Figs May Be Figments This Year

By Jo Anna Natale, Fairfax Master Gardener
There were many reasons why my Italian father was unhappy when his only daughter left upstate New York to move to Virginia, but one prospect brightened his gloom: ”In Virginia, you can grow figs,” he said, blue eyes sparking with possibility.

ripe fig

Figs require lots of time in the sun to ripen.

Much to the envy of northern gardeners like my Dad, we can indeed grow figs in Virginia—usually without much effort. If we choose the right varieties of this prized Mediterranean fruit and conditions are right, figs burst onto our late-summer and fall scene with a sweet, if fleeting, ferocity.

But the last two years have been anything but usual. “For 20 years, it was spaced-out bliss” for fig-growers, says Michael McConkey, owner of Edible Landscaping in Afton, Va., where he tests, propagates, and sells fig and other fruit trees. “You’d have so many figs, you couldn’t pick them all. Now, with the last two winters and their single-digit temperatures, everybody’s figs have died back.”

The unhappy result: Whereas in better years, we’d be readying the prosciutto to wrap and the mascarpone to top our incoming fig harvests, this year we are praying — praying that warm weather lasts long enough for us to taste a ripe fig or two.

What happened?

Figs plants (ficus carica) hate harsh winds and cold temperatures (think below 20 degrees F) — exactly the sort we endured this past winter and the one before. Exposed to such cond