Some questions from a container newbie

caterwallinDecember 30, 2011

I am new to container gardening and found this forum and wanted to ask some questions. I am wondering how big a pot has to be if I'd want to keep a tree in it indefinitely. I raise butterflies and release them and have a hackberry tree that some of them lay their eggs on. To be able to have them handy, I'd like to keep the tree in a pot right outside the back door if that's possible. Also, does it matter what kind of soil mixture I put in it? Right now the tree is only a few feet tall, like two or three feet. How do you know when to put a plant into a bigger pot?

I also want to keep some other plants in pots, one being an Amorpha fruticosa because I don't want it spreading if planted in the ground. It's also for the butterflies to lay eggs on. Right now it's in a 3-gallon pot (I think). Would that be sufficient? It doesn't get as big as a tree; I think they get about 15-20 feet tall. Should I put it in a bigger pot? Right now it's only 3 feet tall.

I also have a Crepe Myrtle in a pot that I'm still undecided if I should plant it outside or keep it in the pot. Can they be kept in a pot? I don't have room to bring it or the other plants in the house during the winter and was wondering if they'd be okay outside. Since this is a blooming plant (although I haven't seen it bloom yet), can I assume that I should trim it right after it blooms?

TIA for answering my questions and sorry if they might have been asked a million times before. It's hard to find things on searches on here IMO.


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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

If you're up to a little reading, I think it would be very helpful to click on the embedded link and stop off here first for a good amount of information about maintaining trees in containers over the long term.

You CAN maintain woody material in containers indefinitely. How large the container can be initially, is dependent on soil choice and plant mass. You WILL need to increase the size of the container at regular intervals - how large the container will need to be will depend on your root-pruning skills. Hackberry will be hardy in your zone if kept outside, but I would suggest minimal protection - more on that if you're interested. Plants in pots are best potted up before the state of root congestion is such that the root/soil mass can be lifted from the pot intact. Myrtles can assuredly be kept in pots - immediate post-bloom period pruning (tongue twister) is best. I don't know of any woody plant that can't be maintained in good health if you can provide favorable cultural conditions. The pot itself is not much of a limiting factor if you want/allow it to be, but I do wish soil temperatures weren't so much in play.


    Bookmark   December 30, 2011 at 1:34PM
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Al, Thanks for the link. I'll read all of that when I have more time. I'm a slow reader to begin with, so you can imagine how long it would take me to read all of that...awhile, but I really look forward to learning about container gardening.

I'm glad to hear that I can keep trees and other plants in containers indefinitely. About root-pruning skills...I guess I don't really have any, as I've never really had any need to prune roots. I've heard that in bonsai you prune roots, but I've never done bonsai, so I wouldn't know how they prune the roots, although I wouldn't mind doing at least one plant that way. I think just regular container gardening is all that I'm going to attempt for now (besides my regular outside gardening in the ground).

I forgot to mention that I did have my hackberry outside in a one-gallon pot over the winter last year and it was fine in the spring. I put it next to the house and surrounded it with bags full of leaves for insulation. It sounds like I might not have to do that anymore since you said it would need minimal protection. I'm not getting it out from its nestled-in-again position now, but I mean for following winters I guess I wouldn't need to do that, right? I didn't exactly know what you meant though.

That's good that myrtles can be kept in pots over the winter. Last year I didn't quite trust it outside over the winter so I brought it into our laundry room until it was warm enough to move the pot back outside. The plant is about 1-1/2 feet tall and in a 3-gallon pot. I wish I could leave it in that indefinitely. My problem with moving things is that I have a bad back and so once I have them in a pot (especially if I have to get pots that are bigger than 3 gallons...I can barely lift those with potting soil and a plant in them) I wish that I could keep them in a permanent location in that pot and not have to move them...or maybe that's asking for too much. Oh, and I don't know how long it takes myrtles to bloom, but the one that I brought inside last winter didn't bloom at all in the spring or summer. It's a little cooler in our house than it is in the rest of the house, but it's nowhere near like being outside; it's probably 55-60 there for the plants that I have there now. I started crepe myrtles from seed last year and want to plant them outside this year. I won't hold my breath for them to bloom this year though because they're inside like the bigger one was last winter (but now it's outside against the house and surrounded by leaves just like the hackberry and a few other plants are.

I will also have to read up on how to prune myrtles. Wow, I have a lot of reading to do! I do want to learn how to do these things though.


    Bookmark   December 31, 2011 at 6:26PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Minimal protection = site the plant out of wind and against the foundation of a heated building - make sure the soil doesn't dry completely (i.e. toss a little snow on it from time to time).

We're here if you get stuck on anything. ;-)

Happy New Year, Cathy.


    Bookmark   December 31, 2011 at 9:46PM
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Thanks, Al, and Happy New Year to you too! ;-)

    Bookmark   January 1, 2012 at 1:50PM
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Al, what kind of soil you recommend for tropical and citrus trees in container?

    Bookmark   January 4, 2012 at 12:10PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

You'll go a long way before you'll find anything better than the gritty mix. I'm always tinkering & fussin' with soils, and I've yet to find anything that works better, or when you really start to look at it closely, that makes more sense.


    Bookmark   January 4, 2012 at 3:18PM
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