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  • The Low Limb Technique: good success with minimal mulch covering through winter

    Could've done it a week ago but today brushed aside the leaves covering low running limbs of Hardy Chicago, Ronde de Bordeaux, Natalina (Mt Etna), and Salem Dark, all with life here in zone 6 where temps dipped to -7 degrees Fahrenheit briefly and sub zero several other times over the course of several months.

    The Hardy Chicago limb was scarcely buried 1 to 2 inches in small wood chips (with a small rock for weight on top). Nearly all of the 2.5 foot limb came through well (oozes latex when pricked with a blade).

    The Salem Dark limb was scarcely buried 1 to 2 inches in loose soil (with a small chunk of wood for weight on top). About 2 feet long, it partially rooted but I sliced off the roots today after freeing it above ground. The entire limb came through well, except for the tip bud.

    The Natalina limb was scarcely buried 1 to 2 inches in leaves (with a small rock for weight on top). The 2 or more feet of limb came through well except for the very end, top inch.

    The Ronde de Bordeaux limb was scarcely buried 1 to 2 inches in leaves (with a small piece of wood for weight on top that a deer probably kicked off at some point during winter). About half of this nearly two foot limb was exposed to air, never covered because it curved up over a small ledge. That part died. The other half of the limb came through so well that it shows the first two buds of any in-ground fig trees here.

    Though flattened all through winter, all the limbs immediately resumed their curved pre-burial lines after the weight was lifted off.

    I'm surprised at how well all these limbs came through the winter with minimal brush on, brush off burial, whether leaf, wood chip, or soil. Some modest come-and-go snow cover also helped at times. Virtually all wood survived. This gives me strong reason to train numerous low running limbs this growing season for minimal covering over come fall. In this way it seems that very full, if odd shaped, fig bushes may be preserved every year through even the harshest winters in zone 6.

    This leaves me a little stunned to think that with minimal brush-on, brush-off mulch covering over fig bush limbs trained to grow and run low near the ground, zone 6 can yield full-blown, if low and wide spreading, fig bushes. Forget trying to ripen figs from full die-back. A little bit of summertime limb engineering and minimal fall mulching can work wonders, it would seem. This despite lows this past winter hitting zero degrees Fahrenheit (-18 Celsius) or lower off-and-on from mid-November to early March (-3 degrees Fahrenheit March 6; 14 degrees March 29).

    Exactly 5 weeks removed from sub-zero temperatures here in WV, an in-ground Ronde de Bordeaux limb is budding and leafing today, April 11. Improved Celeste easily ripened figs here last year from total ground die-back after not budding out until, I think, June.

    Will try the low limb technique this year in zone 5 too, though with some thicker mulch coverage.

    Edited to add another one: Marseilles Black, an eight inch limb that barely had time to lignify in fall. Brushed on wood chips and pinned down by small rock, this limb came through some very harsh conditions unscathed except for the tip bud, and returned to near vertical orientation upon being unweighted.
    You may only view thumbnails in this gallery. This gallery has 8 photos.
    Last edited by mountainfigs; 04-12-2015, 10:26 AM.
    Tony WV 6b
    https://mountainfigs.net/

  • #2
    Great work, thanks for sharing your experience!
    Calvin, Wish list is to finish working on the new house, someday.
    Bored? Grab a rake, paint roller, or a cordless drill and come over!

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    • #3
      Impressive results. Did you have snow cover?
      https://www.figbid.com/Listing/Browse?Seller=Kelby
      SE PA
      Zone 6

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      • #4
        Thanks for the report. Looks like a great method!
        Frank ~ zone 7a VA

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        • #5
          Thanks, all, for the encouragement.

          Kelby, as I recall there was snow cover in February but more often no substantial snow cover than cover otherwise. I assume the snow cover helped but I doubt it was necessary. I guess I should not be surprised by the results. After all effective insulation upon a heat source does not have to be very thick, and subsurface earth is of course a considerable heat source. Rot not a problem, rodents no problem, no cordon railing or other infrastructure needed, tree leaves and a rock or some other simple weight the only resources needed. Method simple as can be. So now I wonder, if this method meets with the success of bountiful ripe fruit, why has it not been more greatly employed or written about? A couple reasons I can think of, maybe connected: the method is arguably not very aesthetic due to necessary limb sprawl, and the method requires some limb sprawl space (though bushes require no little sprawl and space regardless). That said, I think aesthetics and sprawl issues could be largely attended to by some careful planting and limb engineering.

          The wild card that I can see at this point would be rodents. However, by not deeply burying the limbs, it may be that the limbs remain too exposed for rodent comfort, either due to cold or to security reasons - too close to the harsh and dangerous surface.
          Tony WV 6b
          https://mountainfigs.net/

          Comment


          • #6
            Nice work my friend. Moth ball or human hair cuttings from local barber shop spread out will keep the rodents away. There's also a spray out called "rabbit scream" works for all animals including humans. Is made with capsaicin and if you forget to was hand and touch your eyes or even worst hurry into bathroom....... Ouch......... Yep. I use mulch every year with low lying branches starting in spring. By mid summer I have roots in the middle of the branch like air layer without having to wrap it up or anything. Great work Again
            Zone 5 Chicago IL Wish list:
            1) Rest peacfully Amico Bello Buddy 👼🏼.
            2) This weeks ebay auctions.

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            • mountainfigs
              mountainfigs commented
              Editing a comment
              Thanks, and thanks for the rodent-away information. Might need to employ some of it in the future. I would stay away from moth balls though and anything else chemical, non-organic.

          • #7
            Reports like these make me very happy I live on the West coast.....we do get frost damage but -7.....unbelievably cold

            Cheers and applause to your success...

            after reading this I did a little research into protection....rather elaborate tying/insulating/covering involved...for fully grown "small" trees...lots of burlap, bubble wrap, wire and rope involved
            Ross B. Santa Rosa Calif zone 9b, wish list: CdD Blanc, Igo, Palmata, Sucrette, Morroco, Galicia Negra

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            • mountainfigs
              mountainfigs commented
              Editing a comment
              Thanks. -9 last year. Twice. Elaborate protection makes sense for some given their situations and proclivities. I'm not remotely inclined to it though, and with my storage space, I'm able to move out pots with no risk of any loss each year. With holes drilled in the sides and partly embedded in loose soil I get much of the same growth and fruit production of in-ground trees. The trees quickly root through the extra pot holes and become more-or-less in-ground trees for most of the growing season. This greatly reduces both fertilization and watering concerns since the ground provides.

              So, no elaborate protection but even the yearly storage, and the initial hole drilling, and the yearly embedding and unembedding, though surefire and relatively simple, is more laborious than low limb training and burial. So: high hopes for the much greater replication of the low limb technique.

            • rusty hooks
              rusty hooks commented
              Editing a comment
              take a pic of that "holes in the pot"..... bottom or side? bigger than bottom holes in 15 gal or 25 gallon pots?

              This could be used with a small tractor for digging out and winter placement...narrow tractor bucket deal

          • #8
            Tony,
            Thanks for sharing your results and photos...

            IMO the reason this method is not used widely is that it only works for small caliper branches... As the trees get older and branch caliper increases it quickly becomes difficult to "lay" down the branches for winter burial. Tree burial by cutting some of the roots is one way in which older branches and entire trees are laid horizontal and buried, but it involves lots of digging...

            The major concern with my pruned low cordon espaliers has been Voles that usually travel at the surface just below the snow cover and will remove the bark from branches that are at ground level. There has been little damage of cordons buried under 6" of wood shavings (mulch) even with low temperatures between Feb 11 and March 1 continuously below 0 with the lowest temp of -17 F.
            Pete R - Hudson Valley, NY - zone 5b

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            • mountainfigs
              mountainfigs commented
              Editing a comment
              Good info, Pete. Great to hear that mulched fig wood survived a low of -17. And isn't it curious (and wonderful) that mulch has seemed to provide protection from not only cold but from rodents. For me, more protection has meant rodent damage - last year when I covered a Stella with a plastic tub - girdled.

              I see what you are saying about older branches stiffening, and that would no doubt be an issue. However, in pruning fig trees, people often cut off the older branches to allow space for new main crop fig bearing branches. Some growers remove all 2 year old branches (apart from a few scaffold branches). No scaffolding required for the low limb technique so stiffening might not be much of an issue. And if any scaffolding is desired or required (say, to maximize tight space) it would seem that it could be shaped right at ground level, then be mulched over to protect from cold and rodents, or otherwise rodent protected.

            • AscPete
              AscPete commented
              Editing a comment
              Tony,
              Protected / dry "air space" equals home / habitat for Rodents, if they find their way in.

              Fruiting branches that grow from old (2 yr and older) scaffold branches will produce better and earlier main crop figs.

            • mountainfigs
              mountainfigs commented
              Editing a comment
              Well, maybe those (very) low limbs will have to become increasingly aged cordons. People around here might begin to wonder why it is that fig trees only grow sideways just above the ground.

              I have several underground cordons (of Gino's Black, Takoma Violet, Sal's, Keddie, RdB, and Black Madeira) set last summer that should begin to show results this season too.

          • #9
            Nice, Tony!
            I could imagine this method working with plants installed at an angle at planting as well.
            Voles are a serious pest in my area in the winter as they do their thing under snow cover. I cage the trunks of trees with hardware cloth up to 18", and this has prevented damage. Trickier to cage a whole tree laying down, especially as it grows bigger, but that might be another tactic to consider.
            Jesse in western Maine, zone 4/5
            Wishlist- ,Campaniere, Demos unk

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          • #10
            Hi Tony, I tried some similar techniques with good preliminary results. Here is one tree that I bent the new growth down and covered with woven landscape fabric then buried with 1"-2" of soil.
            Click image for larger version

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            The tree right next to this one was also right next to a wood pile and was devoured by mice, it was buried with leaves.

            I pinned several 1-2 year old trees down with dirt bags and covered with ~6" of leaves, then topped the pile with a flattened out half bag of leaves to keep moisture out and prevent the leaves from blowing away. I took notes of damage to individual trees (average was 50% of tops damaged), the method used and type of leaves when uncovering but expected more damage to show up and have not made a final observation yet. It took about 5 hours to cover 37 trees that way, including pinning, and filling the bags full of leaves. 2 trees were just covered with dirt bags and only one had a small bit of undamaged trunk left, the bags are solid plastic so could have caused rot. 4 trees were covered with leaves that had begun to compost already and all of those rotted.
            Last edited by hoosierbanana; 04-12-2015, 06:19 PM. Reason: pic fix
            .

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            • mountainfigs
              mountainfigs commented
              Editing a comment
              Pic didn't show. How did the landscape fabric tree fare? If well, maybe the fabric is the key for your conditions or situation.

            • hoosierbanana
              hoosierbanana commented
              Editing a comment
              Hopefully that fixed it.

              The landscape fabric tree did well, all covered parts seemed alive. I need to go back and check that one also.

              I also did 2 more trees in different locations with leaves and the covered parts fared well. One of those had a single trunk girdled by mice also. The amount of leaves required for larger trees makes burying with dirt attractive, many of my trees are planted where I can't dig next to them though.

            • hoosierbanana
              hoosierbanana commented
              Editing a comment
              I should also note that these trees grew very vigorously and most took frost damage in November before being covered.

          • #11
            Brent,
            Thanks for sharing your results...

            From ongoing trials, Pine Shavings and Pine Bark Mulch have been my best insulating material.
            In the past two (2) winters all branches below the pine mulch and shavings have survived undamaged.
            It provides good drainage to prevent rot while still retaining enough moisture to keep the horizontal cordons from dessication.

            Attached is a photo of part of an ~ 9' dual cordon that survived this past winter buried under less than ~ 6" of pine shavings. The main vertical trunk is ~ 1-1/2" caliper and the horizontal cordons are only 3/4" caliper (last seasons growth). New vertical fruiting branches should develop along the entire length of the cordons and will be selected and maintained at ~ 8" intervals.
            Click image for larger version

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            Most of my in ground fig trees will be trained as similar Low Horizontal Cordons aka Japanese Stepover Espaliers. The caliper of the cordons will increase over time while remaining less than 6" above the soil below, http://www.ourfigs.com/forum/figs-ho...form#post11735 .
            Pete R - Hudson Valley, NY - zone 5b

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            • hoosierbanana
              hoosierbanana commented
              Editing a comment
              Thanks Pete, I can probably get some free pine chips to try.

              I want to avoid using a trellis but the stepover method seems like it has some real merits.

              What I like about the "low limb technique" is that I get to gamble the top. A mild winter could mean a bigger and earlier crop.

            • AscPete
              AscPete commented
              Editing a comment
              Brent,
              Only a simple "trellis" is required.
              I replaced the 3/4" EMT conduit with temporary 2x2 lumber for the winter burial to safeguard from possible cold damage from the steel conduit (shallow 6" burial). There are only two (2) fence posts on either end with the conduit as the main horizontal "trellis" support. It could also be made even simpler.
              BTW, tying the cordon fully horizontal is necessary to achieve balanced growth at the fruiting branches (verticals).

          • #12
            Pete, what cultivars are you using for your cordons or do you prefer to use?
            Tony WV 6b
            https://mountainfigs.net/

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            • mountainfigs
              mountainfigs commented
              Editing a comment
              You're not concerned about the later ripening cultivars being able to produce much before frost? Or are you counting on ever older cordons being able to ripen figs ever earlier? I would think that might be the case, for those with the patience.

            • AscPete
              AscPete commented
              Editing a comment
              No, I'm not concerned about the later ripening cultivars, a simple movable low hoop house can be deployed in a few minutes to extend the season if needed.
              Yes, I'm counting on the accelerated growth that's provided by the cordons and the pruning technique.
              Why would patience be required? I've found that the pruning technique only loses one (1) season of production, usually just the 1st year, after which the trees are more productive.

            • mountainfigs
              mountainfigs commented
              Editing a comment
              Not patience due to pruning, patience due to waiting for trees (cordons) to age. My impression is that older trees tend to ripen figs earlier than trees only a few years of age. But if you are using a low hoop house to aid ripening, then age of tree (cordon) would be less important. Regardless, very exciting work you are doing, Pete. I hope to replicate it to some extent or in some fashion around here. I expect to lean on the earliest ripening cultivars but mix in some later ripening ones too.

          • #13
            Tony,
            Older trees will ripen figs earlier due to the larger root mass and canopy compared to smaller younger trees, but pruning will aid in earlier and larger fig production on any tree. Proper pruning can reduce unnecessary growth and concentrate the trees limited energy into "desired" growth and fig production since main crop figs are produced an new growth. Pruning to create the scaffolds (cordons) doesn't require that they be "aged", the process simply creates the permanent scaffold that will support the fruiting branches. The scaffolds / cordons provide a "larger" pathway for vascular flow from roots to leaves and figs, the fruiting branches are then simply "limited" in quantity for fig production.

            mountainfigs,
            I have several underground cordons (of Gino's Black, Takoma Violet, Sal's, Keddie, RdB, and Black Madeira) set last summer that should begin to show results this season too.
            IMO, Underground cordons that produce roots will not perform the same as a normal above ground cordon. The auxins (plant hormones) that are produced and the vascular flow are completely different and will negatively affect the actual growth of the trees. Increased vegetative growth and decrease fig production will usually occur with the increased root mass of the "buried cordon".
            Click image for larger version

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            Last edited by AscPete; 04-13-2015, 12:48 PM.
            Pete R - Hudson Valley, NY - zone 5b

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            • mountainfigs
              mountainfigs commented
              Editing a comment
              Sure, pruning doesn't require aged scaffolds, but as scaffolds age, their root mass should increase, which, as you point out, should lead to earlier ripening. Aged scaffolds/root mass are less of an urgency if using the earliest ripening cultivars. (Thus less patience required.)

              Agreed that underground cordons will perform differently than above ground ones. If vegetative output suppresses fruit production I'll likely dig and cut and make new trees out of those de facto ground layers.

            • AscPete
              AscPete commented
              Editing a comment
              Thanks for clarifying "patience"...
              My cultivars have been chosen to provide figs over a longer extended harvest period. They have not only been chosen for their "Flavor groups" but also their ripening times, early mid and late.

          • #14
            Pics, below, of 7 gallon pots with slightly less than 1 inch holes drilled in them for embedding in loose ground. These holes were drilled last summer. These are the pots coming out from garage this spring prior to re-embedding in ground. Chopped off the roots with flat spade last fall or simply lifted the pots from the soil and mulch. This method gave significantly better growth and fruit production than same cultivars grown in same size pots with no holes and unembedded. In fact they outperformed same cultivars in pots more than twice their size, though maybe I don't do self-contained growing in pots very well.
            You may only view thumbnails in this gallery. This gallery has 3 photos.
            Last edited by mountainfigs; 04-13-2015, 01:54 PM.
            Tony WV 6b
            https://mountainfigs.net/

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            • #15
              The ultimate in low limb technique, growing in northern Ohio, a Mission fig bush the size of a three-car garage for 35 years:

              A tropical tree grows in Avon: Avon man keeps fig tree alive for 35 years.
              Tony WV 6b
              https://mountainfigs.net/

              Comment


              • AscPete
                AscPete commented
                Editing a comment
                from the articles description, "gathering the 6-foot-plus fig tree branches into bunches... like gathered cornstalks. After that, Sarraino bends the branches down to the ground, stepping on them until the branches are flat against the ground. Sarraino covers the flattened branches with the 100 bags of leaves for the winter."

                IMO, The branches are verticals that are growing from buried rooted branches (cordons). If this is only one planted tree then This shape 30 feet in diameter can be duplicated in about 5 years. A tree is planted and grown as a bush form. the first year the 6 feet tall branches are laid flat radiating out from the center and buried. The 2nd year the furthest vertical branches are laid flat and buried, the other verticals are protected by covering with bags of leaves. The process is repeated in the third year for a total of 36 feet in diameter ("3 car garage") by year 4. It will take another few years to fill in.

              • mountainfigs
                mountainfigs commented
                Editing a comment
                Any thoughts on what happens to the older wood? If he has been doing this for 35 years, it would seem that a lot of the wood would grow too thick and stiff to bend eventually. I wonder if he simply loses it to dieback.

              • AscPete
                AscPete commented
                Editing a comment
                To perform the described winterization the branches would have to be pruned back every few years (2 - 4?) before they become "woody". Many fig trees in NYC are bushes that are 12 - 15 feet across and they do die back every few years from colder winters. They "spread" naturally from suckers (low growing branches) and branches that fall over and root into the ground.

            • #16
              Of the few mulched low limbs protected from winter, one produced a single breba, Natalina. Small and not swelling at this point so don't know if it will come through. Shows the possibility at least.
              You may only view thumbnails in this gallery. This gallery has 2 photos.
              Tony WV 6b
              https://mountainfigs.net/

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              • #17
                I like the low cordon idea. I'll have to give that a try. I had initially given up on any in ground fig trees after reading about protective measures required but this sounds like a manageable solution.
                Don - OH Zone 5b/6a Wish list: Zaffiro, Craven's Craving, Izmir/Iznot, Calderona, Campaniere, Moro de Caneva, Nerucciolo d'Elba, Izbat an Naj, Blava Campenera, Makedonia Dark, Souadi, LSU Jack Lily, Violet Sepor

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                • mountainfigs
                  mountainfigs commented
                  Editing a comment
                  My thoughts exactly - it seems like it can be very manageable, nothing fancy, little or no materials needed (except mulch), and scarcely any labor required.

              • #18
                When I first read about this I didn't really understand the point. After examining what survived on my trees after last winter, and what wood died, I totally get it!
                Steve
                D-i-c-k-e-r-s-o-n, MD; zone 7a
                WL: Verdolino, Figue Jaune, Nantes Maroc, Lussheim

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                • #19
                  An update of the winterized horizontal cordon in posts #11 and #13...
                  The verticals are starting to grow out very quickly after a delayed bud break. There are 2 "suckers" that will be allowed to grow and will be ground layered. The verticals will be thinned in another week or two for the selected permanent fruiting branch locations. The ends were pruned back, so the total length of the horizontal cordon is just over ~ 7 feet. There was slight bark damage on the right side cordon near the main trunk where it bowed above the 6" deep wood shavings and was only covered by ~ 2" of the mulch, but it was only superficial and has only damaged the buds in that location. The buds on either side of the damage are healthy and growing.
                  Click image for larger version

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                  Pete R - Hudson Valley, NY - zone 5b

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                  • #20
                    Looks good, Pete. I had been thinking about following up on low limbs and hope to post some photos soon.
                    Tony WV 6b
                    https://mountainfigs.net/

                    Comment


                    • #21
                      Pete,

                      How many days do you have below freezing, and below 20*F, not nights, days. I have an average of 160 days at or below freezing, an average of 65 days at or below 20*F. Plus the nights are usually close to or below freezing From October to March, obviously with the bulk being from November to February.

                      Do you think that this would be a viable method for me to try?

                      Thank you
                      Scott - Colorado Springs, CO - Zone 4/5 (Depending on the year) - Elevation 6266ft

                      “Though the problems of the world are increasingly complex, the solutions remain embarrassingly simple.” – Bill Mollison

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                      • AscPete
                        AscPete commented
                        Editing a comment
                        This past Fall and Winter, Sept 21, 2014 thru March 21, 2015...
                        69 days < 32*F
                        16 days < 20*F
                        146 Nights < or = 32*F
                        Although we had a few very cold overnight lows IMO, this was an average normal winter.

                        IMO, its viable, would be easy to try and could be enhanced with the use of a cold frame, hoop house or Cloche in the spring and fall.
                        BTW, my elevation is only ~ 1050ft (I'm in a valley)

                      • COGardener
                        COGardener commented
                        Editing a comment
                        I'm on a hill side, wind is an issue and the majority of our nights like I said are at or below freezing. In fact many are low teens or single digit...... or the y have one of these in front of them (-).

                        And as you know, I'm in the foot hills of the Rock Mountains being Colorado Springs the elevation at my house is 6266FT per Google earth.

                        I look out my front window at Pikes Peak with is 14,114 feet (4,302M)

                    • #22
                      First photo here is the Hardy Chicago low limb from the OP two months later, now bushed out and bearing a few figs, in the big circle. The small circle is the stump. The medium circle is new limb growth from ground dieback. The bushed out low limb would have more figs on it if I had pinched all the new limbs but am letting most grow to mulch over as additional low limbs this coming winter. This tree gets about 9 hours of direct sun.

                      Second photo is the Natalina low limb from the OP. The preserved limb has bushed out on the right and bears a few figs. The sizable limbs on the left are growth from ground dieback, not pinched and bearing no figs; will mulch under as low limbs this winter. This tree gets only 6 hours of direct sun per day max so I don't know that it will be able to ripen fruit but am trialing.

                      The third photo shows six bushes on a bank all grown back from total topkill (dieback to ground). Few or no figs on these, am letting the limbs grow and will mulch under hopefully all of these limbs since they are all low, originating from the ground. The top 4 bushes from left to right: Marseilles Black, Black Bethlehem, Gino's Black, Adriatic JH. On bottom, left to right, Emerald Strawberry and Keddie. These bushes also get only 6 hours of direct sun per day max, so, another low sun fruiting trial.

                      At some point, I may train any and all as single line low cordons but for now will see what they can do as low limb bushes.
                      You may only view thumbnails in this gallery. This gallery has 3 photos.
                      Tony WV 6b
                      https://mountainfigs.net/

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                      • #23
                        Tony,
                        Thanks for sharing those update photos.

                        I also started a few planned "bush" form winterized low scaffolds (cordons) last season as mentioned in this post from last year, http://figs4funforum.websitetoolbox....0&postcount=15 .
                        Click image for larger version

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                        The pictured 1 gallon tree in zone 7 NYC, in the post was not covered and was not protected. It died back to the soil line, but is already over 12" tall with a few formed figs. The photo below is from May 27,2015.
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                        The 1 gallon trees that were planted 3 feet deep in zone 6 with 12 inches of mulch had no die back and are currently growing as single stem or dual stem trees (prior to pruning and training).
                        Pete R - Hudson Valley, NY - zone 5b

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                        • mountainfigs
                          mountainfigs commented
                          Editing a comment
                          Good stuff, Pete. The 1 gallons 3 feet deep with no die back - how far above the soil line and how far below the top of the mulch did they winter over? Or were they bent over on the soil line?

                        • AscPete
                          AscPete commented
                          Editing a comment
                          Tony,
                          The 12" to 24" of above ground growth was simply laid down and buried under 12 inches of wood shavings...
                          since they are only in there 1st stage of training and have not yet been pruned for branching there is nothing to see or report (they were expected to survive undamaged under the deep wood shavings cover)
                          Last edited by AscPete; 06-16-2015, 10:02 AM. Reason: added comment (*)
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