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Container Growing & Rootstock
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Eugene, Ore.
4 Posts
September 12, 2020 - 1:03 pm

In an effort to get a few more fruit trees onto my city lot, I'm going to plant a few apple trees into half-oak barrels. My question: What dwarf(ish) rootstock would be happiest growing in a container? Are there specific rootstocks that are preferable? And are there rootstocks I should definitely avoid planting into a container? Anyone out there with experience in growing apple trees this way?

187 Posts
September 12, 2020 - 7:05 pm

A search reveals that the term "Half oak barrel" is in common use, but it makes me wonder

what the other half is made of.

2 Posts
September 12, 2020 - 9:19 pm

You are asking a lot from your future apple tree(s).

Using a container results in approximately 10 degrees F warmer soil temperatures in summer, and approximately 10 degrees F colder soil temperatures in  winter. Additionally, they will be much more sensitive to water and could die if you briefly forget to water them or if you over water them.

Living in a pot restricts them from harvesting nutrients from the surrounding soil, since it is contained within a barrier that prevents the roots from spreading.

I assume that you don't want to remove the tree(s) from the pot each year and perform root trimming with soil replacement, in addition to branch trimming, in an effort to avoid the inevitable root binding.

If this is correct, the size of a half barrel restricts you  to an extreme size controlling rootstock like a P2.

This type of rootstock will severely limit your choice of apple varieties for grafting.

But yes, it can be done.

As an alternative, you could graft onto a rootstock such as EMLA7 and perform manual size control via regular trimming.

with this option you will need to pick varieties that are not tip bearing to allow you to harvest fruit.

Good luck with your endeavor!

84 Posts
September 17, 2020 - 1:12 am

Hmm.  Gonna put those barrels on the ground?  Concrete?  A deck?  

Gonna use a drip system?  

I've done most of those.

So here's the scoop.   With a drip system, on a timer, you just need to notice if something has gone wrong.

My Aunt grew Citrus that way for thirty years or so, on a deck, in a barrel on wheels.  Once every decade of so, the barrel became too decrepit, and it needed to be replaced.

I've also raised figs that way.  Barrels over soil.  The fig's roots will grow through the bottom of the barrel.  Eventually, the barrel will rot away.  The fig will be firmly rooted, right where it is.

The Oak Barrels are fairly expensive, and they are mortal.  Nice.  But, perhaps a plastic look-a-like barrel might be better, cheaper, and longer lasting.  I don't know.

Those 55 gallon, black HDPE-PP barrels can be had for approximately 10-15 bucks each, if you buy 10.  They are inobtrusive, and they will outlast Oak barrels by a lot.  Just cut 'em in half, and bore a few holes for drainage.

Someday, you might want to put those trees in the ground.  In the meantime, an occasional shot of Miracle Grow should keep them healthy enough.

A horse trough is also a possibility.  Bigger.  Less portable.  More expensive.  Come in HDPE or PP now.  Do you have a forklift?

John S
2834 Posts
September 17, 2020 - 9:15 am

Personally, I would grow them on a semi-dwarf rootstock that will grow to about 12 feet or so.  Then I would graft an interstem dwarf rootstock. Then graft your varieties.  Remember on a dwarf rootstock with no such interstem, the large triploid apples that most people are obsessed with will very likely break at least a branch and maybe the tree.  My Karmijn da Sonnaville broke off below the graft, the very first time the tree produced fruit, a month before it was edible. It reverted to a rootstock. I would stick to medium sized and small apples for the dwarf stock.

John S

Clark County, WA
519 Posts
October 1, 2020 - 9:30 am

Another option is to try columnar apple trees in barrels.  In my experience they do pretty well.  My favorites are North Pole, Scarlet Sentinel, and Golden Sentinel.  These are off patent now, so can be grafted by the hobby grower.  The Urban Apple varieties (Tasty Red and others) might be patented, it's hard to tell, and while they are reportedly quite disease resistant, I don't know yet how they will taste.  I think most nurseries use semidwarfing rootstocks for these but for grafting at home, I would try a more dwarfing type.  North Pole, Scarlet Sentinel and Golden Sentinel are all delicious, as far as I'm concerned.  I used Bud 9 to make some more North Pole and Golden Sentinel.  The North Pole ones are two years old now.  They are still very small, about 18 inches to 3 feet but are sturdy and I think starting to take off and grow.  A more vigorous rootstock might give faster result but overgrow its container sooner.  Bud 9 might be too dwarfing for these, I don't know yet.

Personally I'm trying Bud-9 for a variety of miniature apple trees.  I don't know yet how they will produce, but all of the grafts took and grew well this year.  I would grow them with a post for support and strength, and like John says, not the huge apple varieties.  Again, I would try to use disease resistant varieties to help with success.  PRI type, like Pristine, Wine Crisp, Priscilla, Gold Rush, Crimson Crisp are good for that.  I really love the Pristine apples.  I also have a mid size Wine Crisp tree, very productive and a good tasting apple too.  Liberty is not PRI but is disease resistant, and is supposedly triploid, but mine stayed under 5 feet tall using the M27 root stock, and bore a lot of really good apples for many years.  Liberty is a really good apple.  It's now about 6 or 7 feet feet tall at 20 years old, in the ground.  I think it might be overcoming the dwarfing effect of its rootstock now.   M27 seems usually too dwarfing for my taste which is why I'm trying Bud-9.  I'm also trying Geneva 222 for a couple of trees but don't know yet how it will perform over the long term.

1 Posts
November 18, 2022 - 12:31 pm

I would choose dwarfing rootstocks for growing apple trees in containers - M27, P22, M9 or check other rootstocks.  Choosing collumnar apple varieties would be also a good idea for this purpose. 

Good luck with your apple treesSmile

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