5 Soil Secrets for Growing Fruit Trees in Containers

Growing fruit trees in containers is a great way to bring the taste and beauty of fresh fruits to small spaces, patios, and decks. Container-grown fruit trees have different needs than those grown in the ground. Perhaps the most important factor in their success is the soil composition. Here are five soil secrets for growing fruit trees in containers that will help you achieve amazing long term results:

  1. Drainage is key. The ancient art of bonsai can teach us an amazing lesson about soil composition. Because bonsai pots are so small, there is no room for making mistakes in the soil composition, otherwise these prized trees will die in just a few weeks. All professional bonsai soil is made up of relatively large, coarse, and dustless material.
    For growing fruit trees, focus on inorganic soil like perlite, sand, akadama (clay pieces), pumice, lava rock, and some peat moss. You don’t need all of these items to make good soil, but look for soil that is very gritty and loose. It’s a common misconception that trees should be grown in materials like wood chips. However, wood chips break down very quickly and contribute to dusty soil, something that should be avoided at all costs. Dusty soil, or any fine particles, will be detrimental to consistent soil moisture penetration.
  2. Proper watering. Fruit tree roots do not like being too wet, and they do not like being too dry. There is a certain window of soil moisture where the trees operate best. For example, a particular tree may uptake nutrients most effectively when the soil is between 30% and 80% moist. Outside of these moisture levels, the tree stagnates as it awaits the proper moisture level to begin root growth and nutrient uptake. High-performance soil is able to enter this optimal window more often by creating a soil that saturates easily (from lack of dust), and breathes effectively.
  3. Aeration is essential. Many people are surprised to learn that roots need to breathe. Oxygen is vital to plants, allowing them to convert food to energy, as well as photosynthesize. By creating a soil that is well draining, it allows little spaces for oxygen to penetrate the soil, which lets them breath effectively, and grow much more quickly and vigorously.
  4. Pay attention to soil pH. One shouldn’t overlook the importance of trying to match the correct soil pH with the species you are trying to grow. Many fruit trees are able to tolerate a wide range of soil pH. However, some trees will not do well without the correct soil acidity, and just as importantly, all trees will grow much better with the right acidity.
    Most fruit trees, especially exotic subtropicals tend to favor a slight acidic soil environment. The easiest way to acidify your container soil is to mix in peat moss. Consider this your acidifier. It will also add some moisture and nutrient retention to your medium.
  5. Don’t forget to fertilize. The recommended materials for containers, such as perlite, sand, and peat moss, do not offer much nutritional value. Therefore, to provide nutrients to the soil, we recommend sprinkling your chosen fertilizer above the soil, and watering in. Organic (composted) fertilizers can be applied heavily as they release slowly and do not offer a significant risk of burning the plant. Chemical fertilizers require more care to not burn plants.

By following these five soil secrets, you can ensure that your container-grown fruit trees will have the best chance of thriving over the long term. The work you put up front will pay in the long run as your trees appreciate the fantastic soil medium you’ve created for them. Keep in mind that it’s important to choose the right type of tree for the container size and location, and to provide the tree with proper care and maintenance. If you’re interested in zone pushing, specimen growing in a greenhouse, trying new fruits, exotic and rare fruits, or have limited backyard space, container-grown fruit trees are a great option. They are perfect for home growers who want to enjoy the taste and beauty of fresh fruits in a small space.

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