Need advice for storing potted trees during winter

milehighgirl(CO USDA 5B/Sunset 2B)November 13, 2008

I went all out and bought about 40 trees: Apples, peaches, pears, cherries, plums, medlar, pawpaws, mulberries, etc. I also got gooseberries, strawberries, grapes, currents....the list goes on.

We planned on taking out all the shade trees in our yard and planting them, but my dh had to have shoulder surgery and we have not finished the task. Currently everything is in pots.

I have a spare room above my garage that is unheated and unused at the moment. I was thinking that this would be a good place to store them for the winter. It gets very cold up there, but no wind. There are also windows for light. I have no idea how low the temperature gets in the dead of winter in the "upper room", but it won't get as cold as the outside. the lowest it has ever gotten outside here is about -20.

My specific questions are:

How cold is too cold for the roots in the pots?

Should I water periodically during the winter?

Should I provide any other protection for the roots and trunks of the trees, and the berries?

We have had a few mice, but no big problem. Should I do anything about pests?

I invested probably a grand on these trees and I don't want to loose them. Your help and advice is appreciated!

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Konrad___far_north(3..just outside of Edmonton)

I know a guy in Alaska, he lays all the trees over on the ground, put some vole poison down, a tarp over and that's it.
I would be too worried in your room, heaving too much temperature fluctuation and mostly too warm.
It would be nice, if you can heal them into the dirt a little, at least halve of the pot, this is how I used to do it when
I sold trees in pots and had leftovers. Now I sell bare root only.
Water them in good before freeze up. I never lost any.


    Bookmark   November 14, 2008 at 12:02AM
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Agree with Konrad that your biggest problem in the upper room would be temperature fluctuation. During sunny days, the temperatures in an area like this would be quite high unless you were able to open it up to ventilation. Freezing in a protected room should not be an issue. Your trees might make it during several months of these conditions, but some of them might not. If you do decide to put them there, the pots should be watered just enough to keep them barely moist.

I would tend to go with Konrad's solution of heeling the plants into the ground, though that would be a lot of work with 40 large pots. You don't have too many good options, since you got a little ahead of the curve by purchasing trees before you were ready to plant.

Don Yellman, Great Falls, VA

    Bookmark   November 14, 2008 at 3:15AM
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To answer your one specific question -- root masses are MUCH more sensitive to cold than the tops of the plants, since roots are used to being in the ground, which is highly insulating. Storing the plants as you suggest would probably be a recipe for disaster overall, IMO.

I think that your best bet is to heel them in somewhere. If you have access to some sheltered corner and a lot of leaves or straw or something else insulating, you could probably get away with just putting them pot to pot tightly in the corner and throwing a VERY deep (about a foot or more) layer of mulch around the pots.

Good luck, I'd hate to see your investment lost.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2008 at 6:21AM
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milehighgirl(CO USDA 5B/Sunset 2B)

Wow, I never thought about the temperature fluctuation! Would it be better to keep them in the garage where there are no windows and it's always cold?

I just don't see how I could manage heeling the pots in.

I did keep two mulberries in pots in the garage last winter. They were in very small pots as the trees were only about a foot tall. One made it fine and the other the root made it but not the graft; it sent up another shoot in the spring. I did not water them during the winter.

The trees are in 10 gallon pots or larger.

Thanks for your advice!

    Bookmark   November 14, 2008 at 10:01AM
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Yes, it would be better to keep them in the garage, if temperatures are more constant, even if low. I think most of them would make it there, but check the moisture once in a while and do not allow them to become bone dry or the roots will die. Obviously, there will be no leaf transpiration to use up moisture, but there will be some evaporation from the pots. I would check them about every two weeks or so for soil moisture. My guess is that a 5-gallon bucket of water would not freeze solid in your garage, and neither will the soil in 10 gallon pots, which are quite large.

If you can't bury the pots or provide them with good insulation outdoors, your options are pretty limited, and this may be the best you can do.

Don Yellman, Great Falls, VA

    Bookmark   November 14, 2008 at 3:30PM
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Konrad___far_north(3..just outside of Edmonton)

I still think outside storing is better, plants are used to being outside, they love the snow and rain on the branches, it's part of
what they need, that's what keeps them alive, they are a outside species.
As soon you're taking this away, you're asking for trouble....the garage is too dry.

If you can't heel them in dirt, you could easily do it as Denninmi suggested, look for a sheltered spot, perhaps right against a wall of your
house, where snow drift's accumulate during winter, if not, rake some leaves or put straw over, or peat moss to cover your pots.


    Bookmark   November 15, 2008 at 12:45AM
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theaceofspades(7 Long Island)

Congrats on the getting the orchard going. Planting in pots is a great solution but you should keep them sheltered. Roots in ground don't feel -20 with snow cover. BR trees in pots outside would likely die some. Keep the pots watered, frozen is ok. Root growth will develop earlier than if planted outside. I'd seal the pruning cuts with latex paint to keep the stems from drying out. Now you have all winter to layout your orchard. I still have a few more large trees to take down before late March fruit tree planting. I just got finished fall planting seven blue berry's in a hedgerow after clearing trees.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2008 at 6:27AM
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plant-one-on-me(MI 5b)

I didn't have time to plant or heel in my roses and some blueberry bushes I had in rather small pots last year. Instead I put them in a large cluster and surrounded them with burlap and covered them with tons of leaves. Every one of them survived very well in SE Michigan where the temps often get below zero in the winter.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2008 at 4:28PM
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franktank232(z5 WI)

I had a peach tree in a container all last winter sitting in my garage. Moved it to the basement in the early spring and it started to leaf out! My garage is attached, but still gets very cold. Our low last winter was near -30F at one point. I'm guessing it probably goes below 0F even in that garage.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2008 at 4:49PM
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