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A friend of mine has a fig plant growing in the ground in Lancaster, PA, USDA hardiness zone 6b, and it needs protection each year through the winter, to prevent burn. What he does for now is wrap the entire thing in tar paper, which protects it from the wind, and some of the cold, and warms up during the day.

But last winter was worse than normal, and the plant died back to about 3/4 the size it was previously. During a bad winter, is there a better way to protect a large fig shrub? The plant is growing in clay, and is about 7' tall, and 8 1/2' wide.

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    Actually, if only 25% was lost in a "bad" winter, a perfectly reasonable response is that it's working fine as is. – Ecnerwal Nov 26 '14 at 17:29
  • It's a pain to wrap, though, @Ecnerwal, we were looking for a better way efficiency-wise, as well as protection-wise. – J. Musser Nov 26 '14 at 17:31
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Better is in the eye of the beholder, I guess. "Classic" (and such a pain in the pawtuckus that I have never tried to grow a fig, albeit I'm also zone 4 so it's more of a stretch) is a grand procedure where the plant is laid over sideways and buried (in dirt) each winter and exhumed and stood up in the spring. Going from memory roughly half the roots are left where they are and the other half are dug up for the pivot (and reburied in the pile of dirt.) Size of tree is probably deliberately limited to facilitate the procedure, but also probably limited somewhat by the procedure itself.

If I was looking for "better than wrapping it in tar paper" in the modern era (the "classic" technique being hundreds of years old) I'd probably toss a section of "hoop house" polyethlene covered greenhouse structure over it for the winter, perhaps with one of those fancy automatic vents to prevent it from cooking on sunny days (though the vent might cost more than the whole rest of the structure if it was just sized for the fig)

For a more efficient way to wrap it, change from tarpaper to housewrap - 9 feet tall and with effective tape made for joining it, you could make a giant cylinder of the stuff and hoist it over the tree with conduit or a ladder. At least one brand is a darkish gray color rather than blinding white.

  • It's in a tight city courtyard surrounded by other plants, so laying it over won't work, but thanks for the feedback. On smaller plants, I've seen people put a wire hoop around the plant, fill it with dry leaves, and put a tarp over the top, to keep it dry. Works, but with a plant that size, it would be a pain. – J. Musser Nov 26 '14 at 15:09
  • I did think of a wire corn crib (roof is tidier than a tarp) full of leaves, but the scale of the tree and the potential that it would then turn into rodent-nesting heaven both put me off the idea. Since you've added "city" there would also be the problem of storing it. Hmm - step up to gazebo-greenhouse combination and leave it in place all year, for a citified approach. – Ecnerwal Nov 26 '14 at 17:33
  • About your edit, that doesn't sound easy to do when the plant is composed of a lot of upward/outward pointing trunks growing from the ground. Perhaps tying it in like an evergreen before digging would help. That's actually a good idea. – J. Musser Nov 26 '14 at 17:43

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