Summer Attention for Container Fruit Trees

There are many reasons to grow certain fruit trees or fruit - bearing plants in containers. I grow to stretch my zone, for extra TLC, growing young trees faster before planting in-ground, for protection from the coldest winter freezes (less cold-hardy figs) or to protect from winter rain - borne disease (peaches). Apricots almost always bloom before the last frost here, then the frost kills the non-dormant tree. Container growing may allow for moving the tree into protection if a late frost is predicted, and keeping the tree in North - facing shade to delay coming out of dormancy. PixiCot is sold as genetic dwarf, so I am giving it a try.

Now that summer is close, it’s important to think about helping container fruits grow and thrive, and most importantly, not die. The main issues are keeping them from drying out, and giving them the nutrition and water they need.

Each climate and locale will have a different situation. I thought it might be helpful to have a post where people could provide their insights and experiences.

Some treatments that I think are helpful -

:apple: In late Winter / early Spring, prune roots and tops for compact size. Compact size is intended to reduce water evaporation and dehydration.
:lemon: Protect from drying wind, by placement in a sheltered spot, preferably with full sun.
:peach: Use container materials that insulate well. I like wood for this. I line with plastic. I’m frugal, and use woven plastic sheeting cut from used dog-food bags.
:pear: For plastic containers, use a reflective aluminum foil wrap. I measured temperatures in the soil of fig trees that were grown in black plastic tree pots, on a hot summer day. The soil was about 115 F with the ambient temp in the 90s. Wrapping with aluminum foil, shiny side out, the soil was close to the ambient temp, more than 15 degrees cooler. The magnitude of effect will depend on the container size, the soil or growth medium, watering habits, and temperature. But my experience is, the foil wrap can save the trees on a hot sunny day. I haven’t measured water requirement. It stands to reason that hotter soil increases the water requirement. Last year I wrapped some with a bubble-wrap that has a reflective mylar silvered surface. That is sold at Home Depot - I think in the water heater wrap section. I think the main thing is the reflective surface, but bubble wrap might help too.
:strawberry:Mulch. Mine are mulched with about 2 inches of light-colored arborist trimmings. Some fig hobbyists like white limestone gravel - more reflective, and provides calcium needed for growing figs.
:tomato:Watering. I find I need to water every day. That could be challenging if you have a water restriction. The shiny covering and mulch reduce the water demand.
:cherries:For soil, I use commercial organic mix - sold here as “Black Magic”. It claims to be water- holding. The mix seems fairly loose. I don’t know if water-holding granules are beneficial or not. Haven’t tried them so far.
:watermelon:These plants depend entirely on artificial sources of water and nutrients. My in-grown garden is organic. For container plants, I use Miracle Grow 18:18:21 for Tomatoes, at a rate of 1/2 teaspoon per 2 gallons, with almost every watering or every other watering. Very dilute, but often. For citrus, I’ve been using the Miracle Grow for Azaleas and Rhododendrons 30:10:10 which might be too high N. There are probably better choices.

These are some of my container trees now. Some are in containers for fruit, for this summer. Some are my miniature propagation nursery, which I do more because I can, than because I need them.

Deck Trees. Most of these are cuttings, seedlings, or new grafts. The peaches are seedlings from genetic dwarfs - either Garden Gold or Honey Babe, they grew in the compost pile. I’m curious about whether they will bear as a container bush instead of tree.

This fig is Smith. Its in-ground twin was frozen to ground 2 years in a row.

Genetic Dwarf Peach. The first time in 13 years I had a genetic dwarf peach that was not covered with leaf curl. I winter-stored this one North of the house, sheltered from rain. I containerized it last fall, which required cutting a long, thick tap root about 2 inches thick. Surprised it survived. I probably didn’t thin enough.

Meyer lemon is stored in a sunny, unheated room for the winter. I might water it once or twice during the winter, but mostly it’s dry. The flowers are amazing, so sweet even at a distance. Honeybees go after them constantly. We get a bowl of lemons each year.

Nagami Kuquat. Three years old. So far, no fruits. It gets the same treatment as the Meyer Lemon.

More figs. They need the foil wrap. I went overboard with fig cuttings. My in-ground Champaign fig was completely killed by winter freeze, that didn’t phase Brunswick King, Lattarula, Chicago, or Petite Aubique.

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Nice looking, Bear. Is that sunroom in the background of the last photo the unheated sunny room you keep your citrus in for the winter?

I’m doing a few things a little different here for the summer in the SE. I’ll tell you about them as time permits. Summer isn’t almost on us here. It’s been wilting me almost daily.

Muddy Mess, the unheated room is an unused south facing bedroom. The sunroom is too warm in the winter. It’s great for seedlings and orchids.

I keep my citrus in pots as well. Those are in a well draining mix of pine bark fines, bagged compost, perlite, chicken grit, and a touch of sphagnum moss. They are fed with Osmocote plus slow release, and 1/2 tsp/gal per week of Foliage Pro, except when they are pushing new growth and blossoms. I increase the Foliage Pro to 1 tsp/gal. When I’m feeding they take turns sitting in a large Rubbermaid style container so that I can water until it runs out the bottom. That way I don’t have to waste the runoff, and can just set other containers in the broth for some bottom watering when I’m done.

I’m not under water restrictions here. I just don’t like wasting the fertilizer by letting it run where it is not needed. Container plants are about the only thing I use purchased fertilizer on.

Summer here is hot. It’s been in the 90’s and will be triple digits this week. My containerized plants that need tended to are mostly around my pool area and on my back deck. The pool apron gets very hot, as does most of the deck. These places are good in the spring and fall, but I believe the apron provides too much root area heat during summer.

The citrus, pomegranates, plumeria, and hibiscus are moved to a spot behind my planted cannas and elephant ears. There they get sun from overhead only. It helps keep their root zones cooler and slows down the moisture loss from the planting mix. I’ve been able to go a couple of days at a time between waterings so far this year. They’ve been surprising this year by evidently being happy, as well. Even the ones already carrying fruit have been pushing some new growth and blossoms. I thanked them for that. :slight_smile:

My youngest figs are in very large black nursery containers. For the summer they go into holes in the ground - container and all. Roots grow through the drainage holes and get “pruned” when they are removed from the holes at the beginning of winter. They spend the season on the deck and I only drag them in for the very coldest nights. We only get short spurts of below freezing temperatures.

I have quite a few containerized plants that I would like to set in an attractive in-ground setting for the summer, but I don’t think it’s going to happen this year. I’ve created too much work for myself that needs to be done. That want has fallen lower on the list.

@Bear_with_me will U be keeping your fruit tree permanently in containers. What is the size of the container you used for your peach. thanks~-!

@Muddy Mess, your method probably keeps the soil cooler and the roots better eatered, than mine does. Your method of saving runoff appeals to my frugal side, too.

@Roundface, I am keeping some in containers permanently. It’s the only method I have found to grow genetic dwarf peaches in my area, because
i can move them to shelter and prevent leaf curl. The citrus also need to be in containers here, because our einters woukd kill them. The genetic dwarf apricot is zn experiment. I don’t know how it will do.

The peach tree container is a little more than knee high. I don’t know the volume. I had it in a smaller one, but it started falling over and dried out too fast.

im curious about whether the genetic dwarf peach seedlings will stay even more compact and bushy, compared to purchased grafted ones. It’s just an experiment. I don’t know anyone who has tried that. Also whether the seed grown ones will have decent fruit.

I have Indian free which is not self fertile. this year is the first year it will bear fruit. I would like to grow some of the seeds out. Possibly to replace the tree. Mine is on citation and here this rootstock seems to be a canker magnet. I have 2 peaches on it, and both have fungal canker. My other two peaches on Lovell do not.
I keep blueberries and a Carmine Jewel in pots, Also added some figs this year. i will overwinter in the garage. Works well for me so far.

Drew you are doing better than I am to get any peaches on Indian Free. I might give it one more year, and if no fruit, I should cull it and plant something productive.