew to 6 feet in 3 weeks. The following Fall, I wrapped the tree to protect the new growth. If you have a similar situation with a shallow tap root, there’s less of a chance that your young tree will survive. If you want to learn more about wrapping your tree for Winter storage, then visit my Outside Living page and see suggestion number 4 on Winterizing.

Pests are Eating My Figs

Figs are a popular sweet treat in nature for both humans and the sneakiest pestspests

 

Figs are attacked by all sorts of pests and they do it ferociously as if the end of the world has come. They can drain the juices from the figs within a day or two. Although there is one thing that I noticed when hurricanes come to the region. The day afterward, the flies come. I don’t understand it, but the fruit begins to rot very quickly and this attracts the flies. Here are examples of the most common creatures that I’ve personally come across through observation.

Woodpeckers

Are probably the most damaging pests of all. They’ll just sit there pecking away, leaving holes in the figs. I’m not sure if they’re pecking at the insects or simply have a “sweet tooth”. I believe it’s the latter. If you have a woodpecker problem, I suggest you either run outside as fast as possible to get the ripe figs before the birds do, stand on guard with a BB gun, or simply surround your tree with a bird net. My choice would be the net.

White faced hornet

Sometimes known as the bald faced hornet. Workers arrive to eat the pulp inside the fig. They’ll stand their ground, so if you see a ripe fig next to their fig, it’s best to leave it alone until they leave. These hornets are peaceful creatures if you leave them alone. They’ll know you’re there if you’re watching them, but they won’t attack you like a wasp might. All they want to do is eat. If you disturb them, they’ll come and attack you with their nasty stinger leaving a most painful injection of venom.

Fig Wasps

These insects are not necessarily regarded as a pests, although their actions may cause the fig to ripen very quickly and the fig will lose its appeal. Before you know it, the fig will have dropped to the ground ready to germinate. Some figs require such a creature to pollinate the flowers deep inside.

Fruit flies

Fruit flies just appear out of nowhere and are always around. House flies seem to appear after a rain storm when some of the figs quickly begin to rot. Hurricanes are known to quickly rot your figs nearly overnight. The next day, the figs will be covered in fly pests. Occasionally, you might find a male mosquito drinking the nectar, while they pierce the skin of the fig. I’m not particularly excited about the fact that I’m feeding mosquitoes.

Some people claim that squirrels and raccoons are the pests, but I have yet to see them actually attack the fig trees.

If you see a spiderweb on your tree, keep it there. You’ll be thankful that such a predator has found the perfect place to hang their trap. Ladybugs are also helpful to help control the pests.

Training Your Fig Tree

How To Train Your Dragon

movie poster
movie poster

Training your tree, not a dragon

Training your fig tree, not training your dragons. Here are some basic examples on fig tree shapes. There are two common forms that a fig tree can be trained into: Single trunk [D], open vase type and the multi-trunk system [C]. Northeastern fig trees can be trained to grow from a single trunk when planted in a 200-hour chilling zone. You can control the trees through pruning. A winter frost that kills most of the branches, shows when a single trunk system should be used. To maintain the single trunk, be sure to cut away new growth that may appear at the base of the tree. Use a wooden stake, if necessary, to keep the trunk growing straight.

Natural approach

I am currently experimenting with the multi-trunk system. After my single-trunk trees died off due to weather and animal assaults, I let the trees grow back naturally and they grew as multi-trunks, I could not control this with one tree since multi-trunks grew from the sides of a single base trunk. My tree in Connecticut has a single trunk, but the branches are hugging the ground allowing additional roots to feed into the ground. The tree naturally formed this shape and it seemed like a defense mechanism from the very cold winter climates.

Training your fig tree
Basic tree illustrations


Rust spots or dead brown areas on leaves

Rust spots on your leaves

Rust beginning to form on leaf
Rust beginning to form on leaf

There are fungi that can attack your fig tree leaves. If you find large brown areas, or with a mold growing – immediately cut off the affected leaves and discard them so that the fungus will not spread throughout. Take note that there is a very dangerous common leaf mold pathogen called Rust. It mainly affects potted plants and can spread to your house plants. It will begin with small brown spots and gradually spread through the leaf. When you discover this type of infection, cut the leaf off and burn it.

This fungus generally appears following long rainy days without a chance for the leaves to dry under the sunshine. If you touch an infected leaf, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly before handling other plants. Sometimes if you see sporadic brown spots, on a few leaves don’t be alarmed. Rust will not kill your tree and you don’t have to remove all of the leaves. It’s best to monitor the brown spots carefully to assess the situation before of jumping to conclusions. Sometimes small brown spots can indicate that the plant suffered from lack of water following a yellowing of the leaves.

Solution

There are anti-fungal products available, though the most effective means of stopping the spread of this infection is by burning the leaf. I use a small propane torch with the leaf on a non-flammable surface while the leaf is still green.

Solutions to protecting leaves

Solutions are available for injured fig leaves. Fig trees in this area of the Northeast don’t have many pests. Once in a while, you’ll come across leaves being eaten or discolored. Sometimes you’ll find that nothing is eating the leaves or branches most probably because the sap (latex) is sticky and can be irritating (even to human skin). Other times, the problem might not be a pest, but a rust fungi infection.

Solutions:

One thing you can try is to stir up a mix of soapy water solutions and then spray it onto the leaves. You can use mild dish detergent. Dish detergent is generally a petroleum product, if this concerns you then use a biodegradable soap. You can find biodegradable soap solutions in camping stores and it’s much better for the environment. If it rains, reapply this soapy water. This is a common method of general plant care when it comes to pest control. Always resort to this method first before you consider other options. Another solution is to release ladybugs onto your tree and hope that they will eat the creatures that you can’t see.

There is a common pest called a Stink Bug. These bugs will lay a cluster of their eggs on fig tree leaves and the larvae will eat the leaves. If you have an infestation, solutions for this is to cut the effected leaves off of your tree and then burn them along with the larvae. Stink bugs are very difficult to eradicate and they were spreading throughout the Northeastern states 7 years ago. I haven’t seen any in my area since then.

These bugs were a problem in my neighborhood in 2010, but I haven’t seen any Stink Bugs for a long time. Maybe it was just a wave of a migration through the area or two of our very long cold winters eradicated them.

Stink Bug pests
Stink Bug walking on a leaf

Yellow, Wilted or Curling Leaves

Symptom: Yellow, wilting or curling

Yellow, wilting or curling leaves. This is a sign that your tree is dehydrated and needs water ASAP.

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Solution:

If the tree has been growing in the ground, place a garden hose directly at the base of the tree and let the water trickle over it for at least 1-2 hours. Watering a tree can be a daunting experience sometimes, so I bought this Drip Irrigation Water Rock. It might look ugly, but you can apply latex paint to it to change the color. In the meantime, it has a continuous water drip into the roots of the tree. If it’s a young freshly planted tree, continue to water it on a regular basis about once every 3 days (skipping on rainy days) until the growing season has ended.

It can also mean that there is a lack of nutrients in the soil. In this case, I recommend that you feed it some Miracle-Gro All Purpose Plant Food, 24-8-16. Follow the instructions when mixing this with water.

Lost Figs: Where are they?

Lost Figs, where are they?

Changes are that your figs are not in the lost and found at the police station. Knowing when the figs will grow and whether or not they’re being stolen or eaten by natures bugs and other critters is essential to being a backyard gardener.

  • Lost? Maybe the neighborhood kids or your landscapers are sneaking through your yard and eating your figs.
  • There’s no guarantee that you’ll see figs growing on your transplanted tree for the first 2-3 years.
    Lost figs transplanted tree
    Soil Filled Into Hole

    If you see figs, you’re either lucky or the person who supplied a fig tree to you did everything as right as possible to ensure fig production. But there can be margins of error. If you don’t see figs within the first 2-3 years, be patient and hope to see figs the next year. A friend said to me one day that when he doesn’t insulate his fig tree from the winter frost, he doesn’t have figs that year. I only follow this rule for the first year I plant the tree and leave it alone for the following Winter seasons if the tree is at least 5ft tall or the trunk is more than 3 yrs old. I like a thick trunk.

  • If you’ve had your fig trees for a while and you’re just not seeing figs growing, then here are steps to follow to force the tree to grow figs the next year. These steps will not guarantee fig propagation, but it’s a worthy experiment that has worked for me and other people.

Forcing Fig Growth

  • Follow the pruning procedures at item 6 in Outside Living.
  • When the tree begins to grow be sure to cut back any growth that wants to emerge from the base of the trunk.
  • While the new growth begins to emerge from the existing branches, only allow 6 leaves to grow from each branch. Beyond this point, pinch (clip) off the additional growth. This will force the tree to redirect energy from growing limbs to growing figs. Check on the limbs periodically because the tree may start to grow new branches at the base (armpit) of the leaf stems. If so, pinch these off. You’ll scratch your head thinking.. “But figgiriggi said not to prune during growing season.” For this situation, we’re not concerned about that. The pinched ends will dry quickly and then seal themselves off by the following day.
  • Check on the tree for new growth about once every 4 days.
  • Keep an eye out for rounded green bumps. Figs begin to emerge as small ball forms on very short stalks. Baby figs can be confused for leaves, but carefully compare the bumps with how the leaves form. Leaves form almost immediately at the base (armpit) of the leaf stems. Figs also form at the same location. If you’re not sure if you see a fig or not, wait another 4 days and then you’ll know.
  • You’ll have to tend to this for the entire growing season. It gives you an excuse to observe your tree when the neighbors see you out in the yard, otherwise they might think you’ve lost your mind.

If you give up, hopefully you won’t. Go to a nursery or online and buy new fig trees.

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