The Chicago hardy fig is an extremely tolerant and adaptable variety that’s especially appealing to growers in colder climates. Unlike other fig trees, you’ll even get a small crop in the first growing season!
Looking to buy a Chicago hardy fig tree? Check availability.
Characteristics of the Chicago Hardy Fig
The Chicago hardy fig was discovered growing on the southside of Chicago in the 1980s, but it likely originated in Sicily, Italy. Its ability to grow well in non-Mediterranean soil and colder climates has made it an extremely popular variety in North America.
The Chicago hardy fig tree grows from 10 to 30 feet in height and width. Its bark turns to a silvery gray as it matures.
The tree’s three-lobed, dark green leaves are about 10 inches long and provide an attractive background for the deep purple mature figs.
Inside each fig, you’ll find dark strawberry-colored pulp.
Chicago hardy figs are juicy, sweet, and extremely flavorful, often described as jammy with hints of honey.
Figs, in general, have myriad health benefits.
Juicy Chicago hardy figs are packed with antioxidants, which help reduce inflammation and fight disease. They also contain fiber, magnesium, copper, and potassium, which help lower blood pressure.
Figs provide natural sore-throat relief. In addition to eating the fruits and drinking their juice, try drying, crushing, and steeping fig leaves to make a soothing tea.
Eating the Chicago Hardy Fig
Enjoy the sweet, juicy fig straight off the tree, preferably still warm from the sun. The entire fig is edible, but do remove the stem before enjoying it. The Chicago hardy has a sweet, light, strawberry-like flavor when eaten fresh
Dry your figs so you can enjoy them year-round. They make a great snack or use them in baked goods.
Canning figs is fairly simple and a wonderful way to store your harvest until you’re ready to use it. No special equipment is required–you just need a large, deep pot for a water bath and some clean, sanitized canning jars (though, a basic canning kit is a good investment if you plan to can on a regular basis).
The Chicago hardy fig tree’s leaves can also be used to wrap cheeses, fish, and even rice to impart an earthy, vanilla-walnut flavor. Smoked fig leaves can be ground up and used in spice blends.
Growing Your own Chicago Hardy Fig
Make sure to allow space to accommodate the tree’s potential full height, or be prepared to restrain it. One way to control the size of your Chicago hardy fig is by growing it in a 10-gallon–or larger–container with multiple drainage holes and using a well-draining potting soil mix.
Choose a sheltered spot where the tree is protected from winter winds but where it can still enjoy partial to full sun exposure.
Be sure to plant the tree at least 20 feet from pipes, buildings, sidewalks, and other trees and plants to prevent damage from the fig’s shallow spreading roots. If that’s not possible, grow your tree in a container or raised bed.
The Chicago hardy fig thrives throughout the United States, even in cooler temperatures. The tree thrives in US Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 5 through 10.
Plant Chicago hardy fig trees in loamy, well-draining soil that has a neutral to slightly acidic pH.
Although this tree does well in partial to full sunlight, in colder climates, it will really do best with 6 to 8 hours of direct sun.
The Chicago hardy fig is extremely drought tolerant, but if you want to see a good crop with characteristic juicy, flavorful fruit, be sure to provide around an inch of water per week during especially hot times.
Regularly water during the entire first growing season to keep the soil moist but not soggy.
Container-grown figs are easier to manage if you keep them pruned.
If you’re growing in-ground in a warmer climate, allowing multiple trunks to grow will give you more fruit; however, a single-trunk tree is better than nothing if space is limited! In fact, if you buy a potted Chicago hardy fig from a nursery, it will likely be a single-trunk plant.
While the tree is still dormant in January or February, trim branches selectively to increase canopy airflow, including removing any dead or unhealthy branches. Be sure to never remove more than a third of the tree at a time when pruning your fig tree.
Wait until your figs are a deep purple/brown before harvesting. Once they are picked, figs cease ripening.
After pruning dead branches and leaves, generously apply mulch at the tree’s base to cover the soil over the root system.
Water your fig tree once a month while it’s dormant. Wrap the tree with burlap or plastic bubble wrap if the temperature drops below 25 degrees (F).
Move container plants indoors right when the leaves start to fall–don’t wait for the first frost. Chicago hardy fig trees do not need light during dormancy, and they can be safely stored in an unheated shed, garage, or basement.
Pests and Diseases
A dense canopy can restrict airflow and lead to leaf spots in a Chicago hardy fig. Anthracnose, rusts, and blight are common diseases that can affect your hardy fig, and pests like root-knot nematodes, scale, aphids, and mites can also cause problems.
Where to Buy Chicago Hardy Fig Trees
Several online nurseries sell Chicago hardy fig trees, but we believe Stark Bro’s will offer you the best choice.
A Figgy Staple for All
The Chicago hardy fig is the fig tree you didn’t know you needed. It’s tolerant and adaptable enough that even those with less-than-green thumbs can coax sweet, delicious fruit from the tree as soon as the first growing season.
Impress your guests at your next dinner party by adding homegrown figs and fig jam to your charcuterie board. Gift fig preserves to loved ones throughout the year. Add a sweet kick to your unique trail mix that provides vitamins and antioxidants.
Whether you grow in the ground or in a container, in the colder climate of the northeast US or the balmy south, you can’t go wrong with the Chicago hardy fig. Continue your fig journey on our Fig Trees pages!
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Ronda Lindsay is a writer and editor who loves getting outside in her garden, whether that’s in the temperate climates of the Pacific Northwest or Mid-Atlantic or in the sweltering heat of south-central Texas.
Growing up, she was a regular at pick-your-own farms, where she and her siblings gathered anything that wasn’t already growing in her family’s backyard to eat, freeze, or can. As an adult, Ronda has taken the vast gardening knowledge bestowed upon her by her mother and used it to grow everything from strawberries to jalapeños, arrange beautiful container gardens, and nurse sick plants back to health.
With a bachelor’s in English and a master’s in professional writing, Ronda enjoys using her skills to share information and advice with Minneopa Orchards readers!