Gardening How-to Articles

How to Wrap a Fig Tree to Protect It for the Winter

The fig (Ficus carica) has long been a favorite Brooklyn garden tree, especially beloved by Italian families who immigrated to the borough in the early 20th century. Native to the Mediterranean, figs are marginally hardy here and may not survive winter in New York City unless they are protected. Although some planting tricks (such as planting your fig against a south-facing wall) can help figs survive most winters without extra care, wrapping them in layers of burlap and fallen leaves in late autumn or early winter will keep them from dying back too severely during a cold winter.

After BBG's fig trees suffered complete dieback to the ground two winters in a row a while back, we began using this technique for the specimens in the Herb Garden, with good results for the past few years. Home gardeners can follow these protective steps for backyard fig trees. Having a partner to work with will make things easier.

You will need the following:
  • Pruning shears
  • Roll of jute twine
  • Shredded leaves—about one lawn bag full for each tree. You can shred raked leaves by running over them with a lawn mower.
  • A roll of burlap (roughly 60 square feet for an 8-foot tree)
  • Bamboo or metal stakes long enough to frame each tree, 3 per tree
  • Post-pounder tool, mallet, or hammer
  • Approximately 12 feet of chicken wire for each tree
  • Tar paper or roofing felt
  • Stapler, duct tape, or packing tape
  • Empty plastic bucket, 1 per tree
  • Step stool or ladder

Step One: Prune any stems that are crossing, rubbing together, or growing horizontally. If your tree is very tall, you can remove older, taller stems to favor shorter, younger ones. Use jute twine to gather stems into an upright bundle. Wrap the stem bundle in a layer of burlap and secure it with jute twine.

Step Two: Using bamboo or metal stakes as a frame, build a chicken wire cage around each tied and wrapped tree. The frame should taper slightly toward the top.

Step Three: Wrap a layer of tar paper or roofing felt around the chicken wire frame, securing it with tape or staples. This material will repel water and still allow some air circulation. Wrap the paper with the marked lines facing outward.

Step Four: Fill the wrapped frame with shredded leaves. Note: if you have a large tree, it may be easiest to do the chicken wire, tar paper, and leaf filling in stages, working up the tree from the bottom. Layer the paper like roofing shingles to keep water out.

Step Five: When the tree is wrapped and filled with leaves, taper the sides in by cutting or folding the tar paper so that the top of the frame is narrow enough to be covered with an upside-down bucket. When you cover the frame, make sure the top layer of the tar paper is tucked within the bucket to prevent water from leaking in.

Step Six: Wrap the frame with a final (neat) layer of burlap, securing it with staples or jute twine.

Plan to remove the wrappings when the weather warms at the end of winter, after any danger of an extended frost. We usually unwrap ours in late March. Even with the unpredictable swings in temperatures we’ve been having in New York recently, this treatment will ensure that your figs stay warm and dry all winter and will lead to a bountiful harvest come next summer!

Read More: Fig Trees for Small Backyards or Container Gardens

Maeve Turner is curator of BBG's Herb Garden.

    Discussion

  • Kim Spangrude August 7, 2022

    I live in Western Colorado and have two potted fig trees that come inside from November through April. One is about eight years old and is healthy but never produces figs. The other is two years old; I grew it from a cutting that was given to me by a gardener at the alligator sanctuary in Southern Colorado (true story!). Those fig trees are descendants of a fig tree that a pioneer brought to Colorado in the late 1800’s. This particular fig tree from the southern Colorado cutting, (also potted in a 20 gallon pot),  produced figs this winter in my house. I want to overwinter them in my covered unheated greenhouse. I’ll use the wrapping method you describe in this article to cover them, but will that be enough in our Rocky Mountain subfreezing temperatures? The temperature stays below 30 degrees for about 4 months on average. Also, how often while they are wrapped should I give them water? What is you opinion on the eight year old fig tree that never produces fruit?

  • Ralphie J November 17, 2021

    I’m chuckling because I’ve been through all of these issues since planting my first fig 20+ years ago.  Figs do not want to be here in the Northeast, so it’s imperative to keep them protected from the wind and moisture, but not airtight. The method described by Ms. Turner has been the most successful for me, with the addition of a tarp, large enough to cover the entire tree to the ground, tied or or secured with bungee cords. Wait until early November before wrapping, after mice have found their winter homes and other sources of food. Remove any remaining figs and leaves. NEVER USE PLASTIC (except for the bucket on top) as it will encourage condensation that will freeze and cause cellular damage to the branches. It’s a lot of work, but worth it; this year I harvested over 500 figs from my largest tree (8 ft).

  • Prema Goldstein September 8, 2021

    Thank you for all of the great ideas to protect figs. I also wrap and tie the branches, then wrap with burlap and then tar paper with the bucket on top…works every time.

  • P. Roseland July 9, 2021

    My fig tree is on its second year, last fall I wrapped it up as was mentioned as written. I wrapped it with all leaves in place, as they were still in place. The tree died back to the roots, but it has flourished so far this summer. How do I keep the tree from dying back, and will it eventually be strong enough to live on its own in time without wrapping. What year will it start to bear fruit? I am working very hard for this tree to survive to an old age. Is it a losing battle?

  • Frankie Van Vlack June 11, 2021

    My fig isn’t producing any fruit! A younger fruit tree that my family member owned has produced fruit already! Do you need all of these gardening materials for your fig?

  • Lora November 29, 2020

    I have a young fig tree, still in the pot, because I don’t gave a garden, only cement patio. I live in southern California, the leaves are turning yellow, what can I do to keep my fig alive?

  • DJ November 23, 2020

    I live in Pennsylvania and wait until all leaves fall off. The frost and cold weather won’t kill it. It’s the sub zero or extreme arctic blast that kills it. So I bury mine and cover it with plywood and then throw tarp on top

  • BBG Staff November 9, 2020

    From Maeve Turner: I like to wait until the leaves are all or mostly dropped for a cleaner tying/wrapping. One or two cold nights aren’t likely to take out the whole tree, so you’re probably safe to wait until the leaves drop. The cold will probably even speed that wait up! It’s more long sustained cold, or deep temperature swings, that seem to have the most impact on the trees’ survival over the winter.

  • Doris Martone October 31, 2020

    My fig tree still has leaves. We had some frost last night. Can i still wrap it?

  • Margherita October 29, 2020

    I’ve got two small fig trees, both full of leaves. We’re expecting the temp to dip into the 20’s here in RI tomorrow night and one night next week.  I haven’t covered them yet, is it best to place a drop cloth (not plastic) over the plants until they’ve lost their leaves and are wrapped for winter?

  • Joe Defrancesco October 28, 2020

    I live in Westchester, Somers, and have a Chicago fig tree. The leaves haven’t fallen off yet. Do I worry about the cold weather coming in on Friday? I haven’t wrapped it yet.

  • Maria Hopkins October 17, 2020

    When do I wrap the tree?  After 1st frost or when the leaves are still on the tree?

  • Susan September 26, 2020

    When I planted my tree in northern Virginia 40 years ago I had no idea you had to do any of this. And sometimes all the branches with lives sometimes it would die back but I always had plenty of six I think it finally died of old age this year I have a new one and I’m hoping to get in the ground soon.

  • Dominic di Fazio September 23, 2020

    Last year, I built a greenhouse for my fig trees, watered them every 3 weeks but they still died out. I live on Long Island and this past winter wasn’t as cold as typical. I monitored temperature inside and on sunny days it got well into the 80’s (F) but at night it got as cold as the outside temperature. So it appears that’s not the wind nor the ground temperature nor being wet that kills them. My brother in law wraps his fig tree with roofing paper and a tarp and nothing else and for several winters the tree survives just fine. A friend wraps his tree with blankets and a tarp and it’s hit or miss. No idea what the magic with the tar paper might be.

  • Jean July 11, 2020

    I started a small flower garden and made the mistake of not putting down a landscape cloth first. My question in, can I pick up all the plants (some are in flower) and start over?

  • Thom Spengler February 20, 2020

    I’m pretty sure that the sun will warm the black tar paper to give a bit of heat-buffering. Might keep the ground a few degrees warmer and protect branches from wind.

  • Andre Bilovol January 13, 2020

    It’s true the insulation or wrap will only work to prevent wind demadge.  One thing that can be done is wrapping the trees with Christmas lights(not LED) before putting insulation or outer protection.  The light will generate heat and insulation will help keep it.  I would put it on a thermostat to prevent it from running when not necessary.

  • Joan November 8, 2019

    Can you wrap them loosely if there are still leaves and green figs on the tree when there is a frost coming in November? and then tighten them up later when the leaves fall off?

  • Roscoe November 3, 2019

    I simply use a hot water heater blanket.  Works great.

  • Drew B October 28, 2019

    I live in PA west of Philadelphia, I have been trying everything. I had mice issues, filled straw around tree, mice ate all the bark off the tree and killed it. Last couple of years I have wrapped with burlap and then plastic, trees still die back and do not produce fruit until fall when it is too late. I am going to try the above method on a couple trees and get tree bags for a couple and see what happens.

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