Fig trees are often planted in California and other warm climates because they need lots of sun and warmth to ripen their fruit. However, some gardeners in colder areas have wondered if figs will ripen in cool weather.
Figs will not ripen in cold weather, but they can be ripened in slightly cool weather. Ripening can be assisted by bringing potted fig trees inside and using growing lights. In cold climates, growers usually choose early ripening varieties to ripen before the weather gets cold.
Here are the details of what you need to know about ripening figs in cold weather.
How To Know Which Fig Varieties Will Ripen in Colder Climate?
Variety-wise, there are two options when it comes to fig growing in a colder climate. Fig varieties that resist cold well and those that ripen early.
Keep in mind that most fig varieties neither ripen early nor resist cold, and they are insanely difficult to grow in cold climates.
The best would be to have both traits on the same fig variety. However, very few varieties have both traits.
My favorite cold-hardy varieties which ripen early are Mt Etna (Hardy Chicago type) and Improved Celeste.
With most fig varieties, it usually comes down to choosing one that either resists cold better or ripens early.
I base my conclusion on the fact that even cold-hardy fig varieties won’t ripen well in cold weather. As good as overall cold resistance is, fig fruit needs sunlight and warmth to ripen properly.
Most of the time, I opt for early ripening varieties. It’s simply better to avoid cold weather than trying to ripen figs in such conditions.
In fact, if some Hardy Chicago figs, like Mt Etna variety, weren’t so amazing, I wouldn’t grow cold-hardy varieties at all.
To simplify based on my experience:
- Early ripening fig varieties are easier to ripen but more difficult to grow in cold climates.
- Cold-hardy fig varieties are easier to grow but more difficult to ripen in cold climates.
At What Temperature do Figs Stop Ripening?
Most fig varieties need at least 60-70F average daylight temperature to ripen. In addition, the nights must not be too cold, or else the tree might start rejecting figs by dropping them on the ground.
However, figs don’t actually stop ripening at temperatures lower than 60F. They exponentially slow down the ripening process as the temperatures drop until it’s effectively stopped.
There are varieties of figs that can successfully ripen in cooler weather because they don’t slow down as much. However, these figs often mature later into the season and may not reach the “jammy” interior formed at warmer temps.
Rarely, fig varieties like LSU Champagne or LSU Improved Celeste can reach optimal ripeness with nice jammy pulp.
How To Help Figs Ripen in Cold Climates?
In cold climates, it’s better to plant fig trees in containers. In-ground fig trees require a lot of cold protection during the winter, while you can simply move potted fig trees in a shelter.
You can move potted fig trees into the sunlight, which is extremely important for this discussion. When it comes to fig ripening, moving your potted fig trees around is crucial unless you have them in the perfect sunny position in the first place.
If the days are cloudy, I move potted fig trees really close to the south wall of my house to absorb as much reflected light and warmth as possible.
If I don’t find that sufficient, or the weather is too cold, I will move them into the shed I made for overwintering young fig trees.
I don’t live in an area with too low winter temperatures, but I like to have that option if the weather suddenly gets cold.
How will the figs ripen in the closed environment?
That’s where growing lights come into play. Growing lights are a tool that most growers avoid. To be honest, they are right to do so if natural growing by sunlight is an option.
However, in situations like these, growing lights are super helpful. While the fruit won’t ripen with them as well as with sunlight, when you only need to finish the ripening process, they are perfectly adequate.
You can maximize the potential of ripening figs inside by ensuring they are in proper temperature and humidity. Humidity is best not to exceed 75%.
Another way to help figs ripen is by adding potassium-rich fertilizer mid-season. Potassium doesn’t help fig trees in many ways, but it does help water retention in fruit, allowing them to ripen well.
Will Unripe Figs Ripen off the Tree?
Most people will tell you that figs won’t ripen once picked and that there is no point in picking them early, but that’s wrong.
Indeed, they won’t ripen on their own. But it’s easy to make figs ripen off the tree simply by adding a few apples among figs. Alternatively, you can use bananas or papayas.
Those fruit release ethylene gas that makes some types of fruit ripe. However, due to how figs are physically built, the ethylene gas will only help once they are close to ripe.
I’ve learned it in southern Europe, where it’s used to finish ripening figs and kiwi. And to this day, I’ve never met a person in the US that knows about it.
How To Shorten the Fig Ripening Period?
You can make figs ripen faster by pinching, pruning to an open-top shape, removing mulch in sunlight, or oiling the fig’s eye.
I’ve described these techniques at the end of my article Early Ripening Fig Varieties.
Those techniques work well only if a fig tree has all the prerequisites to grow delicious fruit. The most important one is proper fertilization.
And I don’t mean all-around fertilization that you can learn from some casual grower on some forum. I approach fertilization more scientifically.
It’s all about reading the signals your fig tree gives you and filling its needs. I like to divide fig fertilization into three phases based on their natural cycle through the growing season. You can read about it here.
Additionally, knowing when to stop fertilizing with each nutrient is also important, and I explained all about it in my article When To Stop Fertilizing Fig Trees?
Ripening figs in cool weather can be a challenge. It takes experience and lots of extra care to reliably predict when a fig tree will struggle to ripen its figs and ultimately help it with it.
Don’t let that discourage you from growing figs in cold climates. It becomes really easy once you get the working system going from start to finish.