Limiting tree size via container size

knoxvillegardener(7a)April 30, 2010

If I've understood correctly, one way to assist (besides pruning!) in controlling the ultimate growth size of dwarf and semi-dwarf fruit trees is to put them in a container, thereby limiting the maximum size their root ball can reach.

Are there any rules of thumb regarding the size at which a fruit tree will basically stop growing (or at least slow down a good bit) as a function of container size?

(For example - and I'm making these numbers up - a 10 gallon container might encourage tree size to start maxing out at 8' tall and 6' wide, a 20 gallon at 11' tall and 9' wide, etc.)

Does anyone have any insights into this that they would care to share?

In particular, how effective (or ineffective) is this method?

(BTW, I'm thinking of using Smart Pots and expect that these would affect trees differently than regular containers due to air pruning. My guess is that they would be more effective at helping with size control.)


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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

I haven't used air pots. My understanding is they dry out faster because the sides are permeable to air. So you need to water more often or use a more water retentive mix.

How often you water and how much fertilizer will also affect tree size.

My trees on dwarf and standard roots in 10-15 gal pots grow to about 6-8 ft tall and 4-6 ft wide without too much pruning. I hold them to about 6 ft tall and 4 ft wide. That works watering once a day.

Rootstock and scion vigor both affect final tree size. But maintaining a small tree is pretty easy.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2010 at 1:16PM
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At that size, how much fruit (lbs/year) do you get per tree, on average?

What are the different types of trees you have?

Are there any that types of fruit that struggle to produce fruit at that size, or do they all do okay?

How much water do you give the trees each day? (I realize that what's right for you will be different than what's right for due to differences in climate, etc. I'm just trying to get a ballpark feel for this.)

How much fertilizer do you give them (also, what type) and how often?

Many thanks! Your input is much appreciated!

(P.S. As you can tell from the different threads I've started asking various questions, I tend to research things in depth before making final decisions about them. It's the engineer in me!)

    Bookmark   April 30, 2010 at 3:52PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

I'd say the potted trees are fairly productive for their size. Maybe 5-10 lbs per tree. The fruit is about half the size of in-ground trees. The quality is excellent if everything goes well. But there is a pretty steep learning curve.

I've got blueberries, citrus, plum/pluot, nectarine, fig, persimmon, apple, and grape. Easiest to grow and produce are figs, blues, citrus, and grapes.

I water once a day until water runs out the bottom, about 2-3 gallons. Fertilizer maybe once a month or less.

Getting the potting mix right and watering for high quality fruit are the hardest part. Pruning and maintaining size is easy. All rootstocks have worked. You don't need dwarf. I have Lovell, Citation, Krymsk 1, 5, 6, 9 and 86, Myrobalan, Marianna 2624, 3CR178, 3CR357, M26, and others.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2010 at 4:31PM
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You commented that fruit from potted trees tends to be about half the size of in-ground trees. Does that apply to normally small fruits such as blueberries? Thanks.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2010 at 4:50PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

No, my blueberry fruit is quite large. Big enough to eat one at a time. Not always that large but dime to penny, some nickel. That's pretty large to me. Blueberries are very well adapted to pots. Citrus, grapes, and figs fruit are large as well. The small fruit is mainly the stone fruit. But my in-ground stone fruit is pretty large.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2010 at 5:09PM
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Thanks fruitnut.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2010 at 6:24PM
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franktank232(z5 WI)

I have fruit on 2 peaches/1 nectarine in 20 gallon pots...along with a cherry in a whiskey barrel. I guess i'm about to find out how big they get.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2010 at 6:52PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX


Part of the reason my stone fruit in pots is small may be that I don't thin enough. I think you'll find that out this year. I thin until I think they are about right. Then I should take off every other fruit. Then later take off more.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2010 at 7:19PM
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Fruitnut - I looked over your list to see if you had any apricots in pots like the Tomcot you mentioned in another thread. Have you tried apricots in containers? That's something I've been wanting to try since we have late frosts here and I thought I might be able to drag a container into the garage when it gets too cold in the spring.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2010 at 7:38AM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX


Apricots work about like all the other fruits. They are more likely to have poor bloom if water stressed the prior summer. If you get the water right they will bloom and fruit well. I have a second leaf tree with a fair amount of fruit right now.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2010 at 8:37AM
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