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.

Read More: Fig Trees for Small Backyards or Container Gardens

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!

Maeve Turner is curator of BBG's Herb Garden.


  • Warren Howell July 18, 2019

    Before last winter (Dec 2018) here in Northern Virginia I wrapped 16 fig trees very similarly to the way you wrapped yours. They came through the winter (fairly moderate, with maybe 21 days below 20F) fairly well. The trees emerged with 2 feet to 5 feet of good brown bark. They showed green initials right on time but eventually produced very few figlets. Why?

  • jady.handal April 29, 2019

    I live is southern Maryland. I have 2 dozen trees. I had die back the past 3 years, so last year I gave up & just left them on their own. I have tried large polyester bags, that don’t work; I tried 6 ft tall chicken wire filled with leaves —doesn’t work. Last year I gave up; did nothing & got a better, although partial survival rate. Interestingly, I think it is the wind that does it, not the cold. I had two east facing trees that were blocked by a building from the west wind. They were fine: not a dead branch on them. All others had partial or total die back. Have you any idea what is the precise mechanism causing dieback? wind? cold? I doubt it is ice or snow because i have none & i still get dieback. I tried antidesicant sprays to prevent dehydration by wind—no luck. I get dieback when there 2 or more days below 20°. Your recommendation while i’m sure works well for you is just not practical. It requires 2 or 3 people and will cost over $100 a tree. Has anyone had success with a method suitable for one person and a large volume of trees?

  • Betty April 8, 2019

    I wish I came across this article last fall :(

  • Lewis January 6, 2019

    I wouldn’t imagine they’d need to be waterproof…a freeze doesn’t hurt mine; they really need to get down in the 20s before I have die back.  I just wrap mine in burlap, stack it and fill burlap with pine needles.

  • Bryan September 27, 2018

    My understanding is that biggest risk to figs in this climate is root freezing resulting in cellular destruction. You’re wrapping the tree, but there’s nothing in the ground to keep water out or surface freezing. How would you recommend handling a tree that may not be old enough to have very deep roots?

  • [email protected] September 19, 2018

    Where can I buy burlap in a roll? Also, the jute twine?

  • Stephen Rutsky August 15, 2018

    First I tie the branches close together. Then I put piles of twigs and leaves at the base of the tree.Then I cover the tree with a plastic tarp and string tie it round the tree. Use rocks to hold the plastic to the ground. This creates a mini greenhouse effect, when the leaves give off heat. If it gets moisture inside the “greenhouse,” cut small slits in the plastic to let air circulate. Fig trees die from wet branches, combined with wind chills. This method has always worked for me; ,the trees come back tall and full and give a bountiful harvest. One year the tree was 15 feet high and I canned 50 pints of figs besides the ones I ate and gave to my neighbors. Try it, your fig trees will like it!!!

  • Maria July 23, 2018

    Can a potted fig tree in a large (too heavy to move) cold-resistant tree pot survive a NYC winter if it is wrapped as recommended and remains outdoors? Do the roots inside the pot need special care?

  • Tony Manocchio June 30, 2018

    Ran across the Dec. 2017 article on fig trees by Maeve Turner. I live in Cleveland and have some history with winterizing fig trees in this area. I am trying to find an easier method and ran across two items and thought I would ask if BBG had any knowledge or opinion on a product known as Winter Wrapz and/or Pop Up Protector/Pop Up Plant Protectors. I am not sure if wind or freezing temp is a larger threat to fig trees or if they are equal threats. Thank you.

  • Jonathan Flothow December 17, 2017

    Trees don’t generate heat, so there’s no heat for insulation to capture. A wrap might slightly slow down how quickly the tree temperature changes after a change in air temperature, but the temperature inside the wrap will almost always be the same as outside. A wrap could reduce moisture loss, though. Basically every fig in Brooklyn and Queens died back to the ground those two winters. Short of altering the microclimate around a fig (such as with a greenhouse, however small), there’s no way of keeping it warmer than the air.

  • BBG staff December 8, 2017

    From Maeve Turner: Interesting—I’ve never had any problems with this in the past. That’s about all I can say about it…It does seem like it would be tempting for mice, but like I said, I haven’t had this issue any of the years I’ve done it.

  • P. Ward December 7, 2017

    Do you have to be concerned about mice nesting inside and eating at the bark? I don’t see you’ve applied any soil to the bottom of the wrapping.

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Image, top of page:
Fig Wrapping
Herb Garden curator Maeve Turner wraps a Ficus carica (fig tree) to keep it warm over the winter. Photo by Blanca Begert.
Fig Wrapping
Herb Garden volunteers build the chicken wire cage portion of the protective layering. Photo by Blanca Begert.
Fig Wrapping
Roofing felt can be stapled or secured with tape. Photo by Blanca Begert.
Fig Wrapping
The frame is filled with shredded leaves. Photo by Blanca Begert.
Fig Wrapping
A plastic bucket caps the wrapping and prevents water from leaking in. Photo by Blanca Begert.
Fig Wrapping
The Herb Garden's fig trees (Ficus carica) will stay warm for the winter inside their burlap wrapping. Photo by Blanca Begert.