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Growing Fruit Trees in Containers, Part 2

by Stark Bro's on 12/13/2012
Container Persimmon Tree

Caring for Potted Trees

In part one of our series on growing fruit trees in containers, we gave you some helpful tips for getting started. In this article, part two of the series, we focus on what you need to do to take proper care of your potted fruit trees, so they can stay healthy, grow and thrive.

Watering Potted Trees

One of the number-one threats to a young potted tree is overwatering. Once the tree is planted in the container, it is very important to keep a close eye on it and only water when needed. While you want to avoid letting the soil dry out completely, daily watering may not be necessary. You should water when the soil is dry to the touch a couple inches below the surface. The sun may play a part in drying it out, so be aware of exposure to the location of your tree. This can vary if the tree is moved at different times of year.

Note: Mature trees in containers outdoors, during the months where they are in full leaf (late spring, all through summer), use plenty of water. Your mature, leafed-out trees may benefit from daily watering, until the temperatures cool off and the trees begin to harden off for the winter again. Keep an especially watchful eye on your trees’ water needs during the growing season!

Fertilizing Fruit Trees in Containers

Many potting soil mixes come with fertilizer included. If you are using a mix like that, then you will not need to fertilize additionally at planting time. However, you may choose to fertilize during the growing season. If you do, be sure to use compost tea/manure tea, or a water-soluble fertilizer like Stark® Tre-Pep®, so that the roots are successful in absorbing the nutrients.

Winterizing Trees in Containers

Just like trees planted in your yard or anywhere outdoors, trees in containers benefit from winter care and protection. After your tree becomes dormant in the fall, there are a few important actions you should take:

  • Pruning will give you the chance to remove any damaged, dead or diseased limbs, and it plays a key role in the survival, stimulation, shaping and production of your tree.
  • Watering the soil around the roots will help to avoid freeze damage if you have not yet prepared to bring your container indoors, and the weather brings a cold snap.
  • Mulching over the surface of the soil helps to insulate the roots and protect them from the winter elements if your potted tree must remain outdoors for the winter. Try “planting” the container in the ground to help further insulate the roots!

For additional details or to learn more about winterizing, check out our article, Fruit Tree Care: Winterizing Your Plants. Be sure to check out winter-care information specifically for fig trees in our article, Growing Fig Trees in Containers.

When it comes down to it, growing fruit trees in containers can be just like growing them in a backyard. With the same attentive care, you can have your very own container orchard on your balcony, patio, sunroom or wherever you want!

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

16 Comments

  1. Andre permalink

    Could you give me detailed instructions on root pruning – how and when to do it? I have 8 potted fruit trees on my roof in NYC and am eager for detailed care instructions.

    • In some cases, videos are more helpful than words. You can get an idea of scoring the roots (making vertical cuts to break up circling roots) in our video on planting a Stark® EZ Start® Potted Tree here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1N_72XJt5cw

      Every few years, after the tree has stopped growing taller in its container, it will become “rootbound”. This means the roots will continue to grow and could become densely tangled within the container walls, since it is not able to spread out like it would naturally. That is where root-pruning comes in.

      1a. Initially select a container that is NOT uniquely shaped, so that the tree may be removed to allow roots to be pruned.

      1b. If you already have a tree in an unusually-shaped container, (to avoid breaking the container to free your tree) simply and slowly hose away the soil so that the roots and the container remain intact and the tree is able to be removed.

      2. Remove the tree from the container and trim the ends of the roots back by a couple inches at the most.

      3. Take your knife and make vertical cuts around the circumference of the roots to break up any circling there.

      4. Shake the roots free of any loose soil, and take this time to refresh your potting mix (out with the old, in with the new) — this avoids replacing your tree in old potting mix that may be depleted of nutrients or saturated with salts from fertilizers.

      5. Re-pot your tree in the old container if you don’t want it to grow any more, or in a slightly larger container if you hope to encourage more growth.

      Hopefully this helps. :)

  2. Louis Wachsmuth permalink

    The two apple trees you sold me arrived good shape and have good roots and stock structure. Thanks, I will be back next year.

    • I am so glad to hear it, Louis! I can’t wait for your new apple trees to leaf out and develop (leaves, branches, grow taller, and thicker trunks!) for you this coming growing season. That’s when the real fun starts. :)

  3. David permalink

    Are dwarf peach trees conducive to growing in containers?

    • They are, David! Even standard sized peach trees may be planted in containers, as they will become “dwarfed” by the roots being restricted in the container. Depending on the size of the container you choose (7- or 10-gallon pots versus, say, a larger — but less mobile — half whiskey-barrel) will allow for a different sized tree, but the tree will still grow and produce when it’s mature enough to! :)

  4. Thomas eddleman permalink

    I’m getting an Owari Satsuma tree for Christmas and plan on container growing it and would like any advice from you.

  5. Steve permalink

    I have three citrus trees (valencia orange, lime, tangerine) that are potted. They are in their second winter. I bring them in the house in the late fall and return them to the patio in the spring. They look like they are healthy. They have about doubled in size. Last summer they did have some yellowing of their leaves. Do citrus trees need be pruned? If so how much and when? The orange has had a couple of blooms. Should I defruit them the first time? And should they be fertilized each spring? I live in Missouri.

    Thank you.

    • Your citrus trees sound pretty happy, Steve! Citrus trees are one of the few fruit trees that don’t really require regular pruning to encourage fruit production. The most you will need to prune off a citrus tree is damaged/dead/diseased limbs that are dead weight for the healthy parts of the tree to support. They should do well with a spring fertilizer application. Remember, since the trees are in pots, there isn’t anywhere for the salty remains of fertilizers to disperse to after the roots have taken in what they need, so it is in the benefit of the trees to receive some fresh potting mix every few years or so.

      If you pinch the flowers their first year blooming, your citrus trees will be able to reserve their energy and use it for growing (as a tree) rather than trying to reproduce (develop fruit). It’s not mandatory to remove these flowers, by any means, so it’s up to you! Remember that, if your trees are blooming while they’re indoors, you will need to help pollinate the flowers. All you will have to do in this case is use a small paintbrush or cotton swab and collect the pollen from one flower and dab it onto the next. It may seem silly at first, but it’s exciting when the fruit starts to develop! :)

  6. Penney permalink

    My meyer lemon seems to be quite happy in my sunny window except for having scale that I’m keeping after. I’ve had lots of blooms and it’s producing a goodly number of lemons (I’ve been taking some off). here is my question: when do the lemons actually turn yellow? A couple of the lemons have been on the tree for a couple months now, but are a lovely bright green. This is my first citrus tree hence my somewhat silly questions. Thanks for your help.

    • Your question is completely understandable, Penney! I had the same concern when I saw my first fruit on my Meyer lemon tree. It turns out, citrus can be very slow to ripen, sometimes taking up to 18 months (from initial fruit set to ripening) to reach that ideal yellow-ripe state. They can also develop new fruiting buds and bloom while the last set of fruit is still ripening on the tree.

      Light exposure definitely helps with fruit development. My tree had its first fruit indoors during the winter here in Missouri, but as soon as it got some actual sunlight, development really started picking up. :)

  7. Ralph permalink

    Hi, I am new at this tree growing stuff. I have a few apple trees I am growing in containers inside my home in PA. I started the trees from apples that were eaten by my family. The talest one I have is over 2 ft tall, and very healthy looking . My question is, do I let it die for the winter, like it would outdoors? Or do I continue to water it, and keep it green? Any help would be great. Thanks in advance B-)

    • Apple trees, even young seedlings, would naturally “sleep” for the winter if they were growing outdoors. The environment indoors is comparatively mild to what the tree would experience normally (light is different, watering is different, air is drier, etc.). When we grow fruit trees in containers, it’s best for the tree to try to mimic the outdoor environment it’s used to.

      Since your trees have been growing indoors, you might need to slowly introduce them to the outdoor environment so that they “know” fall is here and winter is coming. Just a couple of hours a day for a week or so should be fine – but don’t leave them out overnight during this time. After that time has passed, and you aren’t expecting harsh freezes or weather, they can be left outdoors on a porch or balcony until they are dormant and drop their leaves. Low light and cool temperatures are natural triggers to put plants and trees into a dormant state.

      Once they are fully dormant (usually detectable by losing their leaves), you can move the trees into a cool, dark, unheated area – usually a garage, shed, or basement if possible. As long as the temperature averages between 32-45ºF – which is difficult to achieve indoors, so a garage or cellar is ideal – and as long as there isn’t much light available, the trees will maintain their dormancy. This will help them be healthy and fruitful as they mature. :)

      Going forward, if you can keep your trees on a well-lit porch or balcony outdoors during the growing season (late spring, summer, and early fall), they will grow and harden off naturally with light and temperature signals from nature as the seasons change. All you would need to do is keep the soil healthy, water when the top couple of inches of soil is dry to the touch, and bring the container-grown trees in for protection from severe storms and late/early frost.

  8. Ralph permalink

    This was VERY helpful… Thank you very much B-)

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