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Mindfulness Garden Games
by Joann Calabrese
author of Growing Mindful
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Attempting Figs in Zone 5

Large Fig Leaves
Large Fig Leaves
Happy New Moon – September 14, 2023
Ancient Figs

Figs and fig trees show up in many myths and origin stories. The Egyptian goddess Hathor sometimes embodied a fig tree as she nourished and guided souls after death. In the bible story, Adam and Eve clothe themselves in fig leaves, which I always thought odd as a child, until I actually saw how huge fig leaves can be.

The roots of a fig tree saved the infants Romulus and Remus (the mythical founders of Rome) as the basket they were in was floating down the river. And Budha’s enlightenment took place while he was sitting under a Bodhi tree, a type of fig (Ficus religiosa). Because figs are such an old plant, many cultures have stories about them. They are often associated with fertility, abundance, and happiness (bringing sweet things into our lives).

Figs & Botany

Figs have a unique botany. The edible fig is actually a collection of tiny fruits that develop from small fig flowers. Flowers develop inside a cup-shaped structure on the plant called a syconium. Once pollinated, each flower develops into a single seeded fruit. Those fruits all-together make up the fig that we eat. Figs are a bit like inside-out strawberries.

Growing Figs in Zone 5 – Or Trying To

Figs are native to the Mediterranean area and prefer gentle winters. Ideally, they are grown in Zone 7 and 8 (locations with warmer winters). However I have a variety that was bred to be cold tolerant. With some protection it is supposed to survive in Zone 5 (which is Denver’s Zone).

When I first got it, more than seven years ago, I was excited to try growing it outdoors. But my fig tree does not like to be outside even in the summer. I’ve tried repeatedly to help it acclimate to the covered patio in summer, but it immediately begins to look very shabby and like it might expire. The patio protects it from hail and the worst of the blazing sun. But the intense heat and wind still impact it. Each year I’ve ended up moving it back into the house so it wouldn’t die. Now I don’t even bother putting it out as it seems quite happy in the house, and I gave up on the idea of over-wintering it outdoors.

A New Opportunity with Fig Offspring   

But now I have fig tree offspring and I am hoping to try again. After pruning the tree last year, I put some of the cuttings in water and they all grew roots. I now have some baby fig trees and one that is an adolescent. This adolescent tree has not only made it through Denver’s summer on my front porch, it has grown about four feet. So I am ready to try again with this offspring.

My adolescent fig tree
My adolescent fig tree
My Plan

My grandfather and many of his Italian neighbors had fig trees in Erie, Pennsylvania (zone 5). Each fall the trees were protected by bending the tree into it  trench and covering it with soil – insulating it from the cold.

I’m going to try a less labor intensive plan by wrapping my adolescent fig (in its pot) with an insulating blanket made for outdoor plants. It will stay on the front patio that gets lots of morning sun to mitigate some of the worst temperature fluctuations. It will be another garden experiment.

I would love to hear from anyone growing figs outdoors in Zone 5 and especially if they live in Denver.

Two Baby Fig Trees to Give Away
Baby Fig Tree
Baby Fig Tree

I have two small fig trees to give away. If you live in the Denver area and would like one, please let me know. They are about 10-12 inches high right now and will need to stay inside for this winter (or forever – your choice). If you decide to try them outdoors next spring, you can start your own fig experiment.

And wherever you live, if you have a friend with a fig tree, they could take cuttings for you and start a new plant. I couldn’t believe how easily mine rooted in water.

Ancient & Mindful Connections

Bringing any new plant into your home or garden is an adventure, but especially so with this ancient plant. Whether you place a fig indoors or out, it will reward you with beauty and connectedness.

Fig trees remind us of the long-intertwined history that humans have with the green world. And their unusual fruiting nature reminds us of the thousands of curiosities within nature when we are paying attention. Think about inviting a fig tree into your home or garden.

Lunar Blog Post Series
Luna in the grapevines

This post is part of my lunar blog series.  Each full moon I write about one plant, many of them are plants featured in my book, Growing Mindful.  Each new moon I write about a topic related to gardens, mindfulness, and spirituality. For more details and a list of past lunar blog posts, click here. 


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