Wrapping a Fig Tree – Savinell Style

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Alan’s fig trees in early September.

 

Alan Savinell of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is a master at wrapping his fig trees. The two 20 foot, highly productive trees he cares for in his back yard were passed down to him from his grandfather an immigrant from Santa Maria a Vico near Naples, Italy. Alan credits all his gardening knowledge to his grandfather, but we’re pretty sure even his grandfather would be impressed by the inventiveness of his wrapping technique.  Alan wrote this article explaining his method of winterizing the trees, so you can take a look for yourself.

COVERING OF THE FIG TREE FOR THE WINTER

By Alan Savinell

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Alan get lots of fruit on his fig trees.

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Mamma mia! That’s a lot of figs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I currently have two fig trees in my yard that produce figs. One of the trees I believe is more than 60 years old. It was transferred from my grandfather’s yard in 1989 to my yard, and I have maintained the tree since then. Prior to 1989, my grandfather maintained this tree in his yard, and it was in his yard when I was very young. The other tree was started from a bundle of roots from the same tree – also in 1989.

I have both trees planted in the back yard and spaced approximately six feet apart. Originally, the trees could be bent and buried during the winter. However, as the trees grew older and larger, it was no longer practical to completely bury the trees, and I started to cover the trees instead. This describes the process that I follow to cover my fig trees. Since 1989, I have experienced one year approximately 10 years ago where the cold damaged the trees. Since then, I have followed the same procedure and have not had a problem with the winter cold on the trees.

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The two trees are bent together and bundled to form a single structure. You can see where thick branches that would not bend have been cut off.

 

During the summer months, the fig trees grow to approximately 20 feet in height. After the leaves have fallen from the fig trees, I bend and tie the branches from both trees toward each other – trying to make the pile as compact as possible. This usually results in a pile height of roughly 6 feet. As the branches grow in diameter from year to year, there are some that will not bend without breaking. I cut only those that can’t be bent and do no additional pruning in the fall.

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Bags of leaves, straw, grass cuttings, and plywood boards are used to insulate the tree.

 

After the trees are bent together, I stack bags of leaves around the trees. These are paper bags that I gather from the neighborhood in the fall. I place nearly all of the paper bags in a plastic bag to serve as a cover. This seems to keep the paper bags in better condition for disposal in the spring. This fall, I used roughly 60 bags of leaves around the trees. The top is covered with straw and bundles of ornamental grass – covering as much of the top branches as possible.

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The two trees are cozy and warm for the winter under four layers of tarps.

 

After the bags and straw and grass are in place, I cover the trees with tarps. This year, I used four covers – one being a large old canvas tent weighing approximately 100 pounds.

 

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The wooden box and metal tube are used to send heated air into the wrapped fig trees if the temperature drops too low.

 

This year, I have added the option to heat the pile with a propane heater if the air temperature goes below zero. It includes a wooden box with a screen on top and a metal pipe connecting the box to the outside of the pile. The wooden box extends between the trunks of the two trees. The plan is to use the heater intermittently only if the temperature goes below zero.

 

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Comments

Tom

When and how do you cut fig trees to root. I have a fig tree and want to transplant a couple to get two more.

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Elise Canup

Hi Tom, great question. If your tree has some runners around the base, now would be a great time to pull a few of them. Because these shoots have their own roots this is the easiest method of propagating a fig tree, just pull the runners out by their roots and pot them in moist but not too soggy soil. Wrap these potted shoots to keep them dark and protected them from the wind, and put them in a cool, dark place like an un-heated garage or shed. Plant them in the spring after the last frost.

If your tree doesn’t have runners because it has been trained into a single trunk you can take some cuttings. The best time to do this is while the tree is dormant, ideally in early Spring. Cut a branch that is between pencil and finger thickness about 8 to 10 inches long. Plant this cutting 4 to 5 inches deep in moist but not soggy soil, and keep it somewhere warm – many people recommend the top of the refrigerator. Do not let the soil dry out -you may try putting plastic bag over the pot, held in place with a rubber band to help keep in some of the moisture. The cutting should root withing a few weeks – you will notice leaf buds and growth. At this point the cutting can be hardened off by moving the pot outside for several weeks before planting in the ground.
Let us know how it goes.

Reply
peter j payne

Back in the 1980’s my grandfather had a huge fig tree about 25 feet tall. He built a glass house around it and had installed a pot belly stove inside. That tree lived for many many years since he would build a fire in the stove during the cold weather. He loved figs and gave them to all our family and friends. But just like the grandfather clock stopped when the old man died so did that huge fig tree.

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Elise Canup

What a great memory! Thanks for sharing, Peter. It’s too bad so many of the fig trees planted by the earliest generation of Italian Americans are no longer with us. We hope our project inspires people to keep caring for these heirlooms, and gives them the knowledge to make that possible. If you ever drive be the site of the old tree you should check for runners. Fig trees are incredibly tenacious.

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Joe Celeste

Short note: if you are among those who bury their fig tree during winter, don’t forget about rodent control. I lost 12 years of growth on one of my trees. They cleaned the Camden completely off. My solution was to take several coffee cans, cut the bottoms out, bate with rodent poison and place near trees under insulation. Stake cans to ground to control during the burial process and prevent access by nosey family pets.

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Bernadette T.

Hi, It is now mid-November. We had such a warm and late summer, that the leaves on my 7 ft. fig tree have not fallen off. We are expecting 20+ degrees this weekend, and I don’t know if I should pull off the leaves before wrapping it. I’d appreciate some guidance. Thanks.

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Mary Menniti

I’ve consulted with Alessandro in Boston who suggests allowing the leaves to drop naturally before covering the tree permanently for the winter. If you are concerned about the cold, you can throw a tarp or an old blanket over the tree temporarily. Although, he has covered his trees in early and mid-November other years, he’s going to wait until Thanksgiving this year to cover them. Sustained temperatures below 32 aren’t expected for at least the next week. It’s the sustained cold and sharp winds that cause damage. He suggested allowing the tips of the branches to start to harden off and turn brown before covering.

Reply

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