Dwarf Fruit Tree -vs- Pruning Standard Fruit Tree?

yodianaJune 24, 2011

I was wondering...

If I am not able to find a particular variety of plum tree (green gage) on a dwarf rootstock; and my local nursery has a standard green gage plum tree....

Would it be okay if I just bought the standard Green Gage plum tree and kept it at a dwarf size by heavy pruning?

I also need to grow it in a container. Is this possible? Any tips?

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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

yodiana:

The only possible advantage of dwarf over standard in a pot is that the dwarf might not become rootbound as fast. But that's just speculation on my part. In practice I've seen no difference.

Unless you use a big pot neither will require much pruning in a pot.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2011 at 9:53AM
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yodiana

Hello Fruitnut! So you've been able to keep a standard fruit tree in a 15-gal container and have it produce fruits without any problems? If so, how long have you had the tree?

If you had the choice between 1) "good" dwarf fruit tree OR 2) a "better" standard fruit tree to grow in a container, which would you pick?

Glad you said, "Unless you use a big pot neither will require much pruning in a pot." Because my pruning skills are non-existent. I also read that you should never "Top" a tree because it only keeps the tree short temporarily and actually causes it to send out more shoots. Yikes!

The Green Gage plum tree is in a 5-gallon container. Should I re-pot to a 15-gallon when I bring it home? Or go up in smaller increments 7, 10 then 15 gallons?

Is it true that if I bought a 5-gallon dwarf tree and a 5-gallon standard tree; the dwarf tree would produce fruits much sooner?

As always, thanks for your input!

    Bookmark   June 24, 2011 at 11:05AM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

yodiana:

I assume you've been watching my posts lately about potted fruit trees and eating quality. The three nectarine trees in a 15 gal pot with 36 high quality fruit are all on Nemaguard. That's a standard size root and very sensitive to wet soil. The biggest potential problem in pots is wet soil. Well there are no problems and hardly any pruning needed.

You will be amazed how little pruning is needed. Just shape the tree a little. Open vase, central leader, and fan all work.

If you don't mind the work go up one pot size a year. Or go straight to 15 gal.

I've had fruit trees in 15 gal pots 4 or 5 years without repotting so far. But a couple could use it now. However I've moved on to better varieties on some so will just discard a few soon.

The precocious dwarf roots like Giesla 5 really speed up fruiting. So in some cases at least there are advantages for dwarf. But pluot and nectarine fruit early on any root I've tried. I'd pick variety over root anytime.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2011 at 11:40AM
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tcstoehr

Fruitnut, this is the second time you've mentioned repotting and I'm curious about it. When you're in your maximum sized pot, 15 gallons let's say, do you still need to repot? And if so, it is basically a root-pruning sort of procedure? I would think a pot-bound tree would have an unmanageably dense root ball. I'd think you'd have to hack at it with an axe.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2011 at 11:56AM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

tc:

I've only repotted one tree and I'm not looking forward to more. An axe, machette, or chain saw is about right. Plus this is all heavy and the top is fragile even when dormant.

Perhaps if done every year it would be easier. But the tree reaches the vigor I want only in year 2 and beyond. I'd sooner start over with another tree if I can get three or four crops. If you bud your own trees that will be cheaper than repotting every year. Potting media is expensive compared to rootstocks. Shoot, potting media is expensive compared to buying bare root trees if you're talking yearly full bare-root repot like they push on the container forum.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2011 at 12:20PM
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yodiana

Thanks, Fruitnut! Yes, I have been following your posts. They're always very encouraging; especially to a newbie-gardener. It's exciting to know that I can get that Green Gage Plum tree and possibly grow it a container. Yay!

You've also brought up another valid point, the tree isn't too pricey ($25) but the potting media certainly is. That's one reason why I prefer potting up every year - less media. But my main reason for not wanting to go directly to 15 gal is fear possible diseases. I read that its not a good idea to use too large of a container on a small tree because the roots doesn't use all the media and the soil ends up stagnant? I tend to over-water so having lots of wet soil isn't good.

Hopefully this isn't going to be too dumb of a question - but when I re-pot, can I use some of the same potting media? Or use that same used potting media for another pot/plant? I'd save a lot of money if I could re-use potting media but not sure how healthy that is for the plant.

I made the really dumb mistake of removing an over-watered diseased tomato plant that had fungus and used the same soil on my new tomato plant. DOH! But what if the plant is healthy, can I re-use the potting-mix then?

    Bookmark   June 24, 2011 at 1:20PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

yodiana:

Don't reuse any kind of organic potting mix. It breaks down over time. It's when it breaks down and runs together that you get a saturated, toxic mess. The only thing you might reuse is the turface type stuff. But see the container forum first.

When you pot up you need to remove at least the outer layer of roots. And some would say to bare root the tree and put in all new media even on a pot up. That's why I just go straight to the size I want.

You need to start with a very well draining media. It's hard to over water if your media drains like it should. Also you need to get a feel for how often to water. When the tree is dormant, no leaves, I might water once week to once a month. As leafing starts once a week to every other day. In summer every morning on established trees.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2011 at 2:42PM
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yodiana

Fruitnut: Thanks for putting everything in layman's terms for me. I think I better get Al's gritty mix before acquiring another tree. Do you think I will have any luck finding pine bark fines, turface and perlite at places like Home Depot or Lowe's? I don't even know where to begin the search. Unfortunately, I've already potted 3 citrus and 1 avocado tree with some palm, citrus and avocado mix. Contemplating if I should repot them (again) when I get the gritty mix. Hmmm...

Regarding, the three nectarine trees you have in a 15 gal pot on Nemaguard. Can you tell me how long you had them before they started fruiting? That container must be really heavy!

Is there anyway to find the rootstock of trees from Home Depot or Lowe's? (Is this what people mean by "Big Boxes" on this forum?)I've asked a few employees in the past and they had no clue what I was talking about.

Regarding, the three nectarine trees you have in a 15 gal pot on Nemaguard. Can you tell me how long you had them before they started fruiting?

    Bookmark   June 24, 2011 at 6:47PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

yodiana:

The pot with three Nemaguard only weights 42 lb dry. That mix is pretty light and very well draining. Other 15 gal weighed 50 to 65 with heavier mixes. My impression is the gritty mix might be heavier, maybe quite a bit. I couldn't live with heavy myself. I'm sticking to this really light mix I have now. Think fluffy, coarse, wood chips and don't pack it in when planting. Better too light and dry than too wet.

The three Nemaguard were planted 2010 so this is only 2nd leaf. I was thinking of putting everything single tree this winter, but not this one. It's working too well as is.

If you find a variety you want for a pot get it, big box tree or not, as long as the price is right. Treat it as a learning experiment. If you can get 3-4 crops without repotting that's a good deal, at least for me.

I'd have to special order to get either gritty or 5-1-1. I'm working with what's free and local. So far it's working more than not.

Yes Lowe's and Home Depot are big box. They should have some of the ingredients but haven't looked my self.

Here's a picture of my mix. 2/3 corase slightly composted wood shavings and 1/3 spaghnum peat moss.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2011 at 7:35PM
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lsoh

Yodina,
I'm just learning. Clearly fruitnut's input is far more valuable than mine. But I want to reinforce fruitnut's comment about the weight of the gritty mix. I have ten 8 gallon containers. For experimental reasons, there's a different mix in each. The gritty mix was much heavier than any of the others. I could barely move that container. I abandoned the gritty mix based on the weight. On the other hand, if you don't need to move your containers, at least it won't blow over.

    Bookmark   June 24, 2011 at 8:12PM
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alan haigh

I've got about 300 fruit trees in containers right now as part of my little nursery operation. I used to start with smaller pots but now I put my plants in the ground for a couple years and then into 20 gallon pots, but for you that's neither here nor there. Obviously, Fruitnut's experience is much more in line with what you're doing.

However, current research indicates a strong advantage to starting with the larger pot rather than moving up gradually if you want the fastest growth possible right from the first season.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 5:28AM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

harvestman:

Do you bare root when you go from ground to pot and what kind of potting mix do you use? Are the trees fruited in pots or do you have another use?

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 7:39AM
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alan haigh

Fruitnut, I have 2 methods and I'm sharing my trade secrets here (what the hell- I'm 6 months from 60 and hope to retire in 25 years anyway). I start some plants straight in the ground, planting them way too close in a fenced off area. Planting them close makes maintenance per plant much less expensive given that it's all done by hand (don't ask).

For apples in my climate it takes about 3 years to size them up to about 1.5" diameter- at least when planted this close. I carefully dig up these BR and put them in short 20 gallon pots (wide and shallow) in a mix of 1 part peat, 1 composted wood chips or stable waste ( almost pure humus with some carbo lumps) and 1 sand, plus a little wood ash. They limp the first season but I sell them the next for around $180 per. At this point they are bearing, 12' tall and well branched and the foliage is back to mormal.

Other trees I transfer to Carl Whitcomb grow bags in real soil and let them grow about another 3 years and sell them for $250 per, or less to contractors. The grow bags I use are his last edition because they allow more root out of the bag and I can grow them without any irrigation at all- even through drought. Irrigation would reduce production by about a year, I'm sure, but in my operation only my potted plants get any and they are set in the soil as well.

I always take some trees in the grow bags, remove the bags and put them into 25 Gallon pots with the soil intact but surrounded by my potting mix which allows me to sell some larger trees during the growing season. Surprisingly the soil surrounded by potting mix works very well and you might want to try that method for your trees as the soil gives you much more bang per square inch and costs less. Repotting would require only replacing the artificial soil on the edge of the soil ball. It makes things real heavy though, and my soil is not too fine so I don't know how it would work with a more clay soil but I bet it would work just fine.

I'm sure my prices seem outrageous by your regional standards but I'm less than an hour from NYC and here it's more than competitive- it's the best deal around- because I have scores of varieties and they're actually properly shaped for fruit production. They also plug in better than the competitions BB'd trees, especially the ones I have in pots.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 12:20PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

harvestman:

I have 6-10 trees that I dug up outdoors and potted while retaining the native soil rootball. So the pot ends up about half clay loam native soil and half my mix filling in the edges and bottom. This has worked as well as anything else but is kinda heavy.

The above shouldn't work according to the experts on the container forum. They make it sound like anything short of the secret sauce is doomed. I have had a few mixes break down and the bottom half of the mix ran together, became water logged, and was totally void of roots. The last was a blueberry that only had roots 4-6 inches deep.

To me all the gloom and doom about mixes just scares off beginners. 90+% of my efforts have worked fine. Many when I clearly didn't know what I was doing.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 1:31PM
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yodiana

LOL! You guys are FANTASTIC!

@lsoh, your feedback was definitely helpful and valuable. I'm pretty sure you saved me from a lot of unnecessary frustrations. Unfortunately, I do tend to move my containers around a lot. I'm a newbie and still trying to find that "perfect" spot for each and every tree. Which has been extremely difficult due to the limited "full sun" areas in my small backyard. I want to cry every time I have to move a pot - especially right after watering it. Trying to figure out "what works" is a pain in the butt. So any helpful input is more than welcomed, thank you!

@harvestman, you are too funny! So thankful you were willing to share your trade-secrets. I'm having to wait until winter to dig up a plum tree I "accidentally" planted. You gave me a headsup on what I may expect - how long does your tree stay limp for after being removed from the ground? I'm afraid mine will die.

Most of the trees I've re-potted from the nursery have gone directly into a 15 gallon but not really by choice. I've spent so much monies on potting media, insecticides, fungicides, fertilizers, etc etc etc.. and didn't want to spend another fortune on pots unless I absolutely had to or loved the pot. The only pots the wholesale nursery near my house has for sale are 1 gal, 5 gal (.50 cents) and 15 gal ($1.50). Nothing in between or larger, so thanks for giving me an incentive to stick with the 15 gal. I also like wide and shallow pots too. IMO, they are easier to work with but those nursery containers are tall and narrow. Guess for space saving purposes?

@fruitnut, thank you, thank you, thank you for the photo and sharing your mix "secret!" It seems MUCH less overwhelming. I'm going to give it a try. Would you suggest I add perlite too? Since I already have it? I also already have the spaghnum peat moss (adds acidity to my blueberries). Where can I find slightly composted wood shavings or chips?

@All - question. I just potted my 5 gal dwarf avocado tree in a 10 gal pot 3 days ago. I placed it in a sunny spot yesterday but saw it start to wilt and brought it into the shade just in time. Would I disturb it if I repot again in a larger 15 gal container?

Another dumb question. Are the terms irrigation and watering synonymous? Many thanks!

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 5:30PM
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bozemeier(6 (Southern IL))

Getting back to the original question without talking about planting in pots, I would also like to know if there is any difference in pruning back a standard fruit tree to dwarf size, but in the soil?

    Bookmark   October 5, 2011 at 2:00PM
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SoTX(8b/9a)

You can keep them to any size you want with Spring and Summer pruning--basically cutting back half the new growth each time. See Dave Wilson Nursery website for more info.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2011 at 5:20AM
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alan haigh

I don't have any experience in management of potted trees for long term fruit production but one-size fits all methods such as what TX mentioned here would seem somewhat dubious to me. Maybe I should check the DW site but even on the face of it cutting back to half the new growth will not keep a tree the same size and in itself would create a bushy tree with too much competing wood at point of stub cuts. I expect you need to cut back to a lateral branch to sustain apical dominance and keep order and fruit production in line.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2011 at 6:05AM
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