Planting trees in plastic party/utility tubs?

davidstevenNovember 27, 2009

HI all, I could use some advice on this.

Last year I planted 3 semi-dwarf fruit trees(plum/peach/apricot) into seperate tubs and have about a dozen more trees comming this spring that I plan to do the same with. The tubs are those 17.5 gallon(aprox.) plastic party/utility tubs with the rope handles(sometimes used for beer/soda and ice). I put about 2.5 cu. ft. of tree and shrub mix into the tub with a layer of Pea gravel on the bottom. My intentions are to eventually plant most of the trees in my yard, but I will keep some in the tubs moving them in my garage during the extreme cold months.

Will this work? Will I be able to keep the trees in the tubs for the life of the trees? Will they reach there full height and be productive?

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misterbaby(7a/b TN)

Hi, David! I can't speak directly to stone fruits, but I have several apples in the blue rope tubes from Home Depot(18gallons, about $5.oo), and they're all flourishing. I'm planning to use this method for a couple of peach trees and mulberry bushes next spring. The gravel isn't important, but drainage holes are. Misterbaby.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2009 at 11:58AM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

I've been growing blueberries, grapes, and stone fruit in 15 gallon pots for about 5 yrs. Will they reach their full height and productivity, no. But they have been productive for their size. Fruit quality has been more variable than trees in the ground, sometimes great, sometimes not so much.

I agree with Misterbaby that the pea gravel isn't helpful. Contrary to common sense it doesn't improve drainage. My pots have about six holes in the bottom. I cover them with aluminum window screen to keep the soil in the pot.

I bought the black plastic pots. I think they may be polypropylene. They last a long time in the sun. I'm not familiar with the pots mentioned but my first concern is how long will they last in the sun.

The Fruitnut

    Bookmark   November 27, 2009 at 2:22PM
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I am moving all my potted trees into the tubs, because they are SO much cheaper than pots, plus they hold more soil, have handles and are easier to move.
It always outrages me what they charge for plastic pots--plastic is plastic, and there is no reason a 20 inch pot should be $30-35, but a lug tub is $7.99. PLUS the plastic they use in pots is more brittle and cracks easily, but the lug tugs are more pliable and longer lasting, IMO.

Carla in Sac

    Bookmark   November 27, 2009 at 8:27PM
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theaceofspades(7 Long Island)

Those cheap rope party tubs disintegrate in a couple years.(That's why they are cheap)
Most Apples, Pears and American hybrid Plums will do fine planted in the ground in z-4/5 Wisconsin. Most Peaches and some Apricots can get whacked in a real cold snap. If I grew Peaches in zone 4 I'd get those blue plastic chemical drums and cut them in half and add a rope handle. There is spray paint that bonds to plastic in the hardware stores. I'd bet they hold three 2.5 cu. ft soil mix bags. One nice tree is better than a few scrawny ones. I'd train and prune it into a peach bush.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2009 at 5:18AM
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25-gallon quality UV-protected standard nursery pots that will last for many years in full sunshine cost less than $6 wholesale. A nearby landscaping company may sell you a good condition used one for about that (or a retail nursery for twice that). I've bought a bunch of them for $5. I've more recently bought some (and 45 gallon ones) new by 10s (and 5s) at the wholesale place if I'm headed nearby anyway (~90 miles away).

For blueberries (and a few other such plants that I read don't like warm roots) it might be best to pain the pots white or silver.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2009 at 9:36AM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

Agree that the brittle plastic pots don't last very long. The ones I have aren't brittle and are made for the nursery trade. I suspect they will last much longer than 10 yrs if treated right. Plastic needs to be UV stabilized to last in the sun. Clear untreated poly film lasts a few months at best in sun. The good UV stabilized stuff lasted 5 yrs on my greenhouse.

Around here they sell cattle feed, a molasses type stuff, in 25 gallon thick black plastic tubs. This stuff has to be a 1/4 inch thick and appears to be UV stable. It is much like the chemical drums cut in half. My only concern is that 25 gal gets pretty heavy to move either with rope handles or a dolly. My 15 gallon size will support a good size tree or bush and is fairly easy to move with a dolly. A 25 gal size will be pretty heavy to move by hand, ropes or not.

If I were using a 25 gal size I'd try to use a light weight mix. This rules out some materials like sand. I'd also be hesitant to only fill the pot part way. The main thing that helps with drainage in a pot is to have a tall soil column. In a pot you are basically dealing with a water table at the depth of the soil column. So a pot with a 12 inch depth of soil is about like having a water table at 12 inches in a field soil. A 15 or 18 inch soil depth is better than 12.

At least that's how I see it.

The Fruitnut

    Bookmark   November 28, 2009 at 9:37AM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Here's a thread that I think you'll find extremely valuable. Some of the info has been briefly mentioned above. This one thread sums up and discusses drainage and soil requirements for container planting. You may even want to bookmark it for future reference.

Here is a link that might be useful: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention IX

    Bookmark   November 30, 2009 at 2:08PM
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Tony(Zone 5. Omaha, Nebraska)

I have 3 medium height 30 gallons trash can with wheels that I used for pots. It is holding up real well after 4 years. I used miracle growth potting mix and drilled about ten holes on the bottom for drainage. My Russian pomergranate and 2 kaki persimmons are doing great. I just rolled them in the shed for winter protection. The trash cans I bought from Menards at that time about $10.


    Bookmark   November 30, 2009 at 2:55PM
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franktank232(z5 WI)

I have 3 peaches, a sweet cherry and a nectarine in those tubs. Only issues i'm seeing our they are not strong enough, even with a light soil...don't move them much in the winter because the plastic gets very brittle. I'm going to make the move to metal or wood next summer (depending on fruit).

    Bookmark   December 1, 2009 at 2:20PM
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franktank232(z5 WI)


Those trash cans have jumped a lot in price. I bought 3 of them (30 gallon) for fruit trees on sale recently and they were around $16 and that is at Menards.. The galvanized metal should last for a long, long time i would hope. Cheaper then a whiskey barrel and lighter.

All mine got moved in the garage today. I guess we'll see what spring brings. I have an attached garage and the trees are all on the house side...

    Bookmark   December 1, 2009 at 5:05PM
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