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Growing Fruit Trees in Containers, Part 1

by Stark Bro's on 12/05/2012
Persimmon Tree in a Container

Getting Started

With the Grow Your Own movement rooting itself in our everyday lives, people everywhere are enhancing their yards (and their diets) by  growing their own fruit. Some are lucky enough to have a large enough area to plant their own orchard, but others who don’t have as much room might feel like they don’t have a lot of options. Not true! If you’re renting an apartment, have limited or no space, or just want something for your patio, you should try growing your fruit trees in containers. In this article, which is part one of a two-part series, we focus on what you need to know to get started with this fun and surprisingly easy process.

Choosing the Right Container

Most people choose to grow fruit trees in containers for easy mobility. For this purpose, the ideal container size is about 10-15 gallons — substantial enough to support a tree, but small enough to move easily (see photo at right). This size is perfect if you’re growing in a window or on a balcony or patio, so you can bring the tree indoors for protection when the weather starts getting too cold. It also comes in handy if you need to relocate your tree to an unheated garage, shed, or basement during winter.

And containers are perfect for growing warm-weather varieties, like citrus trees, banana plants, or fig trees, in areas where the climates are cooler than where the trees would grow naturally.

Start small, with a 5- or 7-gallon container. As the tree grows within its container, it will eventually become root-bound. Before this happens, you can re-pot it into a larger container. You will be able to tell that your tree has become root-bound to its current container by its lack of vertical growth. It will still produce leaves and even fruit at this point, but you might want to start looking for something bigger to support continual growth and increased production.

No matter what size you choose, your tree won’t grow for very long if it doesn’t have adequate drainage. Make sure the container you use has holes (usually in the bottom and/or sides), so that any excess water can drain, and air can access the soil. This will help you to prevent potentially fatal diseases like root rot.

Planting in Containers

It is important to choose the right soil. Potting soil is best, since it is specially designed for container planting, and it is easy to find at your local garden supply store. You should avoid using top soil, since it is prone to becoming compacted. Compacted soil creates issues like causing water to run down the inside edges of the container and out the bottom, barely reaching the tree’s roots.

When you are ready to fill your container, you should first add a layer of gravel or rock to the bottom of your container to help with drainage. Then, add some of your soil mix for the roots to rest on, and place your tree in the center of the pot so that it is vertical and straight. After that, add the rest of your soil until the tree is properly situated in the container. Make sure to tamp the soil down around the roots in order to remove any air pockets, just like you would if you were planting your tree in the ground. Give it a thorough watering, and you’re set!

Be sure to check out part two of our series on growing fruit trees in containers, which will focus on the care and maintenance of potted trees.

Follow the link for an interview with Stark Bro’s and more helpful advice on growing fruit trees in containers from About.com.

Topics → Planting & Growing, Tips

81 Comments

  1. Genelle Brown permalink

    I just want to compliment you on your expansion into helpful articles. I get thousands of sales emails a week that are deleted before they’re opened – not yours! Your content is so valuable that I truly look forward to receiving them and take the time to read every word. Same goes for your website, exceptional service and friendly, helpful employees. Interesting how most companies miss the boat and so few completely “get it.” You certainly “get it!”

    Thanks so much!
    Genelle

    • Thank YOU for the compliment, Genelle. We receive lots of great questions and feedback from our followers and customers so, without people like you, we would have a difficult time creating articles that are helpful. :)

  2. Russell Staiger permalink

    I have a potted Ruby Red Grapefruit, I started from seed. It has reached a height of about 11 feet, but I trimmed it back to about 8 feet when I moved it indoors in October ( I live in Bismarck — not exactly citrus tree country). The tree is now going on 4 years old and my goal is to at least get it to blossom. I have absolutely no indication of fruit blossoms to date. I do have minature orange, lime and lemons all of which bud, bloom and produce wonderful fruit but no such luck with the grapefruit. Is it possible I have to take the tree through a chilling process and if so for how long and at what temperatures? I could keep it in my garage which is heated and I could turn that heat down or even off if I need to. Any advice you might be able to share with me would be much appreciated.

    • I think you mean Bismarck, MO, which is impressive itself for growing citrus but if you mean Bismarck, ND, consider me very impressed with your citrus-growing success, Russell! ;) Due to the nature of citrus trees, I don’t think your tree’s lack of bloom/fruit has to do with lacking chill hours. I think moving your grapefruit tree indoors like you have been, and winterizing it the same way you have been with your other citrus trees, is a good method to continue since it has been working with the others so far.

      Since we aren’t able to speak expertly on grapefruit, I would like to redirect you to a wonderful resource I found from Texas A&M: http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/citrus/grapefruit.htm

      It has a lot of great information on growing your own grapefruit, but I wanted to point out this section specifically: “Because of the high degree of nucellar embryony (seeds come true-to-type) in most grapefruit varieties, they can be grown from seed. However, seedage has two major drawbacks: 1) the seedling-grown trees will be short-lived because of their susceptibility to Phytophthora disease (both foot rot and root rot) and 2) fruit production will usually be delayed for several years until the seedling trees grow through juvenility and become capable of bearing.”

      My thinking is that your 4-year-old grapefruit tree is simply not mature enough to produce flowers or fruit yet. Seedling trees generally require more time to bloom and fruit than their budded/grafted counterparts. I hope this information is helpful! :)

      • I’m in CA and grow citrus on my property. I was told that citrus were self pruning. I avoid pruning, not wanting to destroy future fruiting. I do remove dead twigs in the Fall from my grapefruit; and occasional branches to make harvesting in the canopy easier. These trees get huge. Mine was topped a few years ago for height reasons too, and now is nearly 15 feet tall again, and at least as wide.

        • Very true, citrus trees really thrive from pruning out damaged/diseased/dead limbs, and they don’t need more than that, unless your situation requires that you prune to maintain a certain height. It’s handy to know about the mature size of grapefruit trees, so thank you for sharing your experience, SJ! :)

  3. Rudie Verougstraete permalink

    Love the idea of fruit trees in containers! I know in my yard, the amount of sun changes throughout the day so I could move them to maximize exposure to sunlight. I had this thought concerning the containers. To avoid plants becoming root bound, planting fruit trees in GeoPots (larger sizes) might be the way to go. I just found out about them recently…they are pots made of a porous fabric that holds soil in but the sides of the pots “breath” which air prunes the tips of the roots as they reach the edge of the container, so that the roots grow more “feeder” roots that take up more nutrients. This fabric also allows for better drainage, and because it allows more exposure to air, it keeps roots cooler than regular containers. I’m going to transplant my small fig bush into one next year and see what difference it makes.

    • Hi Rudie! I’ve heard of those GeoPots and I’ve been curious how well they do for long-term container growing situations. Or, I wonder, if you need to replace them after a certain amount of time. Definitely keep us posted on your experience growing your fig in one! :)

  4. Reege Ellis permalink

    I have read that while citrus trees can be grown in pots that getting them to produce fruit is very difficult. I tried a miniature orange once and could not get it to fruit. I have friends here in West Virginia previously hardy zone 5 now changed to zone 6, that have grown citrus but never bloomed or produced. I have looked at many nursery businesses web sites and can not find any with claims the trees will actually produce. I have read articles on gardening web sites that support that the trees usually do not produce.

    • That’s interesting, Reege. I can personally attest to the fact that potted citrus trees are productive. I grew the Dwarf Meyer Lemon tree that we carry and it was producing several lemons in its first year while the tree was about 12-inches tall. I reluctantly removed these so that the tree could put its energy into growing more leaves to support the fruit in the future. I have a picture of the last fruit I removed here: Dwarf Meyer Lemon Tree with Fruit — the fruit was a little bigger around than a quarter here on the 12-inch tree.

      The trouble with citrus trees, especially if they are being grown in pots outside of their native tropical environments, is that they lose their leaves at the slightest stress (over watering, under watering, temperature change — like what happens moving the plant indoors and outdoors) and they are also subject to over-bearing so they tend to drop the immature fruit. Many people think the tree has died or is sick when these things happen, but it’s actually normal. The leaves come back and the plants are prone to flower and fruit more than once a year!

      Many people who have tried growing citrus trees in containers will be able to tell you that the trees can be slow-growing at times, and they might not even try to bloom/fruit if their roots still have room to grow in the containers. My lemon tree didn’t try to bloom or set fruit until the roots reached the inside edge of the container it was planted in. It was as if this triggered the tree into thinking “I have grown to fill this space, now I can put my energy into being fruitful.”

    • Classak permalink

      I live in WV and have a potted key lime tree. I found the soil pH was a critical factor in blooming and blossom drop. My soil pH was too high from the water in our area (~8.0) although the soil pH was not so high as to see chlorosis. After I lowered to the soil pH to around 6.0 I’ve had much better luck. I also leaf prune and root prune yearly.

      • Great advice! It’s crucial to know about the soil you’re trying to grow in, since that’s where the plants and trees are going to spend their lives, eat, and drink. Thanks for your input, Classak. :)

    • In California, certain varieties can be grown in containers and make ornamental plants on the patio. Dwarf kumquat and dwarf meyer lemon come to mind. There may be others. Citrus roots are fine and netted. They are nearer the surface compared to other trees. These fine delicate roots can extend out to twice the canopy width. Maybe that is why it’s so hard to get them to fruit. They like a mediterranean soil… coarse and well drained. If you can grow rosemary and oregano; you have a good chance at citrus IF you protect it from hard frosts.

      • Excellent point to mention, SJ — citrus trees do have comparatively shallow and wide-spread root systems. Understanding the soil needs is essential, but understanding the nature of the roots isn’t something to be overlooked either. I appreciate your useful input, and I hope it benefits Reege and other readers. :)

  5. Reege Ellis permalink

    That is interesting Sarah. What zone are you in? Could you tell me where I could find or how to tell which citrus trees would be the best for me to try again? I like citrus so am definitely willing to try again!

    • Oddly enough, I was born and raised in South Florida but didn’t try to grow any citrus until I moved here to Louisiana, MO — zone 5b/6a, similar to you there! I know the Meyer Lemon tree is a hardy lemon, and the best part is that it doesn’t have thorns (most citrus has thorns, which is why I went with this lemon). I would say to try any of the dwarf citrus trees we carry [find them here: http://www.starkbros.com/tags/dwarf-citrus-trees ] — they are currently unavailable since we won’t have them ready to ship until about early April, but you can request to be notified by email when they are able to be purchased. If I had to choose one to suggest starting with, try the Meyer Lemon tree. :) I’ve never had a better fresh-squeezed lemonade than one made with these lemons.

      I will share with you some advice I learned through experience: If your tree is stressed, it will not be encouraged to set fruit. It is very easy to stress your container-grown citrus trees by over watering them. Even though their natural tropical environment receives a lot of rain and moisture, they are used to regularly well-draining soils and dry seasons as well. If you can plant your tree in a terracotta pot, or something porous, you will have an easier time judging when the tree requires water. When the soil appears dry and there is no moisture below the top couple inches, then you can water.

      I also used a spray bottle of water to mist the vegetative growth every so often to simulate humidity since the humidity levels are quite low here indoors in the Midwest (for at least half of the year). A humidifier might work better, if your tree is in its own room, or if you can stand having a humidifier running.

  6. forest stalnaker permalink

    send one persimmon tree

    • Hi Mr. Stalnaker! If you’re looking to order a persimmon tree, please feel free to give us a call at 800.325.4180 or please visit us on the web at http://www.starkbros.com. Our persimmon tree selection is located here: http://www.starkbros.com/tags/persimmon-trees and, since we have already wrapped up our fall shipping season, we will be shipping orders at the proper planting time for your zone this spring 2013. Thank you! :)

  7. Devin Bell permalink

    how often do you fertilize your fruit trees when they are in pots? I have two identical dwarf orange trees, I put one in the ground and one in a pot to see which did better. I’m in Zone 9, so the weather isn’t really an issue, but the soil here doesn’t drain well. Oddly enough, my ground citrus tree is doing much better than the one in the planter. I thought maybe it’s not getting enough nutrients? How can I tell?

    • There are many factors that play into that answer, Devin. If the potting soil mix you used did not contain any fertilizer (MiracleGro potting mix, for example, contains fertilizer), you can use a water soluble fertilizer that will be able to trickle down and feed the roots. Since many citrus trees tend to be Nitrogen-hungry, a soil test will help you determine if your potted orange tree is lacking Nitrogen or any other nutrients in the container setting. You can find soil testing kits at your local garden center complete with instructions how to successfully perform a simple soil test.

      Generally speaking, once per month during the growing season would be a good interval for fertilizing. Another thing to consider is the light available to your potted orange tree versus the sunlight your other orange tree is getting out in the ground. Trees feed on light as well as soil nutrients, so it might be beyond just fertilizer, but that’s certainly a place to start. You might consider contacting your local experts, like your county extension service, to see if they have any advice for you as well!

  8. Chris permalink

    Hi Sarah,
    I’m reading a lot about citrus trees in the Q-n-A section here. But mine is a little different. :-) Can this pot growing be done with cherry trees or apple trees? Or are they too big for such a thing? I live in the Finger Lake region of NYS, so we have a TON of apple orchards here already. Just a thought! Don’t get me wrong – I like citrus fruit, just not enough to have a tree full. ;-)
    Thanks!
    Chris

    • Don’t worry, Chris! This article was written with more than just citrus in mind. :) Apple trees and cherry trees can certainly be grown in containers. I have 4 semi-dwarf apple trees (a couple goldens, an Arkansas Black, and a WineCrisp) in 7-gallon containers at my house right now. They’re over my head, probably 6- or 7-feet tall, and full of fruiting buds ready for spring. Bear in mind, the fruiting crop will be smaller than it could be if it were grown in a yard, since the tree’s size is restricted by the container, but the quality is still there!

      • Bill permalink

        I have several dwarf cherry trees in containers.. can you tell me how many years it takes before these trees will have cherrys on them.

        • I’m not sure where your trees came from, so I’m speaking for bare-root grafted cherry trees, which tend to be 2 years old when you receive them.

          These dwarf sweet cherry trees, when growing in the ground, tend to take at least 4 years to mature before you see fruit on them. Dwarf pie (sour/tart) cherry trees tend to take about 3 years to mature before you see fruit. When planted in containers, the time to fruit can be less than the time it takes them to bear fruit when planted in the ground.

          It’s difficult to give you an exact number since this depends on the varieties you’re growing, on the container size, and the care the container-grown cherry trees receive, but you can roughly estimate that you may receive fruit at least a year sooner than you would have if they were planted in the ground. Sorry I can’t be more exact, Bill!

  9. Thomas eddleman permalink

    I know yall mentioned certain fruit trees that can be container grown,I/We would like to know all the fruit/nut trees that can/could be container grown. It’s a good idea that I had never taken seriously before. Some parts of my yard are baked and are shaded most of the day.

    • Good question, Thomas! You can grow any of the fruit trees we offer (see the kinds here: Stark Bro’s Fruit Trees) in containers and get fruit from them — trees in containers tend to become root bound (tangled, circled, roots within the container) so you will have to take time to prune the roots and repot the trees every few years, while the trees are dormant, to maintain the health of the tree, but it’s possible! If you wanted to also grow nut trees in containers, we really only recommend trying this with almond trees, since most other nuts (especially pecans) have deep root systems that a container environment wouldn’t properly support.

  10. Debra permalink

    I enjoyed this article and I’m wondering about a nut tree, like an almond. could that work also?

    • Almond trees are the one nut tree we recommend trying to grow in containers, Debra. They tend to be very similar in nature to a peach tree. :)

  11. Charly permalink

    Sarah,
    I’m wondering about beach plums. I’m on Long Island, NY, so I know they’re hardy here, but the only sunny enough spot I have is on our back deck. I also know they are very fussy and the crop can vary greatly from year to year. Do you know of any experience growing beach plums in containers? Could they stay out in their containers over winter if given some protection? Thanks for this great source of information.

    • Hi Charly! Since beach plums are exceptionally hardy (for plums), they may be left outside in their containers with some winter protection, like you said. When growing in containers, one big thing to keep in mind is that freeze damage to roots can occur more easily in dry soil than in wet soil, so be sure that the soil hasn’t become dry if your outdoor container beach plum is going to experience frost and freezing temperatures.

      You should also apply a layer of mulch over the top of the potting soil in your container for insulation. Some people even consider using those holiday string lights (plugged in and turned on) to give a safe bit of warmth on those frosty nights.

  12. Sarah permalink

    I enjoyed reading the article and the comments! I have a Meyer lemon, a Mexican lime, and a tangelo tree in pots at my home in Alabama (Zone 7a). I brought the lemon and lime trees into the house after Thanksgiving Day. The lime tree was the more stressed plant, and it started losing leaves immediately. The lemon tree is loaded down with 20 regular sized lemons and I agree that the lemons are wonderfully flavorful! The limes are like lime concentrate, and I can use one to make homemade salsa! My tangelo tree had three tangelos this year, and I picked them after Thanksgiving. It is not blooming yet, so I pruned the top to keep it from getting too tall to get into the garage. I plan to repot the lemon and lime trees one day, but they never stop blooming! When is it best to repot my citrus (lemon and lime) trees?

    • I would probably have to say the best time to repot a citrus tree would be when it is not blooming, not holding fruit, and also convenient for you. It’s not something you’ll want to rush through. In most areas, the growing season for citrus is around February through October, so November through January might be an ideal time of year for you to target.

  13. Rich Gelatt permalink

    Could you notify me when you have extra hardy hazel nut plants for sale. I have ordered 2 previously, and I is now happy with several trunks on this bush, and lots of leaves in the summer. The 2nd one did not make it after rodents and birds ate it down to the ground several times.

    Also, Over the last several years, I have ordered 2 of your hardy apricot trees (Zone 5a / 5b). The first year one of the varieties did not make it (I lost the polinator.) I ordered several of the polinators for the next year. Now the original has also died, so I have only one variety of apricot again. Could you comment on any special care needed for your apricots. My home is N of Concord NH. Gilmanton, nh. You could review my ordering history. I am very frustrated. I don’t care if fruit would even have a little insect or skin disease, as my goal is to harvest and put up apricot jam which I love. I would like to have enough fruit each year to get about 2 bushels of fruit. Any suggestions??? Rich

    • Hi Rich! I have added you to the list to be notified when the hazelnut trees become available again. In the future, if you go to our website and a product is unavailable, you may opt in to be notified about their availability. For example, right now Hazelnuts (Barcelona and Casina) are unavailable, so you will notice that you can click the option that reads “Notify Me When it’s Available” — this simply requires you to enter your email address, so that when the trees are available for purchase, you will receive an automatic notification to the email address you specified. I have done this for you already though, no problem! :)

      I looked into your account and I was only able to locate an order with several blueberries, raspberries, and blackberry plants on it. If you happen to remember the apricot tree varieties you planted, and what ultimately killed them (animals, cold, heat, pests, disease, etc.), that may be of some help. If your previous trees are being killed by harsh winters, I would have to recommend planting the Goldcot Apricot because of its outstanding cold-hardiness for an apricot tree. If they are being killed by disease, the Harglow Apricot has natural disease resistance on top of being cold-hardy and it is also late-blooming, which helps to avoid the blooms being zapped by late spring frosts (giving you more of a chance at fruit production even after a frosty spring). I hope this helps!

      Another useful thing to note is that apricot trees are self-pollinating, but, as with all trees that are self-pollinating, they produce bigger crops if they can be cross-pollinated by another variety.

  14. Korey Kilburn permalink

    While I am fortunate enough to live in California’s San Joquin Valley and can grow almost anything in the ground with great success. I started growing Dwarf varieties in containers and had great crops, I used oak half barrels and while it took a hand truck to move them the oak insulated the roots from our summer heat. My trees are now in the ground since I’ve moved to a more permanent location but they did well in the pots for years.

    • You *are* very fortunate to live where most anything can grow in the ground, Korey! I am glad you mentioned how heavy some containers can be, especially once they are filled with soil/other growing media and then the individual trees on top of that. It is a good thing to keep in mind if you expect to (or need to) move your potted trees at any point. Thanks! :)

      • Bob Vance permalink

        When filling up a container and testing how heavy it is you should also consider that water adds a lot of weight.
        I planted a number of trees this spring in 5-20 gal fabric containers. Going forward, I think I’ll stay more in the 5-7 gal range. Even though I am reasonably young and fit, the weight is just too much in 15+ gallon containers and 10 gal is pushing it. Part of the problem may also be the relatively high density of the potting medium I used, which consists partially of Turface (20-25%, along with peat, pine bark, and perlite), a baked clay, which is broken into small pieces.
        Each fall, I move them to the north side of my house to ensure that they don’t break dormancy early. That process is a lot more pleasant with smaller containers…

        • Very true, Bob! Water adds a lot to the weight of the containers, and they can be heavy enough with just the potting medium. If you are planting in containers and need to move them at any point, this is something to keep in mind! Some people even utilize wheeled container stands to move across flat surfaces from one location to another, but it’s still difficult if you are trying to move a 20-gallon container versus, say, a 5- or 7-gallon container. Thank you very much for your insight! :)

  15. Hermi Rieveschl permalink

    I will be attempting to container grow Olives. I live in Southeastern Indiana (between Cincinnnati and Indianapolis) so cannot grow outdoors. Has anyone had success / failure with this? Suggestions for containers? Soil? And wintering….hoping to keep in the basement near the windows…will that be good? Thank you for any suggestions/advice!

    • Olive trees are some of the most attractive and forgiving trees to grow, Hermi, even in containers. :) As long as your container allows for water drainage (holes in the bottom are most common), you’re on the right track. Try not to choose an oddly-shaped container because it will make mobility and re-potting more difficult in the future.

      We recommend a potting mix if the tree is going to be in a container for the reasons listed above in the article.

      In the winter, if your olive trees were outdoors during the growing season, or in a well-lighted room indoors, it would be best to move them into a more winter-friendly area (cool dark place like an unheated garage, shed, basement, etc. — not necessarily near a window). You should also apply a couple inches of mulch over the surface of the soil in the container to keep moisture in and to provide extra protection for the roots. Some people even choose to mix some of that mulch in with the potting mix to encourage water distribution, which attributes to healthier roots.

      I hope this helps! :)

  16. Christiane Carvan permalink

    QUESTION: Can you recommend proper container (water proof) for citrus fruit trees started 4 yers ago. They’re all producing fruit, we bring them inside in sun room and keep them under fluoresent lights (I live in Northern, MS and it get below 32o some nights during winter) they keep growing and blooming, move them back out when weather is suitable.
    By now root system is well established and we need to find proper contrainer that do not weight too much so we can pick-them up and bring back inside next winter. Any suggestions? I’ve email Geocontainders twice (no answers) very irretating. We bought trees (a few inches tall) from your nurseries coming up 4 falls back. I actually love these little guys. Please answer.

    • Your trees sound pretty happy, Christiane! What kinds of containers are they growing in currently? I know the full weight of watered soil, along with the weight of a container, along with a fruit-bearing tree, can make relocating the container trees problematic. If your current containers are doing the trick, your local garden center might sell a container-supporting wheeled stand to make movement easier without having to get different pots.

      Many fruit-tree growers use light-weight polystyrene containers if they’re going to be growing fruit trees trees in pots. There are alternatives like the GeoPots that Rudie mentioned above as well — I’m not sure if these were the same people as Geocontainers that you tried to contact previously.

      The most important thing to look for in a container is its ability to drain water well and, in the case of growing fruit trees in containers, you will also want to find a pot that isn’t shaped strangely, so that, when you try to transplant or re-pot your trees, it isn’t a huge task to remove them from their current containers. I hope this helps you! :)

  17. Jenni Brodie permalink

    I live in southern Indiana. We have a Kaffir lime and Key lime. They bloom
    on and off all year, but only the Key sets fruit. My problem is scale. What can I use that won’t ruin/poison the fruit? They get moved outside in the summer and back in late fall. I’m tired of sticky floors and cleaning leaves! I wipe branches and leaves with alcohol. Ideas?

    • That certainly sounds like scale, Jenni. We have a natural spray for scale and other pests called Insecticidal Soap, which is made from natural ingredients and is ideal for organic gardening. It is in a ready-to-use spray bottle, perfect for indoor plants and trees.

      We also offer a natural pest AND disease control, a Citrus Fruit & Nut spray, that will take care of scale and other insects as well as fungal diseases. This spray needs to be mixed with water, though, and is more ideal for use on a wide range of outdoor plants and trees.

  18. Kristin Myers permalink

    I love your videos and the information that I get from your emails. I have learned a lot. I do
    have a question about growing in pots. A 2 years ago a neighbor and I planted red haven peach trees from seed. I have 22 to plant. I was wondering if it would be ok to place these trees in containers for the next couple of months until the weather starts to warm up before I plant them in the ground. They are growing along his barn right now and he would like to clean up along the side. That, unfortunately requires me moving my trees. If I can move them to a container, how will I keep the roots from freezing? Any information you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

    • Good question Kristin! You can certainly plant your trees in containers and replant them in the ground when the clean up is complete. While in containers, you can protect their roots by applying a layer of mulch over the top of the soil medium in the container (similar to how you would mulch around the trees in the ground) and you can also keep the soil medium damp (not soaked, but certainly not dry) so that the roots are less prone to freeze damage — this damage occurs more easily in dry soil around the roots than wet soil. And if you can move your trees into an unheated protected area (garage, shed, etc.) it would help as well until warmer spring temperatures arrive! :)

  19. Belinda Y. Hughes permalink

    This is exactly the kind of garden help I need right now. I’ve got some berry vines and trees that I have not set out in the beds, yet. I’m wondering how best to go about raising them in the greenhouse. I can hardly wait for #gardenchat to begin! Glad you’re our guest tonight. :-)

    • I’m glad you found this information helpful, Belinda! It was a blast guest-hosting #gardenchat on Twitter — it’s a great place to find answers to your gardening questions. :)

  20. Rose permalink

    I love to grow Persimmons but they are just to big for my yard. Are you planning to do a 2-1 plant that is dwarf or semi-dwarf? I prefer to grow them in the ground but will settle for growing in containers if I can maintain the height. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you.

    • We aren’t planning to offer a 2-N-1 Persimmon tree in the near future, but a variety called Ichi-Ki-Kei-Jiro persimmon is naturally small (grows to be about 8-10 feet tall) and it is also self-pollinating so you can get fruit without needing another variety growing nearby to cross-pollinate it.

      I’m not sure what your zone is there, Rose, but if your zip code puts you between zones 6 and 9, “Ichi” might be the tree to consider! Fuyu and Saijo, which we also offer, only reach about a 15-20 foot height, but they’re not as cold-hardy as the much taller American varieties.

  21. Loraine permalink

    Would really love to grow fruit in containers,but have a pretty small yard to be able to grow one of each.Guess I would have to definitely plant dwarf and self-pollinating trees.What are the best selections to try on Long Island[zone6b]?Can I mulch and overwinter in greenhouse or garage?

    • Hi Loraine! If you shop under Fruit Trees on our website and enter your zip code where it asks, a check mark appears on the fruit trees that are recommended for your zone there in New York. As long as you’re shopping fruit trees that you like, and that are recommended for your zone, you should be fine. If the trees are self-pollinating, like most peach trees are, their descriptions will let you know — so you won’t have to guess or wonder! :)

      And yes, you may certainly mulch them in containers and overwinter them in a cool, dark, unheated garage or similar location. Most fruit trees will require a dormancy period to be fruitful in the spring, so it’s best not to keep them awake in a heated or well-lit place like a greenhouse.

  22. Peter permalink

    I recently purchased a dwarf peach and nectarine tree from StarkBros. I was wondering if a self-watering pot would be good for the trees or would it cause root rot?.

    thanks.

    • The ideal purpose of self-watering containers is to avoid “mis-watering” (underwatering or overwatering) through simulating the tree’s more natural method of water intake, despite being grown in a container.

      Overwatering and poor drainage are the causes of root-rot in plants and trees. Therefore, proper use of a self-watering container would not cause root rot to a peach, nectarine, or any other container-grown tree. Also, be sure that there is adequate drainage so that the water isn’t over-saturating your trees’ root systems.

  23. I have very limited space and would like to try growing a few different types of fruit trees in 15 gallon containers. Ideally, I will also be able to get away with self fruitful trees so I only need one type of tree per fruit. Would a HoneySweet pear work? What cherry tree if any would you recommend. Is there an easy to grow self-fruitful plum? My goal would be to prune the trees so that they are no more than bout 6 or 7 feet tall.

    Thanks for any suggestions!

    • You should have no problem keeping fruit trees around 6-7 feet tall with pruning and grow them in containers, DB. :)

      The Stark® Honeysweet Pear pear is one of the few self-pollinating pear trees, so, for someone limited on space, this variety of pear tree would be ideal!

      Our Starkrimson® Sweet Cherry is naturally smaller than the other sweet cherries, and it’s self-pollinating, so it would be well-suited to your container-fruit orchard plan!

      The Methley Plum is a disease-resistant variety plum tree that also happens to be self-pollinating, so it would be the variety I recommend!

      Our experts have selected easy-to-grow varieties and deemed them“Stark Picks”, so if you browse these varieties, they may be of interest to you. Some of them do require pollinators, though, and it will state this in their descriptions along with some recommended pollinator varieties. I hope this helps!

  24. Barbara Timmerman permalink

    My husband bought a mandarin orange tree, a star jasmine, and a dogwood tree. He cut the bottom off the original container and planted them directly into the ground. The dogwood tree looks wilted and the orange tree is loosing its leaves. I think he should have taken them out of the containers to plant and feel that they are becoming root bound. Can you help with comments or suggestions? Thank you. Barbara

    • You’re right in thinking the trees should have been removed from the containers before planting. I’m not sure what material the containers were composed of, but, even if the container claims to be biodegradable, it creates a needless “bottleneck” situation for the roots until that container actually breaks down into the soil. I would suggest completely removing the containers from any plants and trees that are being planted into the ground. If you’re going to keep things in containers, be sure there is enough room for the roots to grow and expand — oftentimes the containers new plants and trees arrive in are temporary and not intended for the long term.

  25. Amy permalink

    Hello!
    My husband got me a Meyer lemon tree in May (mothers day ’13) it did really well through the summer and produced loads of flowers and even 2 small lemons. However the lemons died and fell off. Once it started to get cold ( we live in middle tn) the leaves started to fall off and it’s completely bare. It’s STILL completely bare! No leaves or anything! Have I done something to kill it? How can I help it grow back? Thank you so much!

    • Hi Amy! When you said your meyer lemon tree lost its leaves after it started getting cold, is your tree planted outdoors? Or is it in a container that can go from outside to indoors when it gets cold?

      Citrus trees tend not to like temperatures below 55-60ºF, especially if they are blooming or bearing fruit, so if the tree is in a container, you should move it indoors until the temperatures are expected to stay above what citrus considers to be “too cold”.

      Citrus also has a tendency to drop its leaves (and sometimes fruit) at the first sign of stress. Stress can be inconsistent watering or inconsistent temperatures (warm-to-cold, or even indoors-to-outdoors if the environment is quite different). The good news is, citrus trees will also replace the leaves they shed after stress, so yours may just need time, warm temperatures, and some sunlight to replace the leaves it has dropped. :)

  26. Wilma permalink

    I’m growing raspberry and blueberry bushes in containers.. 5 gallons.. They are around two years old. I bought then from Walmart. The blueberries are doing well. But the raspberries leaves are browning. When I re potted them, I just mixed potting soil and peet moss, I’ve had people tell me to mix in perlite and pine bark since the potting mix might be to much like clay. I notice when I water, that the soil separates from the sides of the container, so could out be that thethe roots aren’t getting enough soil? could you let e know if re potting with the pine bark and perlite might help

    • There are a few things to consider: Potting mix is designed to avoid compacting (like top soil would) in a container. This might be what people were telling you when they said it could be “too much like clay”. One of the purposes of using perlite as a soil amendment is to avoid soil compaction, so it would only help avoid your potting mix being compacted like clay. If you’re using actual potting medium/potting soil intended for containers, then you shouldn’t worry too much about it being like clay, especially if you’re repotting the plants and using fresh potting soil when you do.

      If you notice the soil is separating from the sides of the container, chances are the water you’re using is running down the edges between the soil and the container and straight out the bottom. The roots may not be getting enough water. You might want to refresh the potting soil in this case.

      The other thing I was wondering about is the pH of the soil in your containers. Pine bark is often used to lower soil pH. Blueberry plants like a low soil pH (4.5-5.5, which is acidic), but raspberry plants don’t require such a low soil pH (6.0-6.8, which is more neutral). If you’re treating the container soil for your blueberries and raspberries the same, then the soil may be too acidic for raspberries to survive and thrive. I would recommend testing the pH of your raspberry plants’ soil and if the pH turns out to be too low, repot in soil with a more neutral pH so that they can thrive for you!

  27. suyapa villatoro permalink

    I got a eurika persimmon tree and i was wondering if i could leave it in a pot.. because i dont have enough space . Please let me know

    • I don’t have experience growing the Eureka variety, but there are very few fruit trees that can’t be grown in containers. I would be inclined to think you can grow a Eureka persimmon tree in a container as long as the container is large enough to handle the width and depth of the current root system, while leaving some room for the roots to grow.

      Be sure to move the tree up to a larger container size when its roots have maxed out their container space, and don’t forget to provide nutrients (water-soluble fertilizer, compost tea, manure tea, etc.) as the tree grows.

  28. barb permalink

    When planting ANYTHING in pots, one needs to use “Potting MIX”, not “Potting Soil”. Potting Mix is especially formulated for pots with the right amendments. Potting soil is meant for amending the soil in your ground gardens not pots.

  29. Julie Chavez permalink

    Hello,

    We’ve had a Meyer lemon tree for 10 years we purchased at a Florida gift shop as a sapling. It is pretty big in its pot, but its never produced any fruit. What are we doing wrong?

    • Well, one thing I can say about citrus trees is that they can be finicky out of their natural environment. Where are you located? What sort of care/maintenance do you provide the tree? It’s 10 years old, so you’re definitely doing something right to keep the tree alive and growing. I’m inclined to wonder if the tree that was sold to you was actually a Meyer lemon. Has it ever bloomed?

  30. I have an orange tree given to me by someone 10 years ago. Initially, the tree was a stick (about 9″). I live in zone 6b. It stays outside during the summer and indoors under a grow light in the winter. It is a very healthy, pest-free tree. We add fresh potting soil every fall. We keep it pruned to about 5 feet. It has never produced one flower, hence no fruit.

    What is wrong? Is it possible it is not a self-pollinating tree? I think it came from Florida but not one of those touristy trees.

    • Most citrus trees are self-pollinating, but in order to pollinate, it would have to bloom in the first place.

      One thing to note about citrus trees (and any other potted fruit tree for that matter!): they are encouraged to bloom and fruit once their roots reach the inside edges of the container they are in. They think this means they have maximized their growing space and are then more interested in blooming and fruiting.

      If the tree’s roots do fill the container, when you add fresh potting soil, try removing the current tree from the pot and rinsing the old soil away from the rootball. You may need to also loosen or prune any tangled roots if you’re not doing that already.

      When you prune to maintain the height of the orange tree (“tipping back” or “heading back”), you may be inadvertently removing the fruiting wood. This encourages more leaves and branches, but often at the expense of flowers and fruit. Try pruning just the damaged/dead limbs — or selectively pruning the limbs that become too tall this year, and see if the tree responds by blooming on some of the remaining wood you might normally remove.

      You might find this additional resource helpful as well:
      http://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/fruits/oranges/no-fruit-on-orange-trees.htm

  31. Tana permalink

    Hi! I live in Marina, California, the Monterey Bay area and always wanted to have citrus trees like I did growing up in Santa Cruz. Are there certain varieties that do well in pots as opposed to others? A year or two I was searching a recommended site for what they called dwarf trees. But the expected height was over 10ft, not dwarf in my book. Lol. Thanks in advance!

    • Citrus trees are well-suited to (and are commonly grown in) containers, so it pretty much boils down to finding the citrus fruit varieties you can grow and enjoy there!

      Normally, citrus trees can grow to an 18-20+ foot range (on average). That’s why varieties on dwarfing rootstocks are called “dwarf trees”, even if they are merely kept 8-10 feet tall instead. The good news is, when you plant a tree in a container, the root restriction that occurs within the pot has dwarfing properties as well. Many container-grown dwarf citrus trees can be kept at an easy-to-manage height as a result!

  32. Kirsten Reynolds permalink

    Hello I live in the Salt lake City area,and I started an avocado tree from seed I keep it in a pot in the house.It is now 2ft tall and I am going to put it in a bigger pot but,is there something more I should be doing to get it to fruit?I haven’t been able to get much information on this ,Maybe you could help.

    • Hi Kirsten! Congratulations on getting your avocado to sprout. :)

      Unfortunately, since the tree was grown from seed, it will take an indeterminate amount of time before it matures and becomes fruitful. It could fruit in as little as 5-8 years, or many more. There is no way of telling with seed-grown trees. Also, while some avocado trees are self-pollinating, the tree may also need a partner avocado tree to be productive.

      The fruit your seed-grown tree produces may be wonderful, but, more often than not, the quality is less impressive than the parent fruit that you got the seed from. There’s no guarantee here either, so I don’t think you should let that discourage you.

      This uncertainty is why most fruit trees you find are varieties that are selected for favorable characteristics (like flavor and productivity) and then grafted to ensure the characteristics are carried on in new trees. I’m sorry I can’t be more help, but you can read more about the benefits of grafted trees here.

  33. asad permalink

    i have a 2.5ft tall lemon tree in a clay pot. flowers comes on branches, but not mature to become lemon. can u help what i do?

    • You can try taking a small paint brush, when the tree is blooming, and collect pollen from one flower and brush it into the center of a different flower. Do this on the whole tree and it may help pollination and fruit development!

  34. JO-ANN PISACANE permalink

    every one is laughing at me. i have planted a dewarf peach tree in a very very big container i got from a farmer, they tell me i need 2 trees in order to get fruit????, it’s on my deck i live in north carolina. looks to me like it;s doing nice, how long will i have to wait for some action???

    • Unless the peach tree you planted is a variety like Hal-Berta Giant, most other peach trees are self-fruitful — so you won’t need another peach variety to cross-pollinate to get fruit.

      Peach trees generally take 2-3 years after you plant them before they start fruiting, so, as long as it’s getting 6-8 hours of sunlight there on your deck every day, your tree may need some time before it matures or blooms. Then you’ll be the one laughing as you harvest your own peaches! :)

  35. daria permalink

    Hi. I have 2 small 5 ft. tall white berries. they started by being so small (they grew on the side of original tree) now they are in pots and keep growing with very narrow single trunks (no branches) Can I trim them in middle part so they can grow more branches? if yes When? Thanks

    • Generally speaking, when you tip back branches of a plant, you encourage more lateral/side growth. It’s best to do this during the growing season, like late spring or early summer, so your plants can fill out without risk of sending out growth that can be injured by fall frosts and winter temperatures when the plants should be dropping leaves and shutting down to rest.

  36. Tabitha permalink

    Is it possible to plant dwarf apple and peach trees in containers for a few years and then re-plant in the ground? Will they still produce fruit while in the containers?

    • I can say from personal experience that fruit trees can bear fruit even in containers. I’ve been growing 2 peach trees and 4 apple trees in containers that I haven’t had a chance to plant in the ground and they’ve had fruit for the past two years! Of course, the trees are 5 years old now so they’re also mature enough to fruit… :)

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