How to Repot Fruit Trees
'Fruit Salad Alley' is a row of fruit trees I have in pots, on the side of our carport, and they grow surprisingly well as they are out in full sun. Once every two years or so, they need to be re-potted in order to keep the roots trimmed and healthy. This is also a time to replace the tired potting soil with fresh soil enriched with compost and fertilizers.
I was upgrading a few of the pots into slightly bigger pots, and the rest went back into the same pots. Besides your pots these are the other supplies you will need:
- A tarpaulin – I had one that had been made into a barbeque cover at one stage, so it formed a big bag, which I found very useful for containing the dirt as I didn’t want it falling into the stones.
- Pruning shears or secateurs.
- A hand shovel.
- Small stool (to save your back).
- Potting soil.
- Compost and worm castings.
- Soil amendments - I like to use a product called 5 in one which is a mixture of different manures.
- Another tarpaulin or large bucket to mix the soil with your amendments.
I generally use a mix that is half potting soil, a quarter compost and one eighth each of worm castings and 5 in one.
A couple of days beforehand I give the pots a good watering so that the soil is moist but not soaking wet, this just makes the whole job a bit easier in my opinion. The roots are still moist, but the soil is not soaking wet. I started with the mulberry tree which I lay on its side on the tarpaulin and began to gently scrape out some of the soil with a hand shovel to loosen the plant. Once the plant was loose I tipped it out of the pot only to find out that it had become terribly rootbound.
These roots were slowly teased out and most of the lower compacted roots removed. Then it was planted out back into the same pot with new amended soil.
My lemon tree is about five years old and was sold as a dwarf Meyer lemon. The leaves have been going yellow and it has been attacked by grasshoppers. About four months ago I added some citrus specific fertilizer, and about twice a year I add compost as a top dressing/mulch. I also foliar feed about once a month with seaweed tea to which Epsom salts and sulphate of potash have been added.
The lemon tree roots were not as compacted, but some of the roots were heading around the pot in a circular direction. I gently combed through the roots with my hands, pulling them down and removing odd bits of root that broke off. The roots can be trimmed back a bit so that they fit comfortably back into the pot, but by no more than a quarter. The roots growing sideways can be gently forced downwards like this.
You want the root ball to be loose and friable, but it is not necessary to remove all the old soil.
At this stage I move the pot into position and add a drainage layer - instead of heavy rocks I use bits of polystyrene. I have the big tub of the mixed potting soil and amendments nearby and I add a layer of the soil – just enough so that the tree will come up to the same height in the pot as it was before.
Place the plant into the pot and begin adding more potting mix, shaking the plant gently to make sure that the soil gets into all the nooks and crannies. At this stage I start the hose and keep watering and manoeuvring the plant so that it is firmly held in the now thoroughly wet soil. Keep the water running on the plant so that water flushes right through the pot and out the bottom.
Now I can prune the tree lightly as needed, not too much, as the tree will already be a bit stressed. Here is the Tahitian lime tree happy with its new soil in the original pot.
I have some marvellous drippers that attach in the hose and allow me to water the row of fruit trees thoroughly and deeply. The trees need to now be watered well every couple of days for the first week and then weekly after that. I hope this has inspired you to grow some trees in pots if you don’t have room for an orchard!