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What's the most cold hardy fig variety?

 
pollinator
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Does anybody know of a fig tree that can stand the cold better than hardy Chicago? I’m 90 miles south of Kansas City. My tree dies back every year but still produced around 30 good figs last year. I’d sure like to find one just a bit hardier.  

I did get 18” of trunk to survive the winter, so maybe that will be hardier. It also grow back faster and bigger every year.
 
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Possibly Michurinska (Michurinska-10, a.k.a. Florea) ?

https://mountainfigs.net/varieties/varieties-a-l/florea/

https://www.ourfigs.com/forum/figs-home/3668-florea

Over here it got planted as a young plant just in time to catch 2 consecutive years of hard spring frosts and finally a year with a crazy warm January followed by a freezing February (lost 3 mature peach trees, a mature Violetta = kind of Brown Turkey fig, some buddleia bushes and even some rugosa roses during this winter). It seems to be in good shape.
 
Ken W Wilson
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That sounds great! Thanks! I didn’t find a supplier with a quick search. I will look for it.

I ordered a Marseilles because the description said it slow it’s growth and hardens up in the fall. Not sure if it is a good option or not. My tree is as green as a tomato plant when freezing weather hits.  We sometimes get a freeze before a frost.
 
Crt Jakhel
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One of the good points of Florea/Michurinska is that it presumably is able to grow maincrop figs in the same year after having been frozen. To what extent that's true I'll only be able to tell you firsthand in a couple of years when our little plants grow up sufficiently. And if I'm never able to tell you because we don't get any more nasty frosts, that's okay too

Michurinska is widespread in Eastern Europe. In the US I believe it's somewhat rare. Maybe you could consult Ebay, I've seen quite some cases of fig cuttings for sale (haven't looked for a while though) and the sellers were mostly from the US. Or look up sources in the ourfigs forum, whether from members themselves or commercial offerings that they know about.

Here's a guy that grows a gazillion varieties of figs, among them Florea, and is offering to air layer them on demand (in limited quatities): https://willsfigs.com/p/air-layers - he's from Florida, a very different environment, so the parent tree would be used to friendlier conditions, but in the end a Florea is a Florea anywhere.
 
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you may know this, but another thing you could do is bury them each year.

either dig a bunch around their root area and then actually pick them up/ push them over...or take the lighter flexible branches and keep bending them to the ground, ground layering them.

people do this growing figs in new england, usually dig up the root ball area, then make trench for the main trunk, and push the whole tree over for the winter.
and then cover the whole thing in soil/straw/leaves/etc.

then they reverse the process in spring, stand it back upright.

i would do similar, but then just keep it buried, and keep burying lower branches...
and make it into a multi branched shrub/hedge eventually...keep bringing it back to the ground each year before winter.

additionally, the whole *plant the tree at same level as ground* rule of green thumb - doesnt apply to fig. you can just keep mounding dirt/mulch on top of them, keep burying the stems, and mound it up.
it doesnt hurt the stems, the just form new roots where you bury them, and this helps the roots get deeper by adding tons of stuff around them each year.

this makes the roots hardier.
 
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just keep it buried, and keep burying lower branches...
and make it into a multi branched shrub/hedge eventually...keep bringing it back to the ground each year before winter.

additionally, the whole *plant the tree at same level as ground* rule of green thumb - doesnt apply to fig. you can just keep mounding dirt/mulch on top of them, keep burying the stems, and mound it up.
it doesnt hurt the stems, the just form new roots where you bury them, and this helps the roots get deeper by adding tons of stuff around them each year.

this makes the roots hardier.

 This sounds like a phenomenal idea!  It's like a living hugulkultur in a way.  
 
Ken W Wilson
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I’ve started to lay some of the multiple trunks down to bury them. They seem too brittle. I wonder if it would still work if they crack a little. There are about 8 trunks, so I guess I might as well try to bury a couple this fall.

The root ball is too big and spread out to dig up. Some of the trunks are 3’ apart. They actually got 8’ tall last fall, after having froze to the ground. About 80 percent of the figs didn’t mature before freezing.

One year I used pipe insulation. That was sad because the trunk survived the cold and started to grow then died back because it was girdled with mold.


Thanks, everybody!

 
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Ken, I'd love to get an update and hear how everything is going. I plan on growing some figs in the Mound City area (Kansas zone 6a), and it sounds like that might be in your neck of the woods.

I have an in-ground Hardy Chicago, and I am currently rooting cuttings for Ronde de Bordeaux, and an unknown variety. I also just ordered some Italian 258 cuttings.
 
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Look up step over espalier.

Here in Maine I just wait for the bushes to drop their leaves after it gets into the 20s and then pin them to the ground.  I usually use bags of cedar mulch to cover them and as soon as the snow melts off them in the spring I pull the bags off.  I have 9 varieties in ground and it works for all of them.  Biggest issue is mold as the old saying goes "More lost to mold than cold".
 
Ken W Wilson
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We had a really cold, wet spring. My fig trees are healthy, but I’m not sure if any of the fruit will ripen before it gets cold again. It’s going to be close.
 
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I came looking for this thread because I fear (it's a little too soon to say for sure) that our record cold temps in February (-13F, coldest ever recorded in this county by a degree) may have terminated about seven years worth of my local fig experiments.  I have one cutting that I took from a sure-to-die-back stem last fall and rooted indoors, but my three in-the-ground trees and half a dozen outside container trees aren't showing the usual spring signs of life yet.  I didn't even mulch them last fall, because I'd gotten complacent; even in containers they rarely seemed to freeze out completely at my location.  Anyway, this starts to look like a great opportunity to reboot the fig experiments with better planning, record-keeping, and genetic material.

None of my labels on the existing trees survives.  I know I have accessioned Brown Turkey, Mission (big box store foolishness), Celeste, Brunswick, Kadota, and several others no longer remembered, plus at different times random cuttings through the generosity of Permies members and in one case, a really cheap sale on eBay from a California seller who had numerous varieties and half-priced a grab-bag of cuttings that got mixed up on her sale table and so she couldn't label them confidently.  Many have died to dogs, gophers, and black thumb disease.  

My approach has been haphazard.  I know that  productive Oklahoma figs exist (they regularly get shown on local-ish news as a curiousity when fruiting) and some of them are said to be yard trees that get no special winter protection.  That's my goal; I may also be playing with protected plants as a hobby, but my goal in everything I do is plant-it-and-forget-it productivity.  The productive yard trees in Oklahoma typically grow back from new growth every year but we have almost nine frost-free months so that's not truly remarkable.  So that's what I'm looking for: the best trees that can produce in one long season.  So far none of my figs have produced more than one or two figs each and the best one only gets to about six feet tall in a season, with finger-thick stems.  

If I am starting back in square one, this time around I want to do most of the same "plant it and forget it, with hopes of finding a tree that makes fruit in the same year it grows back from the roots" but this time with maximum chance to survive anomalous winter cold snaps like the one we just got.  It's my belief that we are getting harder whacks from the so-called "polar vortex" every year or two, which is consistent with an  understanding that the polar vortex phenomenon is the outcome of derangement in jet stream patterns that's climate-change related.  That's just me with my "cranky weatherman" hat on, but nonetheless I'm trying to plan for that expectation: a generally very temperate climate approaching the subtropical more closely every year, but moderated by these regular-but-brief whacks of continental-climate killer cold snaps.

My starting place in cold-hardy fig research is where it's always been: the "Chicago Hardy" is first mentioned in every source.  Oddly I was never able to source any propagules in the past, but I've done so now, so that's my first step taken already.  I just got a tiny but vigorous Chigago Hardy treeling in the mail via an Amazon seller.  

This rambling post is leading up to the question: what, if anything, is more cold-hardy than Chicago Hardy figs?  I saw this one Youtuber who said "it's not the most cold-hardy fig, just the most famous cold-hardy fig" and then he answered every other question in his comments except the guy who asked my question: what are the hardier ones?

In this thread we see the suggestion of Florea/Michurinska, which is going to be my next propagules quest.  So that's my second step.

What about others?  I find vague admiration expressed for the cold hardiness of the following varieties in this article, but it's a clickbait listicle without much useful detail:

Dark Portuguese
LSU Gold
Brooklyn White
Florea
Gino
Sweet George
Adriana
Tiny Celeste
Paradiso
White Archipel
Lindhurst
White Jurupa
Violetta
Sal’s EL Alma

Here's another article that adds two more, plus some comparative information, but it's all very vague:


Petite Negra
White Marseilles

I would be delighted for people to share their opinions and experiences on the best figs for growing mostly unprotected (except for, you know, mulch if they get remembered) in places where they are surely going to be frozen to the ground in at least some of the winters.





 
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are there really figs that can survive outside in a Zone 5 location?  I was under the impression our cold would kill them.  I have been doing research this year for a fig variety that I can raise inside that won't take over my small 1938 house...  
 
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Probably not much use to those of you in America but my "Bornholm" fig which it a very young tree only planted last year survived 5F (-15C) with no die-back and no protection whatsoever (no snow, fleece etc) so I assume it can go colder than that.
 
Greg Martin
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Skandi Rogers wrote:Probably not much use to those of you in America


No, quite helpful Skandi.  It is here.
 
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Thanks for posting that list, Dan--I wanted to try a few more fig varieties in the garden. I bought a Violette de Bordeaux on Ebay because it was cheap, described as hardy in my zone, and I got combined shipping. Accounts vary as to hardiness zone; I've found some sources that say 7 and some that say 5, so we'll see what happens...while researching, I came across suggestions to train the trees to have multiple trunks or a bush form if you live in a colder climate. I'm not exactly sure how to do that, but I found a set of guidelines that I'm going to try and follow (the picture links are broken, unfortunately): https://www.ourfigs.com/forum/figs-home/11735-training-and-pruning-figs-tree-bush-and-espalier-form
 
Dan Boone
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Erin Vaganos wrote: I came across suggestions to train the trees to have multiple trunks or a bush form if you live in a colder climate. I'm not exactly sure how to do that, but I found a set of guidelines that I'm going to try and follow (the picture links are broken, unfortunately): https://www.ourfigs.com/forum/figs-home/11735-training-and-pruning-figs-tree-bush-and-espalier-form



Oddly enough, every fig I've ever planted has done this (multiple trunks) without any intervention from me.  I dunno whether it's a trait of hardier varieties (which is most of what I've experimented with) or a natural result of getting frozen back to the ground every year, which all of my figs have always done.  I have never pruned any of my figs because it's my belief (so far not rewarded with success) that the more growth they put on, the more root mass they make, and the greater will become their capacity to grow large trees in a single season.  I believe there is a magic size (or possibly trunk thickness, or possibly age) in my climate that will let them start surviving at least some of our winters without total dieback, and I felt that pruning would slow down reaching that size.
 
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Dan Boone wrote:I came looking for this thread because I fear (it's a little too soon to say for sure) that our record cold temps in February (-13F, coldest ever recorded in this county by a degree) may have terminated about seven years worth of my local fig experiments.



Hi Dan, here in Mo, we reached record low temp of -7F in Feb. I have one cold hardy Chicago fig in ground covered with one foot deep of leaves.  It just starts to have new growths coming out of lower branches. So maybe your trees are fine, just being late.
 
Dan Boone
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In my ongoing research, I just found a chunk of an Oklahoma Gardening (OETA public TV) show from last October, which I apparently missed although it may be on my DVR.  It's a segment about experimental fruit trees at the Oklahoma State University research site in Perkins, OK, which is a fair bit north and west of me, I'm assuming 7a to my 7b but otherwise very similar weather.  They have several fig varieties but all of theirs die back to the ground every winter, at about 17 degrees or below.  Main fig discussion is about 5 and a half minutes in:



The varieties they have there are Celeste, Brown Turkey, LSU Purple, and Violette du Bordeaux aka Negronne.  By coincidence, I ordered a Violette du Bordeaux last night from an Amazon supplier that has served me well in the past (OldWorldTropicals).  I have never seen LSU Purple mentioned as hardy before.  

The researcher in the video, it turns out, is also posting regular Facebook updates, and she posted earlier in the season that they got down to 14 below there but she was hopeful about the in-ground portion of her figs surviving because they were "heavily mulched".  (Mine, sadly, mostly weren't.)  Yesterday she posted this picture of at least one of them that survived, so it's a bit soon for me to conclude for certain that none of mine will come back:


osu-figs.jpg
new fig growth in Perkins OK on April 11 2021 after surviving -14F under heavy mulch
new fig growth in Perkins OK on April 11 2021 after surviving -14F under heavy mulch
 
Dan Boone
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May Lotito wrote:

Dan Boone wrote:I came looking for this thread because I fear (it's a little too soon to say for sure) that our record cold temps in February (-13F, coldest ever recorded in this county by a degree) may have terminated about seven years worth of my local fig experiments.



Hi Dan, here in Mo, we reached record low temp of -7F in Feb. I have one cold hardy Chicago fig in ground covered with one foot deep of leaves.  It just starts to have new growths coming out of lower branches. So maybe your trees are fine, just being late.



Gosh I hope so!  Thank you so much for that data point.  I also just saw (see post above) a data point about a surviving tree north of me where it got to -14F.  So I am telling myself to give my trees a couple of more weeks.  Actually yesterday it got to 80 degrees here so I really should check for new growth today.
 
Dan Boone
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Ooooh, look what I found!  This is a publicly-viewable spreadsheet of hardy fig varieties, with at least some notes about hardiness and characteristics of each one.  I am going to have to take some time with this list.

 
Dan Boone
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Dan Boone wrote:Yesterday it got to 80 degrees here so I really should check for new growth today.



Once again permaculture observation beats the heck out of concern and speculation.  I think it was three days ago that I did a casual walk-by of two of my in-ground figs, and careful inspection of my potted ones.

So just now I went and did a careful check.  Potted figs are still dead and I don't expect miracles.  But... O frabjous joy!  All three of my in-ground figs are showing signs of life!  Two of them are in semi-wooded areas without the full sun they really need, and one of them got lost/buried last summer under a heap of invasive honeysuckle as high as my belly button.  Took some doing to clear that out, but I'm glad I did it now before more of the stems turned woody.  There's one of my home-made soda-pop-can aluminum tags in one photo, I must have affixed it to a stem that died back in a previous year, because I found it loose in the leaf rubble at the base of the plant.  
fig-survivor-01.jpg
Unknown fig variety, possibly Celeste or Brown Turkey, new growth after -13F polar vortex
Unknown fig variety, possibly Celeste or Brown Turkey, new growth after -13F polar vortex
fig-survivor-02.jpg
Kadota fig tree, never large or flourishing, pencil-sized stems last year, new growth after -13F
Kadota fig tree, never large or flourishing, pencil-sized stems last year, new growth after -13F
fig-survivor-03.jpg
My biggest in-ground fig, in an especially sunny spot. Perhaps a Kadota. New growth after -13f
My biggest in-ground fig, in an especially sunny spot. Perhaps a Kadota. New growth after -13f
 
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The common fig Ficus carica should be hardy to USDA zone 6-10.
 
Dan Boone
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T Simpson wrote:The common fig Ficus carica should be hardy to USDA zone 6-10.



Well, yeah, but that's the view from orbit, not really granular enough to progress this conversation.  The whole question of "what's the most cold-hardy fig" is focused on variations between different cultivars and selections of Ficus carica, which seem to vary wildly in in their actual degree of hardiness.  Nor is "hardy" a well-defined term with figs; there's the question of the temperature at which the top growth is killed versus the question of when the entire plant is killed beyond possibility of resprouting from the roots, and, rightly or wrongly, people use the term hardy for both, sometimes without specifying which they mean.  Further complicating both questions is that factors like soil type, drainage, wind protection, and perhaps more affect the degree of hardiness also, but not to the same extent for every cultivar and selection. Plus, we just had a Zone 5 appropriate winter event in my part of Zone 7. It is, as they say, complicated.
 
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leila hamaya wrote:
additionally, the whole *plant the tree at same level as ground* rule of green thumb - doesnt apply to fig. you can just keep mounding dirt/mulch on top of them, keep burying the stems, and mound it up.
it doesnt hurt the stems, the just form new roots where you bury them, and this helps the roots get deeper by adding tons of stuff around them each year.

this makes the roots hardier.



I completely missed this part of the discussion in my first fast skim through this thread, because it was adjacent to some active-protection discussion that isn't relevant to my eccentric schemes. (I am an inconsistent gardener at best; anything that has to be done w/o fail every year is something best planned around, because with me it will not reliably happen.)  But this is brilliantly useful!  I already have my figs growing in tire rings, which is fundamentally a protection from mowers and brushhogs.  I do mulch inside the rings in years that I remember to do so, but I can't say WHY it never occurred to me to fill the rings with soil either directly or by such heavy and repeated mulching that soil builds up.  I already don't have the ideal drainage the figs most prefer, so building up their grow sites into little mounds can only help!  I guess I just didn't realize that figs were fine with having buried stems, since many trees don't like it.  
 
Greg Martin
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The holy grail for hardy figs are the wild mountain figs in Iran that survive -40 degrees.  If anyone has a connection to dried fruit from those plants I know someone who is VERY interested (it's me).
 
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Greg Martin wrote:The holy grail for hardy figs are the wild mountain figs in Iran that survive -40 degrees.  If anyone has a connection to dried fruit from those plants I know someone who is VERY interested (it's me).



Oh, man, why you gotta do things like that to me?  I was reasonably happy not knowing about the unobtanium superfigs, LOL.
 
T Simpson
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For a specific variety that does well where I live in 8b  Ficus carica "Desert King" fig is hardy to zone 7 (some sources say 5). You can order them from NatureHills.com
 
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Grin of course the "unobtanium superfigs" would probably turn out to need a specific rare bug that only exists in that area to set fruit...

For me hardy would mean capable of surviving AND producing fruit in our cold, windy, sunny climate.  I live at just over 6,000 ft altitude in a semi arid area that is listed as zone 5.  Snow is possible any day of the year even if hail is more likely then snow in the spring and summer.  Do I expect to have to baby an inground fig tree OH HECK YES!  Do I think it is possible to have an inground fig in this area... not sure which is actually a change in my attitude from a few days ago when I first started reading this thread.  My impression had always been that figs were a southern plant and could never grow in the north...  

Now I am looking at step over espaliers and not just for that mythical fig tree...  this is something I had never heard of.   And now my head is spinning with choices for other fruit trees I know can grow and produce in this area.  

I still think my best chance of getting fresh figs from my own tree is to grow one in a pot.  Which presents it own problems.   I live in a 1938 cape cod style house.  This means small rooms,  tight steep stairs to the basement, no attached garage.   So finding a place for a large potted tree would be hard.  I am thinking I need to pick a smaller dwarf type variety.  But since I plan on it living outside at least part of the year it also needs to be able to handle our weather.  The hot sun, dry winds, cool nights, oh and occasional hail... though if it is small enough it come in on those days.
 
Dan Boone
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T Simpson wrote:For a specific variety that does well where I live in 8b  Ficus carica "Desert King" fig is hardy to zone 7 (some sources say 5). You can order them from NatureHills.com



That spreadsheet I linked says this variety has the breba crop only.  That means if you grow it in colder zones, it may be hardy in the "freezes back to the ground but does not die" sense, but maybe won't produce fruit that year?  (For me in 7b, that would be every year, so this type is a no-go.)
 
Greg Martin
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Dorothy Pohorelow wrote:Grin of course the "unobtanium superfigs" would probably turn out to need a specific rare bug that only exists in that area to set fruit...


I bet you're correct Dorothy.  Our first task after getting a bunch of hardy fig plants will likely be to cross them by hand with known persistent males to generate a line of figs that will include new hardier male persistent figs as well as some hardier common figs.  The next step will be to use those hardier persistent males to make additional crosses to get still hardier persistent figs.  I would cherish this work!!!  (bringing obtanium superfigs to us all)
 
Dorothy Pohorelow
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So while probably not the best way to get the small plant I was after I did just plunk down funds for 5 fig cuttings to try to grow a tree from.  Two are Nexoe aka Bornholm cuttings.  This is a variety I would never have heard about if not for this thread. Thanks Skandi Rogers for mentioning your figs...  I am looking forward to seeing how these do.

The other 3 cuttings are Marseilles Black VS which I had seen mentioned as a type of Mt Etna fig that was hardy and an early ripening.  

IF they all give me trees you can bet at lest one will be planted outside and trained in a stepover form to see how it works in this climate.
 
May Lotito
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Fig growers in midwest, we are facing near record low temperatures again with 1-3 inches of snow now that the figs are already budding. What measures you are taking against late cold spell? Will new growths exposed to 27F be killed?
 
leila hamaya
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Dan Boone wrote:

leila hamaya wrote:
additionally, the whole *plant the tree at same level as ground* rule of green thumb - doesnt apply to fig. you can just keep mounding dirt/mulch on top of them, keep burying the stems, and mound it up.
it doesnt hurt the stems, the just form new roots where you bury them, and this helps the roots get deeper by adding tons of stuff around them each year.

this makes the roots hardier.



I completely missed this part of the discussion in my first fast skim through this thread, because it was adjacent to some active-protection discussion that isn't relevant to my eccentric schemes. (I am an inconsistent gardener at best; anything that has to be done w/o fail every year is something best planned around, because with me it will not reliably happen.)  But this is brilliantly useful!  I already have my figs growing in tire rings, which is fundamentally a protection from mowers and brushhogs.  I do mulch inside the rings in years that I remember to do so, but I can't say WHY it never occurred to me to fill the rings with soil either directly or by such heavy and repeated mulching that soil builds up.  I already don't have the ideal drainage the figs most prefer, so building up their grow sites into little mounds can only help!  I guess I just didn't realize that figs were fine with having buried stems, since many trees don't like it.  



yes, this is just my personal take, i like growing figs and have lived in borderline zone 7a-8a climates for them,
and have generally adopted this as an amendment to the general rule. its true generally - most plants and trees do not thrive like this, but fig is an exception, IMO.

for fig and also blueberry, when i transplant them i sink them way down deep. then it becomes three or four plants all growing close together bushy, as when you plant them deep or mound up high with mulch and soil - each segment roots out...like ground layering. actually i believe this is closest to MOUND layering - although in mound layering you cut down the main stalk and then mound up all the soil and mulch - to form new growth to propagate new root stock. ah thats worth a link...
ummm - hold on here ---> https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/plant-propagation-by-layering-instructions-for-the-home-gardener

anywho - one variety worth mentioning is the olympian fig - this is a variety bred specifically for the cool wet northwest, but i have a couple of small ones i have been growing out thinking maybe to try them outside someday in southern new england zone 7a.
i've got some small chicago hardy too...i'd like to try to get one more - the 'Violette de Bordeaux'...not top of the list for cold hardy, but i would like to try it.

there are some people who do grow fig in new england, although pretty rare, and they all...dig them up and them flip them to the ground, cover them with mulch and then pick them back up again in spring. theres some huge trees where some one is willing to do that each year.
i do think a better plan is to just plan on them being in a thicket, as bushes, and keep bringing them to the ground and dont pick them back up. plan to grow them short and spread out as bushes, and keep mounding up and pushing them to the ground.

fig is root hardy...maybe even in zone 6 or colder, so it will keep coming back from the roots. but the whole thing in getting ahead is the above ground growth and to keep some of that every year...if you push them down and mound up mulch...that part will stay alive to resprout the next year...
either that or lots of time till the tree gets developed enough to come back every year stronger and better...till it finally gets really mature...many extra years because of the cold...
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