Fig growing in Sweden
Author : Bo Blomqvist
Publication : first version 2004 - A report is added every year
Photographs : Bo Blomqvist
All rights reserved
The author, a Swedish rare fruits enthusiast, tells us that fig growing in the open is practised in his country and he has undertaken a field experiment with various hardy fig varieties. He tries to determine which could be the largest selection to be offered to the fig enthusiasts in Sweden. He periodically reports his results, immediately including them in the article so that the fig enthusiasts can follow the experiment as it is in progress. The article increases year by year and the conclusions will progressively appear.
I live in Gothenburg, Sweden.
The average temperature in Gothenburg is in January 0.5°C and in July 17°C. The annual average is 7.7°C.
At my place it is unusual with frost after April and the first frost in autumn is usually in the second half of October or in the beginning of November.
The average minimum temperatures for the winter-months are as follows : December 0°C, January -2 °C, February -3°C and March -1°C.
The temperatures in winter usually drop down to -10 to -15°C but only for short periods. It can also occasionally reach -20°C or lower. The lowest temperature in Gothenburg during the twentieth century was in 1942 when it was -26°C.
For a long time I have been interested in growing edible plants. For about seventeen years ago I became interested especially in fruit and berry growing.
One of the reasons for this is the fact that unfortunately I am allergic to most of the common fruits and berries, such as apples, pears, cherries, etc.
So I started to search for other species and varieties. Example of species I am testing are mulberries, figs, paw paws, grapes, peaches. All these are uncommon to grow in Sweden.
In the mildest areas of Sweden it is not uncommon with figs espaliered against a wall.
A Swedish botanist, working at the botanic garden of Lund, said to me that in these areas of Sweden there is no problem to grow figs for fruit quite successfully.
The most offered fig variety in garden centers and nurseries in Sweden is 'Precose de Dalmatie' prov. Bornholm (its name includes the word "Precose" et not "Précoce" like in French).
It is often referred to as "the Bornholm fig".
You can read my article about the Bornholm fig, including six photos and one map.
I ordered from USA two varieties of fig in the beginning of the 1990s.
One of these ('Hardy Chicago') was said to be very hardy and the other ('Galbun') should grow and fruit well in a container. I have kept both for several years in containers, and 'Galbun' has fruited quite well, but 'Hardy Chicago' has had almost no fruit at all.
I also have tried small plants of 'Hardy Chicago' outside and they survive the winter with heavy mulch.
In 2004, I planted out my original plant of 'Hardy Chicago', together with another American variety, 'Desert King'.
A French rare fruit collector, who was informed of the tests, put me in contact with a friend of him, Pierre Baud, who is the most important French nurseryman for fig trees, exporting all around the world and who also is an eminent scientist in this matter (see his Internet site which includes an English version).
Pierre Baud became interested in my experiment and suggested two hardy and very precocious varieties from his collection, named 'Ronde de Bordeaux' and 'Pastilière', which could be good candidates for a successful result.
He proposed to send me these two varieties and extend the experiment with other varieties.
I had not enough space to plant more than the two above mentioned varieties, but a friend of mine, Håkan, living in approximately the same climate zone as I, and who is also a fruit trees enthusiast, kindly accepted to host them in a large piece of land he owns.
We then received the figs from Pierre Baud ; in all 19 plants. Very kindly Pierre Baud refused any payment, even for the shipping costs...
I had prepared land for 'Ronde de Bordeaux' and 'Pastilière'. I planted them out in the second half of May 2004.
At the same time Håkan planted the other varieties and also duplicates of my two varieties.
May, June and the beginning of July has been unusually cold and rainy this year, with temperatures the most days below 20°C.
During the last three weeks however we have had very hot weather, with temperatures between 27-30°C.
'Ronde de Bordeaux' has grown quite well, with a lot of shoots between 30 cm and 50 cm... No signs of figs yet, however.
Ficus carica 'Ronde de Bordeaux' in Sweden
(young plant in my herb garden ; one can see some leaves of 'Hardy Chicago' to the right)
Unfortunately 'Pastilière' has not grown at all. I investigated the roots last week and found that the plant was dead.
I will try 'Pastilière' again. I received a mail from Pierre Baud and he promised to send me a new plant next spring.
I will also ask him if he could send me a plant of the hardy fig 'Bécane' which is 3 days earlier than 'Ronde de Bordeaux'.
As I have mentioned before I have also planted out large plants of 'Hardy Chicago' and 'Desert King'.
They have grown quite well this rather cold summer.
'Desert King' is planted in a south facing hillside protected from the North.
Ficus carica 'Desert King' in Sweden
'Hardy Chicago' is planted in the same south facing hillside.
Ficus carica 'Hardy Chicago' in Sweden
'Hardy Chicago' has in fact developed some figs. It will be interesting to see if they will ripen this fall.
Ficus carica 'Hardy Chicago' in Sweden : some unripe figs
Håkan reports the following :
Plants that has shoots about 20 cm : 'Negronne', 'Sultane' and 'Bécane'.
Plants that has shoots about 10-20 cm : 'Brunswick', 'Tena', 'Goutte d'Or', 'Dalmatie', 'Brown Turkey' and 'Pastilière'.
Plants that has shoots about 10 cm : 'Ronde de Bordeaux', 'Sucrette', 'Figue de Marseille', 'Dauphine', 'Madeleine Des Deux Saisons' and 'Longue d'Août'.
Only 'Negronne' has produced some small unripe figs.
Håkan told me that 'Bécane' has grown best of all his fig plants this summer.
The winter was very mild until late January (we had no frost at all in most ofJanuary).
By February the weather suddenly became much colder, with a minimum temperature in the beginning of March of -18°C.
The spring was then quite cold, but we had no frost after April 25.
The summer was unusually late this year. During the last weeks however, we have had warm weather with temperatures between 25 and 30°C.
My 'Ronde de Bordeaux' survived the winter well, without any mulching (just a thin natural layer of leaves). It was not injured by the frost until spring time, when last years shoots died. I was in fact able to take a cutting of the last years growth in late February, which rooted easily. About two thirds of the main trunk have survived, and have now produced 7 shoots with the longest shoot approximately 35 cm.
Both my 'Hardy Chicago' plants survived the winter.
The large plant was mulched with 30 cm layer of leaves and was also wrapped with a tarpaulin. The main trunk survived up to 70 cm and the branches which were covered with mulch also survived. The plant looks very healthy and have a lot of news shoots on the trunk and on the branches.
The smaller 'Hardy Chicago' also had a mulch (but much thinner) of leaves and two stems were bent down and covered with some soil (2-3 cm). It survived, and is now growing very well.
The' Desert King' fig, also a large plant, survived the winter, but froze down to the ground. It was mulched in the same way as the large 'Hardy Chicago' and wrapped with a tarpaulin.
I have planted out the two figs Pierre Baud sent me this spring. Both 'Pastilière' and 'Bécane' looks healthy and grows well.
This year I have also planted a fig variety bearing the trademark 'Violetta'. It comes from southern Germany and is said to have withstood -20°C. It will be very interesting to see how it will succeed. It is also said to ripen its fruits very early.
Håkan reports :
Eight of his fifteen plants survived the winter (he is not sure if the rest actually have died yet ; he will investigate this later on). All of these died down to ground level.
Four of the surviving plants have developed quite well and have each four to five shoots 5 to 10 cm long. These are : 'Sultane', 'Ronde de Bordeaux', 'Longue d’Août' and 'Dalmatie'.
The other four are 'Tena', 'Goutte d’Or, 'Bécane' and ' Madeleine des Deux Saisons'. They have started to grow but have developed more slowly.
Concluding remarks on the 2005 growing results :
'Ronde de Bordeaux' has grown well during the summer. The seven shoots were between 30 and 70 cm long, but no signs of figs.
I think that 'Ronde de Bordeaux' endured the winter better than 'Hardy Chicago' and 'Desert King'. A larger part of the trunk survived and the shoots were also more vigorous.
'Pastilière' has also grown well (the longest shoot 50 cm) and there are some small figs.
'Bécane' has not grown quite as much, but it looks healthy.
Håkan told me that :
'Sultane', 'Ronde de Bordeaux', 'Tena' and 'Dalmatie' are the plants that has developed best during summer. They have each four shoots of 30 cm or more.
'Goutte d’Or', 'Longue d’Août' and 'Madeleine des Deux Saisons' have one or two shoots, 10-20 cm long.
'Brunswick', 'Sucrette', 'Bécane' and 'Dauphine' are quite small. They have one or two shoots which are less than 10 cm long.
The rest of the plants sadly did not recover from the injuries of winter.
We have had an unusual long winter this year, and during the last week the weather has been very cold (down to -19°C one night) with a lot of snow (the snow cover was between 40-50 cm).
The figs seems quite healthy despite this. But the real challenge for the figs will come later on when the snow cover disappears and the sun becomes warmer.
'Hardy Chicago' was seriously damaged by a deer in the winter, and I thought it would die, but happily it recovered.
'Desert King' was somewhat damaged, but also recovered.
Both had new vigorous shoots, the longest about one meter.
As last year, 'Ronde de Bordeaux' has grown well during the summer. It has nine shoots between 40 and 100 cm long. For the first year I can see small signs of figs, but they will surely die this winter because I am not going to cover them.
'Pastilière' has grown quite well, but only with two shoots (the longest 40 cm). No figs.
'Bécane' has not grown well at all, but it still look healthy. I will change it's place next year and see if it then will grow better.
'Ronde de Bordeaux' seems to be the most vigorous of the French varieties.
I mentioned that I also test a new German variety, which commercial name is 'Violetta' and which is said to whistand -20°C.
It survivied the winter well but the main trunk froze down. Like 'Ronde de Bordeaux' a lot of new shoots developed during the summer and there are already some small figs on the shoots. These shoots will be bent down and covered with some soil and leaves during the winter.
Håkan reports :
'Sultane', 'Ronde de Bordeaux' and 'Dalmatie' are, as last year, the plants that has developed best. They have all shoots of 50-60 cm.
'Ronde de Bordeaux' had also some figs on the shoots, about the size of cherries. Unfortunately there were some frosty nights a month ago which killed them.
'Goutte d’Or', 'Longue d’Août', 'Madeleine des Deux Saisons', 'Sucrette', 'Bécane' and 'Dauphine' have shoots 20-30 cm long.
'Brunswick' is struggling and is still very small, around 10 cm.
Last winter was relatively mild in southern Sweden, the minimum degree was only -12°C at my place and we had cold weather only during short periods.
The foregoing autumn was also warm and long.
This meant that there was not that extensive dieback on the fig bushes during winter as was the case in the preceding years.
The summer however was quite cold, especially July, with very little sun.
As earlier years 'Ronde the Bordeaux' looks very fine and is growing fast. This year it has 6 solid shoots which are up to 120 cm long. No signs of figs yet however.
Ficus carica 'Ronde de Bordeaux' in Sweden (September 2007)
'Pastilière' seems so far to be the most hardy of the figs I am testing. It does not grow as vigorously as the other figs and seems also to ripen its wood much earlier. No figs yet.
Ficus carica 'Pastilière' in Sweden
The 'Bécane' plant was last year in a very bad shape but has obviously recovered somewhat. It has started to grow again, but only about 15 cm.
Both of the 'Hardy Chicago' plants survived the winters extremely well, with almost no dieback at all. One plant is more than 1 1/2 meters high and the other around one meter. Both have a lot of shoots.
Ficus carica 'Hardy Chigago' in Sweden (September 2007)
The biggest plant has some small figs on it, but they are too small to ripen during the autumn.
Ficus carica 'Hardy Chicago' in Sweden : an unripe fig
'Desert King' looked miserable early in the summer but recovered and put out several long shoots (up to one meter). No figs at all.
'Violetta' had, differing from the other figs, several dieback, but it is also the youngest plant. However it has grown vigorously during the summer and have now 7 shoots up to 120 cm. No figs yet.
Ficus carica 'Violetta' in Sweden
This year I have also planted out a fig I received from Sergio Carlini, an Italian rare fruits enthusiast. He calls it 'Gallo' and says it is early ripening and might also be quite cold resistant. It was originally obtained from an old man living in the Italian mountains.
Ficus carica 'Gallo' in Sweden
Håkan reports :
Five plants died during the winter. It is possible that mice have killed them.
All the remaining plants have grown quite well this summer with a lot of shoots (between 6-8 in each plant).
No figs at all this summer.
The best plant this year is 'Sultane', which has grown to about 1 meter.
The second best are 'Longue d’Août' and 'Dalmatie', about 60 cm.
'Ronde de Bordeaux', 'Goutte d’Or' and 'Sucrette' are 50 cm high.
We had a very mild winter this year, with temperatures dropping to about -11°C one or two nights. A large part of the winter was actually frost-free.
The summer came early with very hot weather starting in May. Unfortunately the weather was also dry the first part of summer, with almost no rain at all during a period of 1 1/2 month.
All fig plants look very healthy and some of them had no damages at all during winter.
'Ronde de Bordeaux' had some winter damage and last years shoots was killed about 75 cm above ground. Some signs of very small figs on the plant.
'Pastilière' died back to about 10 cm above ground but have recovered with three shoots, with the largest about 40 cm high. No signs of figs.
I moved the 'Bécane' plant last year and put it in a pot that I kept inside during winter in a cool place. It has recovered and I will plant it next year in a better position in the garden.
My both 'Hardy Chicago' plants survived the winter with almost no damage at all. They have also developed well during summer, but the growth was a little less than earlier years, which I think is caused by the lack of rain. For the first time they have produced small figs. Two of them ripened but were unfortunately eaten by birds when I was away for some days.
Ficus carica 'Hardy Chicago' in Sweden (August 2008) : some unripe figs
The 'Gallo' plant that I received from Sergio Carlini survived the winter extremely well with no damage at all. It also started to produce some small figs in July, which however didn't ripen during autumn. I think that this variety might be quite exceptional because it is still a very young and small plant and yet being so cold hardy and setting fruit so early.
Ficus carica 'Gallo' in Sweden (August 2008) : some unripe figs
'Violetta' died back to about 40 cm above ground but recovered with a lot of shoots. No figs at all.
'Desert King' looks even worse this year, so I am thinking of removing it from my trials.
I have not received any report from Håkan for 2008 because he is moving his plants to a new piece of land.
Report on my fig trials for the winter, spring and early summer of 2008-2009.
Last winter was a little colder than the winters before and the minimum temperature dropped down to -14°C for some nights. We had an early and quite warm spring with no frost at all after the middle of April.
It was a little strange that some of the plants were damaged quite heavily while others wasn't affected at all by the frost.
My largest 'Hardy Chicago' plant froze down to about 30 cm above ground and the new shoots don't look healthy at all. On the other hand the other 'Hardy Chicago' plant situated near my house had no damage at all, and even some figs survived the winter and started to grow in June. However they suddenly dropped down after a few weeks. It has already produced some new figs, little earlier than last year, which I hope will ripen during the autumn.
Also the 'Gallo' fig over-wintered very well, with only small damages and also this had some small figs surviving the winter. As with 'Hardy Chicago' they dropped down in late June.
'Violetta' (also placed close to the house) froze down heavily and the new shoots seems to be quite weak. I am thinking of excluding this from the trials and instead test the French variety 'Madeleine des Deux Saisons' which I bought earlier this year.
The American variety 'Desert King' seems to have died and this will also be excluded from the trial.
'Ronde de Bordeaux' is still growing well, dying down about one third of its length and re-grows with vigorous new shoots. But it is still not producing any figs.
'Pastilière' froze down, as earlier years, to about 10 cm, and have produced some new shoots about 10-20 cm long. No signs of figs.
Last year I received some plants of 'Figue de Langres', a very hardy clone found in France by Jean-Claude Tissaux. It seems to be very vigorous growing and it will be interesting to see how it will manage the winter.
This clone deserves some comments.
Jean-Claude is an engineer at the French Forestry Service, living near one of the coldest regions of France, the plateau of Langres. In this area, a few years ago, Jean-Claude spotted a single specimen of a fig tree which demonstrates a remarkable resistance to frost and which is growing steadily and fruiting every year altough the rough climatic conditions. At the age of several decades it consists of three large trunks forming a tall cluster. It is a variety giving only one crop (no breba crop) and very early ripening (August). It produces greenish-yellow fruits with red flesh, small sized (35 grams) but having a sweet taste and a good value at full ripeness. The tree has withstood the exceptional cold wave of 1986 which dropped the temperature to -23°C at the spot where it is located. It was then fifteen years old. This variety of exceptional hardiness has been named "Figue de Langres" by a group of fig trees collectors, which immediately began to circulate and test it in various cold places.
Next year I will plant out some other varieties that I have received from France and Italy during last years.
Håkan has moved to an other place and has not yet planted the figs in his new garden.
Report on my fig trials for the winter, spring and early summer 2009-2010.
We have had an unusually cold and long winter; almost two months with minus-degrees and temperatures on several occasions under -15°C. One night the temperature was down to -19°C. The snow cover was during these months also very thick, up to 75 cm.
When I was looking at parts of my fig plants that was over the snow they looked really healthy and I thought that the snow cover had protected the plants effectively. And it probably did.
However under the snow mice had been eating on the stems down to the ground on all my figs and completely destroyed the plants.
So unfortunately I have not very much to tell about my trial. What I am looking for now is new shoots from the plants.
Now in late July there have developed shoots from the roots on all my plants, except on 'Gallo' which seems to have died.
Most vigorous are 'Ronde de Bordeaux' and 'Hardy Chicago', where the shoots are between 10 and 25 cm.
This was of course very disappointing, but as it is obvious that it is the damages from the mice that has caused this small catastrophe, I am not pessimistic about the future, even if it delays my trials. Now that I know that mice can be a problem, it is easy to protect the plants.
This year I will plant out two new varieties : one from Sergio Carlini in Italy called 'Vallecalda' (a local clone) and the well known French national variety 'Madeleine Des Deux Saisons'.
Fig report for 2011.
The winter 2010 to 2011 was also unusually harsh, even if the temperatures didn’t reach the very low temperatures as the winter before. On the other hand the winter was longer, with minus degrees during most of the winter months.
This had unfortunately disastrous effect on my fig plants, all died down to the ground.
‘Hardy Chicago’ recovered and set out new shoots about 60 cm long, and ‘Ronde de Bordeaux’ was almost as vigorous. None of these shoots produced any figs however.
Sadly I could conclude that the ‘Gallo’ fig was dead after the winter. The damages from the mice previous winter had weakened it too much. As I have described earlier in this article, this fig seems otherwise to have a very good cold hardiness.
‘Madeleine des Deux Saisons’, which I planted out last year, is very weak and has shoots less than 5 cm long.
‘Pastilière’ is completely dead.
'Figue de Langres' froze down but have new shoots of about 30 cm.
This year I received a new variety from a French collector, called ’Saint Martin’, which is said to be very hardy. I will keep it for the first year in greenhouse and plant it out in 2012.
I have also a new Swedish variety from a manor in Southern Sweden. A friend who gave it to me said that it has been grown there for a very long time. This has already been planted out.
I am sorry to inform that Håkan is not able any more to participative in the fig trials. He has moved to a new house and working with a new garden and feels that he has not time for this project anymore.
Fig report for 2012.
The winter 2011-2012 was also cold and it caused the same winter damages on figs as the last two years.
We had some frost at the beginning of May 2012 (-4°C), which is very unusual, that damaged the figs while they had just started budding out.
I am in fact thinking of starting to bend down the trunks to the ground and mulch them before winter to see if this help them to survive the winter.
This year I got cuttings of three very interesting plants from a person in Bulgaria, Pencho Genow. They are called ‘BG Gold’, ‘Vagabond’ and a third unnamed variety. They seem to have withstood very cold winter weather in Bulgaria.
From Italy I got some new plants from Sergio Carlini, who has been so kind to me earlier on. He sent the varieties ‘Tramonti’, ‘San Geomo’ and a third variety he couldn’t remember the name of. All these new plants were kept in my greenhouse during the summer and the autumn.
‘Hardy Chicago’ was still the variety that developed best during summer followed by ‘Ronde de Bordeaux’.
‘Madeleine des Deux Saisons’ died but the new unnamed Swedish variety survived winter quite well, and developed slowly during summer.
I let the variety ’St. Martin’ an additional season inside the greenhouse and it is growing quite slowly.
'Figue de Langres' froze down to about 15 cm but recovered during summer. I am thinking to move it to a better place with more fertile soil.
Sadly the variety ‘Vallecalde’ died during winter. However I have another plant that I will place in a better position next year.
Fig report for 2013.
The winter 2012-2013 was the fourth winter that was cold and long.
Especially early spring was problematic with sunny days and cold nights and the ground frost didn’t disappear until late April.
This is very unusual at my place.
The two varieties ‘Ronde de Bordeaux’ and ‘Hardy Chicago’ froze down, but recovered quickly and started to grow in the middle of May. They both had shoots up to 50-60 cm, but none of them produced any figs.
The unnamed Swedish variety died.
I dug up ‘Figue de Langres’, which was miserable, potted it and placed it in the Greenhouse to recover. This was very healthy for it and it started to grow and soon looked happy again.
The potted Vallecallde variety died unfortunately during winter. It was placed in my unheated greenhouse (where I also have a large ‘Yellow Marseilles’ that survives the winters excellent and produces lot of figs).
With four very cold winters one can conclude that it is necessary with some sort of protection during very cold periods.
The varieties I have tested do not produce figs on the new years shoots ; the summers and early autumns are to cool in our climate.
The following varieties are still in pots and some of them will be planted out in 2014 :
- Bulgarian varieties : ‘BG Gold’, ‘Vagabond’ and an unnamed variety, which I call ‘Bulgarian 3’.
- Italian varieties : ‘Tramonti’, San Geomo’ and an unnamed variety, which I call ‘Carlini 3’.
- French variety ‘Saint Martin’.
- Iranian variety, called ‘Iranian 1’.
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