Technically it was a practical purchase. It was the hardiest fig available, at zone 5. If it froze, shoots would quickly regrow from the hardy roots.
In 2016 I ordered a Violetta de Bordeaux fig from Burpee’s. It cost 16.95, not including shipping, and it arrived in a 4″ pot in early spring. The fig lived in a half-barrel with good drainage. My parents had planted an Olympia fig in their yard on the Oregon coast, and it started out as a tall skinny twig with a leaf…Violetta was the opposite, and grew into a compact bush over the summer. In fall it had gotten down to 22 degrees F before we rolled the barrel in to the garage for the winter. Even unprotected at those low temperatures, there was no frost damage on the glossy, dark green leaves.
I listened to every podcast and read everything I could find on overwintering figs. There are several methods. Some people rock the fig loose where it is planted and lay it over flat on the ground, covering it with a thick layer of mulch, leaves, or even carpet. Others create a cage for it, stuffing straw in for insulation and wrapping the entire mess with burlap. The ‘burying’ method would probably work, but we don’t have leaf mulch and we’re redneck enough without putting carpet on our plants. The insulation method is just a way of asking voles to dine on the fig during winter. No way. I also don’t want to put the fig into the ground, because figs are used to rocky Mediterranean soil and I’m afraid it would not thrive in the clay. The easiest method is to bring your fig in to a cool garage or basement for the winter, watering it once a month. Therefore, Violetta will live out her days in a giant, heavy pot, which gets increasingly heavier each year. Maybe we’ll get her a little wagon.
It took a long time for the fig to go dormant in the fall garage. The leaves hung on the branches into winter. I wasn’t sure if it was a good spot for the pot, concerned it got to much light from the southwest windows.
Late February of 2017, after a monthly watering, the fig sprang back to life, covered with bright green leaves. It is NOT spring here. I don’t know what to tell it. The temperature in the garage probably hovers around 40, so once again I’m impressed with the hardiness of this little bush fig. I guess we’ll move it towards the window until April, when the snow will be half-melted and we can wrestle it out to the greenhouse. Just look at that determination! (If you are wondering why there is tin foil around the fig, it’s a cat-prevention device. They usually leave my plants and garden beds alone, but sometimes in late winter they get confused.)
Why even bother to grow a fig in the mountains of Idaho? Figs are too delicate to ship, and will not ripen once picked, so fresh figs are something I’ve only had on visits to California. A fig wrapped in prosciutto and stuffed with goat cheese is one of the best appetizers I’ve ever eaten…mmmm. Dried figs and Fig Newtons just don’t capture the amazing fresh qualities of the fruit. They are also a fascinating plant! The ‘flowers’ of the fig are inside, accessed from an opening in the bottom by a species of wasp that coevolved with figs. The life cycle of these wasps is more brutal than salmon…the female squeezes in through the opening, often losing her wings and antennae in the process, and lays her eggs before dying and THE FIG EATS HER. Yes, it’s true, the fig breaks down the insect’s body and absorbs the nutrients. When the eggs hatch, the males and females mate and the males dig a tunnel for the females to exit the fruit. The males never know life outside the fig. It’s something to think about next time you are sad…at least you aren’t a male fig wasp.
Thankfully the fig I purchased, and most ‘common’ figs, are self-fertile and do not need these wasps to produce fruit. They do need lots of sunlight though! Check back to find out if a hardy little fig can produce fruit in the short summers of the Timber Garden!