Can I grow a sweet cherry tree in a 50 gallon container in northeast Ohio?
Hardiness Zone: 6a
By Chaz from Warren, OH
Choosing a site for your potted tree
Siting the pot in the right place in your garden should be done before any potting mixture is added. You may want to choose the location before you buy anything at all. I suggest you ask a friend to help. Ask them to wander around the garden with a big bucket or an empty laundry basket - and a mop!
When the friend reaches a possible location, yell at them to stop there and place the bucket or basket on the ground and hold the mop high up in the air. Use your imagination to picture the basket or bucket as the container, and the mop as the potted tree and you'll get a pretty good idea where is the best place for them! If shade is important to you, do this on a sunny day so you can see where the shadow will fall. Once you pick the spot, mark it so you can find it again when you bring the pot and tree home.
Potting the tree
Water the tree in its old pot (if it has one)and let it stand for several minutes to thoroughly soak the root-ball while you prepare. If the tree is root-wrapped, undo the wrapping, use a hand-held sprayer and tepid water to spray the roots and then cover the roots temporarily with a plastic bag to protect them. Remove the bag once you are ready to pot the tree up.
Sometimes the roots are balled with their soil and wrapped in hessian sacking, which is bio-degradeable - the theory being that you plant the tree, hessian and all, without disturbing the roots. However, in my experience the sacking does not decompose quickly enough and the tree starts to suffer. So I always remove, or at least cut, the sacking to allow the roots to grow out quickly.
Place some crocks, broken roof tile or a piece of coarse-weave plastic netting over the drainage holes in the base of the pot. This is to stop the potting mixture from running out.
Add a single layer of smallish stones (about 2.5cm - 5cm diameter) to the base of the pot to help with drainage.
Measure the depth of the current pot the tree has arrived in, or, if root-wrapped, the depth of the root ball. Measure the same depth down the inside of the new pot and mark a line with a pencil or permanent pen. Add some potting mixture and gently press it down and repeat until it reaches this line.
Carefully remove the tree from its old pot by grasping gently but firmly right at the base of the trunk where it becomes the root ball. If it won't budge, don't pick up the whole thing with its pot and drop it on the ground to loosen it! This shatters the roots. Instead, gently lay the tree towards the ground but keep it's trunk and crown supported as you do this. You just want to be able to see the drainage holes in the old pot. If roots have grown through try to untangle them, if they are too big to go back through the holes, and if the pot cannot be cut away easily, then cut the roots off clean and square across and try removing the tree again. I
If the pot is plastic, usually it can be cut away, or gently flexed and rolled to loosen it from the side of the root ball. If it still won't budge, try watering the tree again and letting it stand for half an hour - it should slide easily from its pot after that.
Check the root ball. A good root ball should have a healthy system of fine whitish-brown roots spread evenly over the outer surface without being congested or spiraled. If the roots are spiraled or congested, coax them out of the root ball using your fingers so that they can be spread across the base of the new compost in the new pot. It you don't do this, the roots will continue to grow in a tangle or a spiral and may not grow out to explore the new space in the new pot. Remove any roots that are damaged by cutting them clean square across with sharp shears, scissors or a knife.
Place the tree (now out of its old pot) centrally into the new pot, arranging any loosened roots out to the sides.
Again, using a grip position very low on the trunk, rotate the tree and its root ball until you find the position where the shape of the tree is best viewed. Now gently pack more compost down the sides of the pot to fill the gaps - don't squash it down really hard, use your fingers or a small stick to tamp it down and fill the voids. When you are done, the base of the tree trunk should not be covered with fresh compost, the tree should emerge from its root ball at exactly the same level as it did before.
Water the tree in its pot thoroughly to settle everything in; if there is slumping where potting mixture washes down to fill unseen voids, fill the gaps with a little more potting mixture.
Add a 3cm layer of mulch to cover the top of the compost - suitable mulch includes coloured glass chippings, glass marbles or nuggets, gravel or river-worn stones. The idea is to reduce water loss but it can add a lovely decorative and professional finish to your potted tree.
Stand back and admire your work! Good luck.
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I love Bing cherries. Can one survive as a potted tree with controlled watering?
Hardiness Zone: 10b
By Desert Rat from Sonoran Desert, AZ
I am in zone 8b and I have had my cherries in pots for a few years, I just move them to my greenhouse during winter, but since it rarely freezes down here I finally put them in the ground and they have been doing fine. Well, the birds are having a ball with them. (06/12/2009)