how to safely dig up and pot for winter

ladygabeOctober 18, 2009

Hello all.

So Im reading through and getting tidbits of info, but Im gonna try to get all the info I need in one reply :-)

I have 2, 2yr old trees in the ground.

Do I wait for all the leaves to fall off before I dig them up?

Do I have to be very careful with the roots, or is there a safe way to cut them back?

Should I prune?

Do they need newly fertile soil in their dormant state? I assumed not, but don't know for sure.

I know many trees need exposure to freezing temps. I have a pool house that is semi-open & unheated. The trees would be allowed to be cold without being exposed to the raw elements. Is this ok?

Ive heard about "blanketing" them. Say I insulated them and wrapped them in a heavy construction bag, can they stay in the ground, or should I even do this indoors (pool house not basement)?

I have a root cutting that actually grew a new plant. Its very small, can I bring that in for the winter and grow it indoors? Or does it need to go dormant every winter?

Once again, many thanks for any help at all :-)

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peg919(Z6 CT)

This quote has appeared in many posts, "I know many trees need exposure to freezing temps." Where did this idea come from? Figs are native to climates that never see cold weather and grow successfully in warm climates such as Hawaii, CA, and other places through out the world.

It is my understanding that the only reason we in the cold NorthEast, (and other cold country areas), store our fig trees in cold garages, etc. is to prevent them from sproting and producing spindly growth before it is warm enough to put them outside. Fig trees go through a dormant cycle whether they are kept warm or cold.

Correct me if I'm wrong.


    Bookmark   October 18, 2009 at 1:36PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Correction: There are many tree species that have within the species, plants that require a dormant rest period and a period of chill to release that plant from dormancy, and plants that require neither a dormancy NOR a period of chill. Ficus C is one of those plants. (Ulmus parvifolia - Chinese elm is another that immediately comes to mind). This trait is genetically determined, so a tree that is growing near the equator cannot be plopped in NJ and be expected to survive. Conversely, a tree that grows and fruits well in NJ will decline and die if you attempt to grow it in Hawaii.

While it is not technically true that "... many trees need exposure to freezing temps ...", it is more true than not. The technical aspect that makes the statement somewhat innacurate is the 'freezing' part. Trees that require a cold rest only need to have temperatures below 42* and above killing lows for a short period before they are then able to grow with the maximum vitality allowed by the limits of other cultural conditions; so technically, a tree could go dormant and be released from dormancy w/o experiencing freezing temps, though those trees that need a dormant rest do need a period of chill to release them from that dormancy or they grow weekly or even die in the next growth cycle.

LadyG - Wait for leaves to fall. Dig your tree & bare root it. Do not let the roots dry - mist as you work. Prune out the largest roots - especially those under the trunk. Repot it into a soil that drains freely. (I can help if you need guidance). Keep the soil damp but not wet. Trees repotted in the fall need to have their roots protected from freezing - keep that in mind. 32-42* is a narrow target range, but is best for fall repots.


    Bookmark   October 18, 2009 at 2:13PM
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Thank you so much Al! Huge help. The trees are still looking pretty healthy, so I should have some time before I need to transplant. I have to is oddly, emotionally difficult for me to intentionally cut back roots, especially big ones. Many root-bound plants need the bound roots torn away before re-potting. I take a little breath before doing it each time even though I know its best for them!

As far as chill hours...I have a few fruit trees in my (little mini) orchard that when purchased recommended areas that would allow for at least "140 chill hours" or 200 chill hours etc. I couldn't recall off hand if any of my figs were among them. And personally, I would rather ask the experienced people here before referring to other websites.

Thanks again for replies~

    Bookmark   October 18, 2009 at 2:58PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Did I misunderstand you? Are you moving your trees from the ground to a container to over-winter? What will you do with them next year?

    Bookmark   October 18, 2009 at 3:33PM
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hmmm, not sure? I thought I needed to bring them in for the winter to protect them. The intent was to replant in the spring. Is this not necessary.

Any advice on the "baby" living indoors all winter?

    Bookmark   October 19, 2009 at 1:53PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I'm not sure that the dual stress of repotting in fall & then transplanting in spring is such a good idea. I tried that with trees not hardy to my zone that I wanted to grow as bonsai, and the trees spent the whole spring/summer recovering, and at the time I had quite a bit of experience manipulating trees and being able to keep them in good health. Their development during my experimenting was pretty much stalled.

I just left this reply on another thread a few minutes ago. I think you're answer to the 'baby' question can be found in it:

"Once they lose their leaves, the ideal scenario from a physiologic perspective would be to keep them where the soil temperatures are above 25* and below 42* until trees in thew landscape are breaking bud and danger of frost has passed and you can move them into good light. That NEVER happens unless you refrigerate them. Next best thing is to keep them as cold as you can for as long as you can (within the temps outlined) and then shuttle them in and out as temperatures allow. Way down on the list is keeping them indoors in leaf for the winter."


    Bookmark   October 19, 2009 at 2:27PM
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There are other options to protect them over winter... Do a search on "winter protection" and you will find many threads on this subject. Here's a brief on a couple of them...

Wrapping: Tie up branches into a bundle and prune down to a managable size. Wrap branches with insulating matarial like an old blanket followed by a tarp, mulch bottom of tree and top off with a bucket on top. Some people build a cage around the tree and fill with dry leaves. That seems to work too.

Burrying: Tie up branches into a bundle and prune down to managable size. Dig a trench next to your tree, cutting off about half the roots so you can push the entire tree into the trench. Cover with planks of wood before throwing dirt over them.

Or a variation of the above method that I've been using if your tree is relatively young or you are growing it as a small bush. Bend and pin the branches to ground, (you can use bags of dirt or whatever else you can find, I tie it down to a metal bar myself.) throw at least 6-8" of dry leaves on top of it, and then cover the entire thing with a tarp.

There's a lot of detailed postings (even with pictures) on how to do it if you're willing to read. Hope this helps...

    Bookmark   October 19, 2009 at 2:44PM
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