How far north will figs grow?

Figs can be grown in colder climates than many imagine.

Knowing how much I like figs, someone sent me a link to Adrian Higgins' article in The Washington Post that speculates about whether successful fig growing in the D.C. area can be chalked up to global warming. It reminded me of the fig trees in New York City. And the fig-growing advice I got after I moved to Boston.

One of the garden pleasures I knew I was going to miss when I came to Boston nine years ago from the South was harvesting two crops of warm, brown figs a year. I couldn't imagine paying 50 cents or $1 per fig, the price at a nearby Whole Foods.

So I began poking around on the Web, wondering about the possibility of growing them in containers. I eventually ended up e-mailing with a fig expert at the North American Fruit Explorers. He encouraged me to try, giving examples of people in even colder climates that were able to raise figs.

He also sent me a list of varieties to try (English Brown Turkey, Hardy Chicago, Alma, and Celeste). And he recommended techniques to keep the plants in good shape . (Such as cover the base of the plants with a couple of feet of straw over winter, something I'd done other places I'd lived.)

Eventually, I got over my longing for fresh figs. But I was especially interested when a writer proposed an article (by day I'm a newspaper editor) about figs being grown by residents in New York City. These were immigrants who had brought  plants over from Italy, SicilyGreece, or another Mediterrean country. Or whose ancestors had.

It turned out that despite Astoria, Queens, not having what could be called an ideal climate for figs, the trees were being successfully grown there -- and had been since the 1950s. These fig trees -- and especially the fruit they bear -- are treasured, the article points out, as a tasty reminder of  far-away home.

So if you're interested in growing figs but don't live in a mild-winter climate, I definitely recommend that you go for it. But first read the comprehensive article from the fig  interest group of NAFEX. It tells you everything you need to know and then some.

This was a cooler than usual summer in Boston, but all this has put in the fig mood again. Maybe it's time for me to become a fig grower again. I can taste them now.

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