If you would like to grow your own figs, Chicago Hardy fig is a good choice for several reasons. As its names indicates, it is very hardy, looks attractive in the landscape, it fits even in small spaces, and it is suitable for container-growing.
Chicago Hardy is a cultivar of the common fig with large, up to 10-inch long, broad leaves. As the bark matures, it becomes a handsome silvery-grey. While the greenish flowers in the spring are not showy, they turn into medium-size sweet dark figs in the late summer and early fall. Chicago Hardy fig is a moderately fast grower that is planted in the spring or fall. If you would like to grow your own figs, Chicago Hardy fig is a good choice for several reasons. As its names indicates, is it very hardy, looks attractive in the landscape, it fits even in small spaces, and it is suitable for container-growing.
|Common Name||Chicago Hardy fig|
|Botanical Name||Ficus carica ‘Chicago Hardy’, ‘Bensonhurst Purple’|
|Plant Type||Tree, fruit|
|Size||10-15 ft. tall, 9-12 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Loamy, moist, well-drained|
|Hardiness Zones||6-10 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Cultivar, no native range|
How to Plant
When planting a Chicago Hardy fig, it is important to consider the microclimate in your location and other factors.
When to Plant
If planting the tree in the ground, do this in the early spring or late fall when the tree is dormant.
Selecting a Planting Site
The colder the zone, the more important it is to choose a sheltered location where the tree is protected from chilly winter winds and extreme cold.
Chicago Hardy fig has a low canopy which about 1 foot clearance off the ground, which is important to keep in mind for mowing around it. Because it only grows up to 10 feet in height, it can be planted under power lines.
Spacing and Depth
The shallow and spreading roots of fig trees are notorious for causing damage to water and sewer pipes as well as foundations, walls, sidewalks, and driveways. To avoid problems, plant the tree at least 20 feet away from structures and pipes, as well as other trees. If that’s not an option due to lack of space, it is safer to grow it in a container or in a raised bed although that limits the growth of the tree.
Dig a hole slightly deeper than the height of the nursery container. Work some compost into the planting hole and place the tree in the hole so that it sits slightly below the soil surface level.
Chicago Hardy Fig Care
Compared to many other fig varieties, Chicago Hardy fig is a tough plant with relatively few maintenance requirements.
Full sun with at least six to eight hours of direct sun per day is the benchmark so the tree can thrive. While it can grow in less than ideal light conditions, that will diminish the yield. Partial shade is only acceptable in warm climates, provided that the tree still gets the required amount of direct sunlight.
The soil should be loamy, rich in organic matter, and well-drained. The pH can be slightly acidic to neutral; between of 6.0 and 6.5 is ideal.
Chicago Hardy fig tolerates moderate soil salinity caused by road salt, and it can be planted in coastal areas but not a shorefront location.
Young, newly planted fig trees need to be watered regularly for at least the first growing season. Water enough so that the soil is consistently moist, but not soggy.
Established trees are rather drought-tolerant but extended dry weather during the time when there is fruit on the tree might affect the quality and size of the figs. During dry spells or a heat wave, give your tree at least 1 inch of water weekly and increase the watering if the soil still feels dry.
Too much water, on the other hand, from poorly draining soil or lots of rain, will make the fruit bland.
Temperature and Humidity
The tree tolerates a wide temperature spectrum. Like all figs, it is heat-tolerant but it is also extremely cold-hardy—the stems to 10 degrees Fahrenheit and the roots to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
High humidity is usually not an issue, as long as proper pruning ensures that there is adequate airflow in the canopy.
When planted in rich soil amended with plenty of organic matter, one annual application of a balanced 5-5-5 slow-release fertilizer in the early spring is generally enough. However, if the foliage is turning chlorotic and yellow, a second fertilizer application might be needed in mid-summer. Do not fertilize the tree in the fall as it approaches dormancy, or in the winter.
Chicago Hardy fig is self-pollinating; unlike other fig varieties, it does not require fig wasps or other insects for pollination. You only need one tree to produce fruit.
Harvesting Chicago Hardy Fig
The main rule of fig harvesting is that you should wait until they are ripe because figs do not ripen off the tree. And be gentle picking them, as figs are delicate.
Chicago Hardy figs are ready to harvest when they are a deep purple or brown, slightly soft to the touch. Overripe figs are very soft. Use pruners to cut the figs off the stems.
How to Grow Chicago Hardy Fig in Pots
Chicago Hardy fig can be grown in a container but it won’t be reaching the same size as an inground plant.
Keeping an eye on the soil moisture and watering the tree frequently is crucial because containers dry out more quickly than garden soil, especially on hot days. Water when the top 2 inches of soil feel dry to the touch (insert your finger in the soil to check). The drier the soil, the slower you need to water it so the soil can absorb the moisture; otherwise, the water will just run through.
How to prune Chicago Hardy fig depends on your climate, and whether you grow your plant as a shrub or a tree. If you live in a cold climate and overwinter the plant indoors, keeping it small makes it more manageable.
Regardless of the pruning method, wear gardening gloves, as the tree’s sap may irritate the skin.
For an in-ground plant in warmer climates, letting it grow with multiple trunks is the natural growth habit and the preferable option because it yields more fruit. But if space is an issue, you can grow it as a tree with a single trunk, usually the way it is sold as potted plants by nurseries.
Prune in January or February while the tree is still dormant. Trim any branches that stand in the way of good airflow in the canopy, as well as any old, grey, and dead or diseased branches. But never remove more than a third of the tree at once.
In a warm climate you might find some blackened fruit on the tree in the spring. These usually off-tasting figs, which are produced on the previous year’s wood, are called breba. Remove them like commercial growers do, which conserves the plant’s energy and leads to a better main crop from the new wood in the fall.
Propagating Chicago Hardy Fig
Propagation from tip cuttings is the easiest, more reliable, and fastest method. While propagation from seed is possible, takes at least three to four years for a tree to reach fruiting stage, and the outcome is unpredictable.
For propagating Chicago Hardy fig, you need sharp pruners (secateurs), a 6-inch deep pot filled with moistened sterile potting mix, and a greenhouse dome, or a half-gallon clear plastic bottle with the bottom removed.
- When the tree produces new growth in the early spring, cut a healthy-looking tip of 6 to 8 inches in length just below a leaf node.
- Dip the cut end in rooting hormone and insert it in the soil of the prepared pot so that the leaf node is buried in the soil.
- Place the greenhouse dome over the pot to create high humidity around the cutting.
- Keep the pot at an ambient temperature at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit and in bright but indirect sunlight.
- Water regularly to keep the soil evenly moist.
- Wait until the cutting has produced new leaves and roots before repotting it in a larger container, or in garden soil.
Potting and Repotting Chicago Hardy Fig
A container the same size or slightly larger than the nursery container is usually adequate. When selecting a material, keep in mind that the container can get quite heavy and that you need to move it indoors for the winter. Fill the container with well-draining potting mix and make sure it has large drainage holes.
When the tree roots fill the container, or grow out of the drainage holes, repot the plant in a larger container.
For outdoor plants, apply a thick layer of mulch around the root zone in the fall. Another way to protect the roots is a plant blanket or frost bag. If your plant dies back to the ground in a cold winter, not all is lost—it often regrows from the roots in the spring. That’s why protecting them is crucial.
Container plants should be moved indoors when the leaves start to fall. Don’t wait until the first killing frost. The plant does not need light during its dormancy period. You can store it in an unheated garage, shed, or basement. However, you do need to check the soil moisture on a regular basis. Water it lightly when the top 2 to 3 inches feel dry to the touch, just enough so that the roots don’t dry out, taking care not to drench it.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases
Chicago Hardy fig can get leaf spots, which often happens when there is not sufficient air flow due to a dense canopy. Other potential diseases include anthracnose, rusts, and blight. The tree might also be affected by root knot nematodes, scale, aphids, and mites.
How long does Chicago Hardy fig live?
Under ideal conditions can be expected to live for 50 years or more.
How long does it take a Chicago Hardy Fig to produce fruit?
The tree typically starts bearing fruit within two years.
What’s the difference between Chicago Hardy and the Brown Turkey fig tree?
Brown Turkey is a less hardy variety than Chicago Hardy, it cannot be grown outdoors below USDA zone 7.