Fruit in Pots: Chicago Hardy Fig

Last year I wanted to expand my edible collection and scored 2 very tiny Chicago Hardy Fig cuttings.  They both took almost half the summer to leaf out, and only had a growth spurt the very end of the summer.  Each stick is about 1.5ft tall.

Fig Mosaic Virus

When I got the figs, first thing I noticed was the misshapen leaves.  This is a symptom of Fig Mosaic Virus. This disease, unfortunately, is extremely common in fig trees.  In fact, almost all figs from cuttings are infected, and the only way to guarantee an uninfected tree is to grow from seed.

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Proper leaf formation. This tree showed signs of Fig Mosaic Virus last season, but currently appears to be growing well.

Fig Mosaic Virus results in slowed growth, misshapen leaves, and decreased fruiting in some varieties.  Some varieties never show symptoms, some have symptoms only when stressed.  This is not deadly to the tree, and a tree can grow and fruit well even when infected.  Tools must be sanitized, however, after working with an infected tree to avoid infecting other plants.

There is no treatment or cure.  If a tree is well fertilized, and has proper growing conditions, there should be little effect from the virus.

Hardy Fig Selection

Chicago Hardy Fig is widely available.  Small cuttings are generally more economical, and will grow quickly.  It’s possible for a cutting to fruit the first year, with most fruiting by the 2nd year, even when starting small.  If a local vendor has these figs available, look for symmetrical, evenly colored leaves.  Figs like to drop all their leaves when they are moved/brought home, but this won’t hurt the tree.

Fig Winter Care

My zone is just outside the temperature range at which this fig can remain hardy.  Further south, such as mid-Illinois (south end of zone 5a or zone 6), this fig can be planted in the ground and mulched.  It will die back to the ground during the winter, re-sprouting from the roots in the spring.  It will usually fruit in the 1st or 2nd year.

In my zone, at the edge of 5a and 5b, two methods can be used to grow figs, potting the fig, or trenching the fig.  With trenching, a long trench is dug, the root ball is dug up, and the whole tree is tipped to lay in the trench, then buried.  The tree is dug up in the spring, and tipped back upright.   This seems like too much work, but is a traditional method for keeping figs in cold locations.

My potted figs live outside until all the leaves fall and we’ve had a hard freeze for a week, to ensure they are dormant.

Early march, zone 5a.  Temperatures high 55, low 35.  Brought out chicago fig from basement to unheated porch to begin spring growth.

Early march, zone 5a. Temperatures high 55, low 35. Brought out Chicago fig from basement to unheated porch to begin spring growth.

I keep the pots in my unheated basement for the winter, watering once a month to prevent the roots from drying.  This winter has been mild, however, and my plants are leafing out too early.  Most warmer figs will remain dormant if temperatures are below 50F.  Chicago fig most likely requires slightly lower temperatures to prevent breaking dormancy.

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