Roof deck: watering fruit trees in summer

coastal_nicoleJuly 6, 2014

I've got some fruit trees on my roof deck that need help. After reading Tapla's soil post, I would like to repot into better soil (gritty mix or 5-1-1 maybe?). However, watering is a big challenge, as there is no tap up there. The soil is drying out really quickly this summer. I would like to move my semi-dwarf peach and cherry trees and dwarf nectarine and apple trees into 20-gallon cloth pots, incorporate coconut husk chips and sphagnum moss into the soil, and use kenaf liners to help absorb and slowly release moisture into the soil. I also bought some PlantMinder water bulbs. You see, I will be taking some vacations this summer, and I worry that the soil will dry up completely when I go. Hopefully I can set up a rainbarrel and drip irrigation system in August, but I'm not sure that I can (I rent, so probably shouldn't cut the gutters to use a downspout diverter; I don't think any of my faucets are hose-adapter compatible). Is there anyone out there with a similar situation? Has anyone used the products I mentioned (fabric pots, PlantMinder water bulbs, kenaf liners, coconut husk chips)? Any and all advice and shared experiences would be greatly appreciated.

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shazaam(NC 7B)

I'm a big fan of fabric pots and grow a wide assortment of fruit trees, bushes, and annual vegetables in in them, but, unless you set up an automated watering system, I wouldn't recommend them for your situation.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2014 at 2:23PM
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Thanks, Shazaam. What type of soils do you use in your fabric pots?

    Bookmark   July 8, 2014 at 2:26AM
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shazaam(NC 7B)

I use a modified version of Al's 5-1-1 mix in order to increase its water holding capacity. I tinker quite a bit, but on average the ratio that I'm using this year is approximately 5-2-1 with calcined D.E. (NAPA oil absorbent) instead of perlite. Even with the changes, during the summer months I have to water every 2-3 days.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2014 at 8:15AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

5 1 1 and gritty mix are much too dry for me, so if you think your plants are dry now, try these mixes and you will discover what really dry is! Use compost to hold water. Add Soil Moist too, use diatomaceous earth, as it holds more water than any other product. Unlike turface, the water is actually available to the plants when needed.
Optisorb is about the right size particle. Very few options in obtaining DE. Find it at auto stores. I would not use any other name product. Some are clay. Optisorb is 100% DE.
IMHO the mixes advocated here are for people who always water too much, most inexperienced growers usually do, so many like it. I find the mixes impractical and way too well draining.
Also you must feed at every watering, if you use compost, you do not. The main difference between dead mixes and live mixes. Again newbie's often over fertilize, so the mixes solves that problem too.
With live mixes you can use organics that work over long periods of time, make nutrients available when needed, not just at watering. No polluting run off either. As soluble fertilizers are used for the dead mixes. Often told to water till you see fertilizer run off.
Live mixes in pots is not easy either, bacteria often die. To help maintain a normal flora add humic acid, use light colored pots, or fabric bags as they do not hold the heat. But they do drain well. Using them with 5-1-1 will be like Saudi Arabia! I do like the fabric pots because of the air pruning of roots. A 15 gallon fabric pot is like a 30 gallon plastic pot, Great for trees!

Experiment before you go. A small drip system on a cheap timer would solve your problem.
I myself make my daughter come over and water everything! I just got back from a 9 day vacation. All is well! 20 bucks to a neighbor's kid works too, you know the one that cuts grass and actually works.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2014 at 8:25AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

shazaam mantions Napa, another good one! Shazaam is one of the best experts around here. I'm still learning myself. I use a 2-2-1-1 (pine, peat or coir, compost, DE) ratio and that holds water! Not the best for most plants, every plant species is different. i would not use this ratio for trees, shazaam's ratio would be better). The ratio I use is for tomato plants and some tropicals that suck water like crazy, like Jasmine. I use a 5-3-1-1 but skip compost for blueberries and cacti. A peat compost with blueberries is good though. I would also skip compost for trees too, but to hold more water in your situation it will not hurt the tree, just fertilize very lightly.
The Coconut husk chips, and other items you mentioned I never tried. The chips sound like a good product. Coir is decent to use, so I suspect so are the chips!

    Bookmark   July 8, 2014 at 8:38AM
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Thanks for the feedback! Hopefully I can track down some Napa or Optisorb DE soon.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2014 at 2:08AM
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