Thursday, January 26, 2012

All about growing a Hardy Chicago Fig Tree

All about growing a Hardy Chicago Fig Tree

Growing a Hardy Chicago Fig tree can be quite rewarding as they are a very attractive plant and produce very sweet edible figs.  There are many kinds of figs grown all over the world. Some are tiny, large, green, brown, purple, and even the inside of the fig can be a variety of colors. So, you must do your research to see what kind of fig tree will do well in your zone.  I have chosen to grow a Hardy Chicago Fig tree as I live in the Northeast.

Fig Types

There are several other Fig varieties that will also do well in colder climates. Some are the Hardy Chicago Fig, The Celeste Fig, The Brown Turkey Fig and some Black Mission figs. These can do well in zones 6-9. If you plan on growing them outdoors year round make sure they have a pretty developed root system and are over 2 feet tall. Most of these will require some overwintering to survive properly in the snowing season as well. Each of these figs look different, but the Hardy Chicago fig is a dark color with a reddish interior.


Pinching is a technique that is required in colder climates. In the northeast and further north the growing season is much shorter than in say Florida. This means that many figs will not have enough time to fully develop before the first frost hits. A way to avoid that happening is by pinching. This is the act of pinching off new leaf growth as its budding. Of course you don't want to do that to all new leafs, but only after the fourth leaf on a given branch.  This will cause the plant to double its energy and produce a fruit there. If you do this properly the figs will develop earlier and make it through the ripening stage. It takes a fig about two months to fully ripen.


The interesting fact about the Fig is that it has to be left on the tree to fully ripen. If you take it off the tree early it will stay under-ripe and if you leave it to long it could get too mushy and most likely fall off. Now, the trouble with this if grown outside you will attract a lot of insects and birds. So you must learn to fend them off and to wait until the fruit is fully mature. You will know when the fruit is ready to pick when it is fairly soft and can be squished easily. This is a fairly delicate fruit and can bruise or tear easily when ripe. Also, check the eye on the bottom of the fruit. Once it is fully open you will know that it is ready to harvest. When removing make sure to cut or break off from the stem. If you try to remove too close to the fruit it will tear or leak some white liquid. This liquid is irritating so make sure to wear gloves if you are not used to harvesting figs. Once these are removed from the tree you will see that they spoil rather quickly. This is one reason they are so expensive and hard to find when you go to the supermarket. Their shelf life (for most varieties) is only about 7 days. For cooking purposes you can remove them a little earlier when they are more firm and those will last almost 10 days, but will never be as sweet as if left to fully mature.

Growing in pots

Growing the Hardy Chicago Fig Tree in a pot is a great idea. Although they are hardy trees if they are very small it is not a good idea to have them growing outdoors quite yet. Place them in a 10 inch pot to start and you can later up pot them to a 5 gallon container. These like to feel secure in their containers and will grow well in a tight container. The container itself will also help to shrink the overall size of the tree. A 10 to 15 gallon container could be this plant's final home. They will continue to grow year after year and respond to trimming. These can easily grow to about 12 ft tall and about 10 ft wide. Depending on how you trim them you can shape them to grow as a bush or as a tree. Make sure to feed them at least once a month and more when they are fruiting and to keep their soil moist, but not wet.  If later you decide to grow them outdoors they grow very well near a south or southeast facing wall.

More Information

Height  - 12 ft

Width - 9 ft

pot size - 10 inch to start, 10-15 gallon at full maturity

Leafs - Very green with three fingers

Fig - dark purple, reddish interior, small

Sun - 6-8 hours

cuttings - you can take a clipping from the mother plant and regrow it to form a new tree


  1. If it isn't to much bother, could you explain how to prune a hardy chicago? I purchased two this year which have reached about 4 ft height and have put on three main branches each. They are currently tree shaped (is this best or does it not matter?) They are fairly young and the main trunk is about 1 inch in diameter.

    Fall is here :)

    I'd love to know how to prune these now and going forward.

    I've read advice from "do nothing" to "extreme pruning" of the hardy chicago - What am I to do?

    Thank you for the article!


  2. p.s. We're in Northern Idaho (yikes!) if that makes a difference in how to prune.

  3. Thanks. Your article on Hardy Chicago Fig Trees is very helpful and interesting and answered all the questions I had.