Is drip watering practical for container trees?

blaferbyAugust 6, 2011

I have 3 ultra dwarf fruit trees, a fig, apple and peach. They are growing in 24" containers. Because they have ample drainage, I soak them fairly thoroughly about twice a week. It is now in the 90's here. They all have developed dry and curling leaves, and the fig's leaves have mostly fallen off. I'm thinking about putting drippers on them and dripping daily. My question is, will a dripper simply wet a narrow swath of soil down through the planter, leaving the rest dry, or will it spread sufficiently out from the dripper to wet most of the soil? Also, how does fertilizing work with a dripper? If I spread the fertilizer around away from the trunk, will a dripper sufficiently wet it to carry it to the roots?

In short, is dripping practical for container trees?


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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

And you can't water three plants with a hose because.......?

    Bookmark   August 7, 2011 at 12:16AM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

A drip irrigation system can work well and save you a ton of grief if it's set up correctly. The drainage pattern depends a lot on the type of soil, but, unless you have very sharply draining soil, the entire medium should become fairly evenly moist throughout horizontal layers (in other words, if you dig down x inches in one place and x inches in another place, they should be evenly moist) if the irrigation system is set up correctly.

Even without rain, fertilizer mixed into the potting medium should be distributed with drainage. Internal soil drainage moves moisture in all directions (not just down). As with hose/hand watering, you'll need to properly fertilize your trees on a regular basis. If you're not sure how (how much, how often, etc), I'd recommend referencing the many posts available in the Container Forum. I haven't read through Al's thread (linked below) on the subject yet, but, based on his other work, I'm sure it's right on target.

Here is a link that might be useful: Fertilizer Program for Containerized Plants

    Bookmark   August 7, 2011 at 12:32AM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Here's another informative thread from Al:

Here is a link that might be useful: Trees in Containers

    Bookmark   August 7, 2011 at 12:36AM
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I personally don't know much about drip systems, but the local nursery uses a drip system for most of their potted and B&B offerings and they have actually stayed alive throughout this oppressive heat wave we have had. So I would think if it is working on 20+ gallon containers, yours should be OK as long as you set it up right as Brandon mentioned.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2011 at 8:57AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

in general.. trees do NOT like a lot of water ... all trees ... they would prefer a drink.. and then near drying in between ... the thought of trees in constantly damp media.. sounds like trouble to me ...

in my experience.. the ONLY way to tell when a tree needs water .... is to insert you finger.. and water WHEN IT NEEDS IT ...

i also wonder why .. as rhiz notes.. you cant just water them once or twice more per week .... when your finger tells you too ...

bottom line.. trees are not really meant for long term pot culture.. because of all the problems associated with the potting media ....

potting media breaks down annually .. and should be replaced .... and once it starts breaking down ... all of its predictability is lost ... e.g. what was once a proper watering method ... is now failing .... as perhaps is happening to you right now.. though you give us no real history here of how big the trees are.. nor how long they have been in the pots.. etc ...

then on top of it all.. you want to feed heavily stressed plants.. i wouldnt.. you are more likely to burn the roots and stress it more.. rather than make it grow better ....

final 2 questions...

big black pots in blistering sun???

and, roof top garden ???? ... why not in mother earth ..

i suspect many more issues than just simply water.. so i wonder if adding drip irrigation will solve the issues

any chance at a picture??


    Bookmark   August 7, 2011 at 12:15PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)


A drip system will have a timer or be turned on and off manually. The system doesn't just keep pouring water on the plant 24/7. The amount and frequency of water is adjusted for the situation. If the system is set up correctly, the plant gets watered correctly.

Watering once or twice a week this time of year for containerized trees around here is a good way to have a dead tree. If you have only a few containers, hand watering is kind of like feeding the dog and no big problem. But, if you have a large amount of containers to water, the chore can get pretty labor-intensive. Even with just three, you still have to remember to do it regularly or check them regularly. If you go on vacation, you have to have a neighbor or relative take care of them for you.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2011 at 1:32PM
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