What characteristics make a fig tree more productive and hardy for temperate climates when compared to other figs?
A cold hardy fig generally will lignify quick enough to avoid getting wiped out by late or early frost or temperature dips. It’s important to note that micro climates are very important when growing figs in colder climates, south facing walls that are protected from cold gusts of wind during the winter months. When the tree is not protected by a micro climate, it may be required to wrap the tree for the first couple years in order to give the tree a head start in order to gain the size it needs to resist colder temperatures when it’s no longer protected.
Earliness of crop
A productive fig variety in colder temperate climates generally needs to bare crop earlier than later in order to maximize the amount of fruit that can be harvested before colder weather comes and the tree drops any unripened figs along with the foliage. When a fig variety is particularly late to bare crop you may never see a fig reach ripeness before they drop off the tree in fall.
Some varieties of figs may be a more premium taste profile, however they may grow at half the speed of other more productive varieties. It’s important that not only does the plant grow at a decent rate, but that it makes plenty of nodes that can make space for a heavier crop when the time comes. Some of the listed fig varieties will set figs at pretty much every node when conditions are right.
So what varieties are productive and cold hardy figs?
Considering the 3 above criteria here are 5 fig types that are cold hardy, early bearing, and fast growing.
Chicago Hardy (and other Mt Etna types)
This name should be familiar with most anyone that visits garden centers or big box stores. Chicago hardy falls under being a Mt Etna type fig (geographic origin). These figs are possibly the most cold hardy figs and are easily found growing in ground unprotected in zones as low as USDA zone 6 and possibly lower when protected over the winter.
Chicago hardy is really just a marketing name, there are many different variations of the Mt Etna types such as Black Greek, Black Bethlehem, Marseilles Black, and Takoma Violet to name a few. Some of these types have differences from each other such as size, production, and taste.
This is possible one of the best work horse cold hardy fig varieties that has stood the test of time. What the Celeste fig lacks in size, it makes up for with it’s reliability and hardiness. There are many different strains of celeste out there: general celeste, blue celeste, black celeste, LSU celeste, Some of these cultivars are heirlooms while others are improved bred varieties.
Brown Turkey Types
There are many named cultivars that fall under the brown turkey category. Olympian, English brown turkey, California brown turkey, and Sweet George are a few. This type is extremely cold hardy and grown most commonly only 2nd to Celeste. Crop earliness is the only draw back to some of the brown turkey types as many are mid-late season bearing (September in some climates). The earliest on this list being Olympian which can bear crop in late august.
Florea (also known as Michurinska-10)
This fig is lesser known and harder to find, however it bears a crop extremely early in late July, which even beats Celeste. Originating in Serbia, it’s said that it has survived temperatures as low as -13°F. Another benefit is that it also grows rapidly and roots easily.
Overseas it’s referred to as Mitchurinska-10 where it is now much more common to find in countries like Bulgaria.
I see this as a broad category that mainly includes Violette de Bordeaux & Ronde de Bordeaux, both figs that have a french origin. Out of this pair Violette seems to have the most variations: valley negra, Nero 600m, beer’s black, and Vista are a few of the named variations of Violette de Bordeaux. These types are relatively early, grow fast, and bear heavily. They are easily as cold hardy as the other types on this list. When many growers are asked what they would grow if they could only grow 1 type of fig for taste, many have said Ronde de Bordeux. The flavor of the Bordeaux types puts them above the others on this list for many experienced growers.
There are many great figs that were left off this short list, such as Italian honey, the LSU varieties, Brooklyn white, Peter’s honey, Brunswick, Stella, and more. More varieties will be covered more in depth at a later time. If a specific variety interests you, please reach out to me @ firstname.lastname@example.org and I will share any information I have on it.
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