Potted Fruit Trees

A few years ago I was forced to start growing my apple trees in pots when I moved to an apartment. Although three of my trees are fruiting this year, most of them are only one year old grafts All my apple trees are grafted on M 27 or EMLA 27 rootstock I have not tried any other rootstocks such as P 22.

Although my three year old trees are in five gallon pots, forty trees grafted in the Spring of 1992 are in one gallon pots. I plan on putting them in larger pots next year. It is critical to keep potted trees well watered, especially with fruit on them. I think my success with trees in one gallon pots is because they are shaded about half the day. I water them one and sometimes two times a day.

Five gallon pots seem to work well for my older trees which are starting to fruit. I think pots larger than five gallons would work even better for apple trees. They would need to be watered less and would probably produce more fruit. I am using five gallon pots or smaller for the following reasons:

  1. The pots cost less.
  2. They take less soil to fill them.
  3. They are easier to move than larger ones.

Another important factor in growing potted fruit trees is fertilizer. The trees must be fed regularly or they will barely grow and will not produce fruit. Regular fertilizing with small amounts of Rapid-Gro or fish fertilizer keeps my trees healthy and prevents fertilizer build up in the soil. Although moss has grown on top of the soil in some of the pots, it has not been a problem yet. I have heard that fruit trees need to be repotted every three years, but I won’t repot that often unless problems occur.

Extreme cold such as we had in the winters of ’88-’89 and ’89-’90 can prove fatal to potted fruit trees. All my trees in gallon pots were killed in ’89-’90 by having their roots frozen. Trees in larger pots fared better, but I only had a few and don’t have much data. I recommend protecting potted fruit trees from extreme cold during the winter. Putting the pots up against a building and in a spot protected from the wind helps protect them. More protection may be needed. If the pots are under the eaves, make sure they don’t dry out. As of yet I haven’t figured out why the roots of two apple trees died this spring.

Finally, I recommend very limited or no pruning the first three years for apple trees on M 27. Some of my apple trees which I pruned way back after one year of growth did not grow much the next year.

If you don’t have much space for growing fruit trees, or if you are disabled as I am, I hope you will try growing a few trees in pots.

Pome News, Summer 1992 Issue