Research Report: Figs for Cold Climates 2021

Fig is grown commercially in mild climates throughout the world. Fig offers the potential to be a high-value crop in New England, but to be profitable, the production system must involve low-cost winter protection, and give high yields per plant that ripen during the frost-free period each year.

This research report describes the methods and results of a project studying winter protection of figs grown in-ground in Durham NH (zone 5B) at the NH Agricultural Experiment Station. Our goal was to investigate the effects of different protection strategies on growth and fruiting patterns for four fig cultivars: Ronde de Bordeaux, Marseilles Black, J.H. Adriatic, and Takoma Violet. Specifically, we explored the effects of rowcover, low tunnels, and/or high tunnels on overwinter survival and subsequent plant growth and fruit set for several fig cultivars. Preliminary conclusions, two years into this project, are the following:

  • Fig plants survived winter protection experiments in high tunnels AND outdoors when protected by heavy rowcover, winter protection fabric, or leaves.
  • Figs growing outdoors produced relatively low yields of ripe fruit quite late in the season. Of the varieties we evaluated, later ones (JH Adriatic, Maltese Beauty) never fruited when grown outdoors. In a high tunnel, ripe fruit were harvested from mid-August until the very end of October or early November, an additional 2 weeks after outdoor plants were impacted by frost. Ronde de Bordeaux was the earliest variety to ripen, and produced the greatest number of fruit overall.
  • Even though nearly all plants survived the 2019-20 winter and regrew, the winter protection strategy greatly impacted yields. Outdoors, plants protected by a leaf cage produced significantly higher yields, earlier, than those protected by a winter blanket or a low tunnel. In the high tunnel, plants protected by an additional winter blanket or double layer of heavy rowcover outyielded those that were unprotected.

While this project has demonstrated that some potential exists with this system, there are many challenges that must be addressed. Please read the full report for more details!