Winterizing Figs and Planting Cover Crops in a Changing Climate

Planning, preparation, timing, and flexibility are becoming more important for food gardeners trying to adapt to climate change. For example, some gardeners are planting more late crops and reaping larger and longer harvests of leafy greens in the fall. But severe cold snaps can punctuate long periods of mild weather and injure plants, so being prepared to cover and protect those crops with a floating row cover is still essential.

Similarly, HGIC receives questions each year from gardeners about protecting figs from cold winter weather. If climate change is giving us milder winters do we still need to protect fig plants over the winter? The answer is yes, for most Maryland gardeners, because severe cold snaps will kill aboveground wood even if the average winter temperature is rising. Bending stems as close to horizontal as possible and covering the plant with a tarp or other insulating material is a time-honored technique:

Photo of cinder blocks weighing down fig stems

Two cinder blocks used to weigh down supple one and two year old fig stems. The stems could have been pruned to a more manageable length. Photo credit: Jon Traunfeld

 

Photo of Bags of leaves around Fig Plant

Fig plant is completely surrounded by bags of insulating leaves.
Photo credit: Jon Traunfeld

Planting cover crops in late summer/early fall is a great way to improve and protect soils. Some vegetable gardeners had tomato, pepper, cucumber and other crops going strong into October and asked us if they could plant cover crop seed past the recommended end date of October 1st. Mild conditions and sufficiently high soil and air temperatures allowed for successful late planting well into October. But if you don’t carefully monitor the 7-10 forecasts you can end up wasting time and money.

This cover crop was sown on November 3rd in Central MD and included winter rye, crimson clover, and hairy vetch. The temperature cooled considerably from the previous week, dropping to a record low of 25⁰ on Nov. 9th:

Photo of soil and seeds

A few hairy vetch sprouts are visible but may be killed by freezing temperatures. It’s unlikely that the crimson clover and annual rye seeds will germinate and survive.
Photo credit: Jon Traunfeld

 

The availability of tree leaves in fall gives gardeners some flexibility and another option for soil improvement. Leaves can be spread out over the soil to prevent erosion, improve soil health, and provide a nice mulch for next year’s garden plants. Climate change is forcing us to be better planners and to act quickly when dealing with extreme and unstable weather.

Photo of bags of leaves

Tree leaves are valuable for soil and plant health. Don’t let them leave the neighborhood!
Photo credit: Jon Traunfeld

More fig and cover crop information:

https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/figs
https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/cover-crops-protect-and-improve-your-soil

By Jon Traunfeld, Extension Specialist

One Comment on “Winterizing Figs and Planting Cover Crops in a Changing Climate

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