Baby fig & kiwi trees

Asked October 1, 2020, 3:18 PM EDT

I was given a baby fig tree (1 foot) & a baby kiwi tree (8" looks more vine than tree). I'm thinking if I plant them now, there won't be time for them to establish in the ground before cold weather sets in. Would it be better to pot them & keep them in the house until spring??

Carroll County Maryland

1 Response

Do you happen to know the exact types of fig and kiwi you have? Their winter hardiness will depend on which varieties they are. Those that are cold-hardy enough should spend the winter outdoors (though perhaps sheltered for this first year), as their growth cycle could be impacted by staying warm all winter. They will still grow roots for awhile, even as the air temperatures cool down, so this will give them a head-start on spring. Those that are too cold-sensitive will have to come in, though ideally in that case they should be put in a very well-lit location with cool temperatures.

Figs (Ficus carica) have several possibilities for cold-hardy selections for our area. The most commonly-available are varieties 'Brown Turkey', 'Celeste', 'Chicago Hardy', plus a few others with slightly more marginal tolerances. (That said, most winters in non-western MD are mild enough that they should be ok. At worst, stems may die back on occasion but roots should survive for re-sprouting.) Here is our fig-growing page if it is useful for general growing tips: https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/figs

Kiwi comes in two basic forms when grown by hobby fruit growers: the "berry"-fruiting type (like a large olive in size and smooth-skinned) and the more familiar, larger, fuzzy-skinned brown type. All are vines which need a support to twine around. As with figs, plant them in full sun in well-drained soil. They will tolerate some shade but will fruit less there.

  • Actinidia arguta, sometimes called the Hardy Kiwi Vine, is the most reliable for hardiness in our area. 'Issai' is a self-fruitful female variety which will crop by itself; otherwise, you will need to know if you have a male or female plant (and you will eventually need one of each).
  • Actinidia deliciosa is the fuzzy brown fruit that's about the size of a large chicken egg. It is only hardy down to USDA zone 8 (around 10 degrees F at the coldest; this is around coastal NC and south, so it's too cold on average to overwinter them reliably outside in MD unless we have a stretch of very mild winters). However, using microclimates in the garden - areas where insulating walls, southern/western exposures and other protective characteristics can shield plants from temperature extremes - may help keep this species alive if kept outside year-round, though it's not guaranteed.
For plants that are being grown outside, fall is a good time to plant. If you determine your plants are hardy forms, we suggest planting them now, keeping an eye on their watering needs (as with any new planting) as they settle-in. Mulching will help to insulate the soil; a 3-inch layer is sufficient but mulch should not touch the main stem itself, so give it a couple of inches around of "breathing-room."

During periods of windier or colder winter weather, you can protect the starter plants with insulation to block the wind and retain a small amount of the weaker sunlight warmth - burlap is a common choice because it's breathable and doesn't stay damp and promote fungus (like plastic might). Some people build a small cage around their plants, using wide-mesh wire fencing attached to a stake or two and loosely piling dried tree leaves in it as a sort of blanket. The cage is used for the purpose of leaf pile more-or-less in place over the plant, so it doesn't need a top. In spring, remove this so the plant gets more air and sunlight.

Miri