Success of Fruit trees Transferred to Containers?

ahgrower HorneMay 28, 2014

Hi Everyone,
Need advice from Fruitnut (because he has a lot of trees growing in containers) and anyone else who is growing fruit trees successfully in containers...Here goes: This past year (like a whole lot of us) I lost a lot of fruit on my plum and peach trees although none of these died. Yet, all my fig bushes died at the tops and new growth is now rapidly appearing from the bottom because of harsh and unsually cold weather. Anyway, I want to avoid all of the wrapping up with thick plastic, hot water in gallon jugs, X-mas lights, and tarps to protect the trees to no avail this coming winter season (2015) . I fully intend to dig up my fruit trees from out of the ground and put them in 20-40 gallon containers so that I can transport them into my garage as needed when the weather gets bad. I have 6 different plum trees including the August Sensational Plum (Super Sweet from Berry Farms) which had about 20 plums that got to be dime size which harsh weather decimated. I have1 burbank, 2 fruit cocktail trees that were loaded with fruit, 1 Santa Rosa, 1 4-n-1 pluot tree which were covered in small plums, 1 Flavor Supreme that got pollinated real well and it was covered with plums and I will later send pics of the one and only plum on that tree (FS) that did survive the freeze, high winds, extreme cold and inconsistent weather soon. What I am really asking, Fruitnut and company, is do I have to change the soil and use potting soil only? Can I still just transfer the soil that I planted the trees in since I used all new soil this past November of 2013 because I relocated all of my trees at that time to the east side of my south facing yard? I used garden soil, compost, alittle sand and a little native clay soil.Will this work in a container?. All 25 of my trees look good--the rest of my trees are all assorted peach and apricot and nanking cherry. All my trees are between 4-6 years old, (except NC, I have 5 of them that my niece gave me out of her yard that are 9 years old) and all of my fruit trees are either dwarf or semi dwarf, pruned and sprayed well, all are, and will stay at 5 and a half-6 feet tall with no disease or bug problems currently--but I have sprays on hand for future outbreaks!. Please help and thanks to any and everyone who can give me advice! Sorry for writing such a long message...

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ahgrower Horne

My message was so long, I forgot to ask the most important question? When is the best time to dig up and replant, dormant season for our area, that would be Nov-Dec.? Thanks again everyone!

    Bookmark   May 28, 2014 at 10:17AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

No you should not use the soil. In pots it is so different. For figs I can see you doing this, but not for plums or peaches, no. I'm in zone 6 and no plans to transfer peaches or pluots. I don't mind losing fruit a year or two as most years in zone 6 they will be perfectly fine. I grow enough hardy fruit to make up for it. Raspberries, currants, tart cherries, blueberries, and other fruits.
But I really do hope you do this as that will mean we will have mild winters for the next 15 years. That Murphy guy will make sure of it!

    Bookmark   May 28, 2014 at 11:06AM
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ahgrower Horne

Thank you Drew. Okay, I will leave them in ground because this past winter was unusually harsh. Maybe, the weather will be better. Lets hope!

    Bookmark   May 28, 2014 at 11:22AM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

If you pot them up do it when dormant and leafless.

Weren't you going with a shelter or was that someone else?

    Bookmark   May 28, 2014 at 12:01PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

I would pot the figs though. I don't have any but have been following all threads here as i have interest. Seems like they like to be root bound. I actually decided not to get any because so many have failed with them. If I was in your zone though I would try. It's just way too cold here. It can be done, but it's so much work! I have 6 pots I need to protect now. 4 blueberries and 2 tart cherries. The tart cherries were dug up from my cottage. It was not the cold, but the wet environment, and lack of light. I decided to bring them here, but I have no room, so they will stay in pots. Both are Carmine Jewel bush cherries.
Use some type of potting mix for any you do pot up.
I like Fafard potting mixes. Or make your own like the 5-1-1 mix that is used in the container forum.
And if we have another bad winter, you can yell at me!
Anyway so both of us should focus on structure of our trees, and I bet next year we will be complaining about the heavy thinning we have to do.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2014 at 2:44PM
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ahgrower Horne

Thanks Fruitnut and Drew51, you both have given me some things to think about. My fig bushes were never really a problem, I forgot to wrap them up last year though. But I think I will try fafard potting mix. I will look it up online Drew. Fruitnut, no I am not the one who was going with a shelter, I sure wish I could though. For lack of space on my 1 quarter acre, I cannot put in a greenhouse because my backyard is sloped and does not offer the right spacing. I have about 17 large raised beds, 1 grape arbor and other things in the yard. I have had success in growing one peach tree for 3 years in a big barrel about 30 gal. but when i moved, I planted it in ground last year and it has been doing well. It is an Elberta peach tree. Can you tell me what the biggest issues you have had growing your fruit in pots and containers please? Is it watering them too often or too litte?

    Bookmark   May 28, 2014 at 3:26PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

The biggest issue is the weight in a 30 gallon and then getting the mix right. It needs to drain well enough and not become waterlogged. I have potted up figs and maybe fruit trees with a rootball of my soil surrounded by well drained mix. For that to work the soil they are in now would need to drain very well. Mine drains a 12 inch deep hole in 10-15 minutes.

It is possible to shelter trees outdoors from an occasional spring freeze. They need to be covered and have a heat source like a 40-100 watt blub inside. A bigger tree might need an electric heater.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2014 at 3:37PM
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Carmen Jewel are bred for cold Saskatchewan prairies. I wouldn't think there would be any point in trying to protect them from the cold. Northwoodswis

    Bookmark   May 28, 2014 at 4:10PM
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ahgrower Horne

Thanks Fruitnut, sheltering them is the only thing that I have not thought of doing. I guess that the light bulb would definitely offer a good heat source to some degree. I have a very long tarp (about 80 feet). I would just have to make sure that the bulb does stays steady and in a very secure location under the shelter. Fruitnut, in your honest opinion, do you think that I could transfer my plum trees to containers in their dormant season and still get a decent harvest come spring? I really want to do this because I love plums and I want to grow my own because they are never satisfactory in the grocery stores or even farmers markets and I am definitely willing to give this a try! I will experiment with the holes in the containers to see if I can get the draining to take 10-15 minutes like yours...thanks so much for all your advice! Also, northwoodswis4-thank you as well, I have 5 nanking cherry trees and they are pretty strong and steady, these trees are close to problem free--but I do inspect them all and I have no intentions on potting these. They seem to tolerate the cold pretty well. I am really just focused on the plums ( 6 trees in total)since they are my favorite fruit!!! Lol.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2014 at 7:17AM
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I seriously question the ability to dig up a tree that has been in the ground for 4-6 years and get an adequate root system it into a 20 to 40 gallon pot. I've never tried it, so I really don't know, but planting the bare root nursery stock I planted this year in 15 gallon pots really makes me question the viability of planting older established trees in pots. You're going to have to prune off a heck of a lot of its feeder roots. It would seem to me you would need to reduce the canopy severely (even if they are dwarf) commensurate with the reduction in roots to have any chance of survival. If all these trees are only five to six feet tall, it would seem a lot simpler to cover them on an as needed (infrequent) basis, then to pot them all and move them. Here in Utah we have some pretty wild swings in spring. It is not common, but not unheard of to get snow in June. Even so, it is not necessary to do anything special in order to get good crops of many sorts of plums in the majority of years.

This post was edited by charina on Thu, May 29, 14 at 8:55

    Bookmark   May 29, 2014 at 8:40AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

"I wouldn't think there would be any point in trying to protect them from the cold."

I admit a certain irony here! I think if I had it in a pot this winter it would have died. The ground stays a lot warmer, the roots would have froze solid in a pot. No movement of water would desiccate the plant. Yes, in a pot it needs protection. They will go in an unheated garage.
If you leave a pot outside plant in it or not, it will crack. The only exception are cloth pots. You can leave them out.
If I had them in cloth pots, I could probably leave them unprotected.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2014 at 8:49AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

I think charina is right, move that plum, goodbye harvest. has a store finder, just put in your zip code btw.
Fruitnut has ton's of experience with trees in pots. But he has a greenhouse too. I would not use native soil if not in a greenhouse. I would make my own soilless mix, next best thing would be a Fafard mix.

Cloth pots are really a great way to go. Because of air pruning. A 30 gallon cloth pot is really like a 60 gallon pot because of air pruning. I would love to see Fruitnut experiment with these and see if he sees any difference in trees in cloth bags. I use root pouches.
When the roots hit the side of the bag, the air coming through the fabric stops them from circling. Instead the plant produces more roots, why it is like a bigger space, as the plants produce more, effective roots versus a traditional pot. You can convert traditional pots to air prune by cutting holes in it and lining it with landscape fabric cloth.

Here is a link that might be useful: root pouches

    Bookmark   May 29, 2014 at 9:06AM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

I won't try to pot up 4 yr trees. Better to protect in place and buy new trees to pot if you want to try that.

My pots drain through in 15 seconds. The 15 minutes was for a 12 inch deep hole dug in native soil and filled with water to test drainage.

Unfortunately there isn't going to be an easy way to grow good plums in Atlanta. Your best bet is the adapted plums bred in that area, protect from spring freezes, and hone your growing skills.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2014 at 10:34AM
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ahgrower Horne

Okay Everyone, thanks so much for all your advice. I know it makes good sense for me to simply just heed it. And I will...I will just continue to wrap them up as warmly as I can and pray for good success! In any case, I did move all the trees as stated in one of my previous messages, last year in Nov. 2013 and they all faired well during the dormant season but I did replace them in the ground. I think that all of that action was enough stress on them anyway, so thanks for giving me a reality check on what is best for my trees. I understand everything that you all have advised and suggested and I truly thank you all for your imput! I will follow your advice and will follow up next year with the results. I love this website, you guys are awesome!

    Bookmark   May 29, 2014 at 1:31PM
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