I'm getting a lot of end-of-season gardening questions, so I'm going to dedicate this whole week to the mailbag and share the questions with the most universal appeal. Today's letter comes from Shirley.
I bought two fig trees earlier this year and was planning to plant them next year (or maybe waiting until the year after). I have them in my basement right now and was wondering what I have to do to keep them from dying.
They looked OK when I brought them in, but they are not looking so good now. The leaves are falling off after turning a weird looking yellow. I have not watered them very much either. Do I have to cover them in the basement? The temp stays around 50 degrees all year long.
Should I feed them or maybe even cut them back? I have zero knowledge about what I would need to do and would like some advice. -- Shirley
The trees are probably dropping leaves because they're going into dormancy, as they should. It would have been best if you'd left them outdoors until they dropped their leaves naturally, and then wrapped them or brought them indoors around Thanksgiving. But taking them back outside now would mess them up.
Inside, they should be kept in the dark, so if they're in a basement that you use for other purposes, maybe put them in a closet where they won't be exposed to light. If that's not possible, then wrap them with burlap or towels to block the light. Just don't use plastic. Water very, very slightly over the winter, only when the soil is dry about an inch into the pot (stick your finger in to gauge moisture levels.)
If this seems like too much trouble, you can move them into the main part of your house, near a sunny window, and water regularly to keep them as houseplants until spring. New leaves should grow if you do this.
Either way, move them back outdoors in late April and let them slowly adjust to the brighter sunlight by placing them in a protected shady spot for a week. Then move them into an area that's partially sunny for another week, and then into their permanent summer home. Water regularly throughout this process.
Next year, you might consider doing what I do with my potted figs. I just move them into the garage in late November and drape a blanket over them. No watering or monitoring necessary.