Trees and Plants in Pots

One of the advantages of living in the Sacramento Valley of Northern California is our balmy Mediterranean-like weather.  We can grow just about anything.  Seriously!

Just about every kind of nut or fruit tree, vegetable and herb does well here in the valley.  Especially citrus.  We have a huge naval orange tree that supplies us with hundreds of pounds of oranges every year.  In fact, one of our favorite desserts in the winter is an orange with half a bar of dark chocolate…  one bite of this, one bite of that 😀

In preparation for moving up to our future homestead in the mountains where citrus trees don’t survive unless they are kept above freezing temperatures, we decided to get some dwarf citrus and plant them in large pots so that they can be moved around.  They will stay inside a pit greenhouse (sometimes called walipini) during the winter and can be brought to the front porch of our soon to be built house during the spring, summer and autumn.

Container Grown Meyer Lemons

These lemons are sizing up nicely. They should be good and juicy by November or December

I bought the lemon tree first, when I saw it on sale at our local nursery, because I loved the Meyer lemon tree that my mother has.  The Meyer lemon comes from China and is a cross between a traditional lemon and a mandarin orange, which makes it just a bit sweeter.  It is delicious when used in lemon bars or lemon iced tea, but is out of this world when squeezed on fresh grilled salmon.  In researching the Meyer Lemon, I found that the dwarf variety does quite nicely in containers, as long as they are given an occasional boost of a good citrus fertilizer.

Growing Citrus Trees in Pots

The mandarin tree has about 19 walnut sized mandarins on it right now, and another dozen or so pea sized ones!

Soon after, my oldest son bought a Tango Mandarin for my grand children. The kids were going through boxes of those “cuties” that are sold at the grocery store, so my son thought it would be a good idea to get their own tree. These little citrus fruits are the kind that peel very easily and have little to no seeds – perfect for small hands and mouths.  When I saw the cute little tree he had, I decided to get one for myself.  This variety of mandarin can be a bit more pricey than a regular mandarin or tangerine, because the tree was developed to have sterile flowers which don’t cross-pollinate, preventing the seeds from forming. We bought two large cement pots, one for the lemon tree and the other for the mandarin, at a Mexican pottery store in Escalon called Lopez Imports, and they were quite reasonably priced!  Both citrus trees have done well in those pots.  In fact, the mandarin just finished blooming again (second bloom of the year), and now has little pea sized fruits on it as well as the walnut sized ones from the first bloom in the spring!

Tango Mandarin in a Pot

The tree is three years old now and is producing very well. It stands about 6 feet tall. We will be pruning the tallest branches after harvest, to keep the tree a reasonable size.

The mandarins will be ripe sometime in January, although the mature fruit can be left on the tree for several months, harvesting as desired.  However, it is important to harvest all of the mandarins before the first bloom in spring opens, or the next year’s harvest will be reduced.

Next is the ginger.  I planted a piece of ginger root two months ago when I had a small piece left after making some Ginger Ale.  If you have never made your own Ginger Ale before, click HERE for directions. It’s really fun and really good!

Growing ginger in a container

The ginger has been growing slowly yet steadily and now has it’s fifth shoot starting up.

It took about two weeks, but sure enough, a small sprig came up out of the ground.  I think I probably planted it too deep, but here we are about two months later and another sprig (the fifth) is just now coming up out of the ground!  The leaves got a bit burned a few weeks ago when we had an intense heat  and wind spell, but overall I think the plant looks pretty happy. It’s nice being able to have a plant on the patio, because ginger doesn’t like direct sunlight, and prefers moist, not wet soil.

Tomatoes grown in Containers

Here is my beautiful, lush volunteer heirloom tomato. Nice plant – but where are the tomatoes?

Here is my tomato plant.  I couldn’t plant a garden this year because our real estate agent said nice lawns sell houses. We are selling our valley house so we can start building our mountain homestead. 😀  So, I decided to put a couple of our volunteer tomatoes (from last year’s crop) into a large pot on our patio.

Well, here it is.

Do you see any tomatoes?  Neither do I.  Harrumph!

I don’t want to blame the tomato, however.  I think I am going to blame myself.  You see, the plant is always thirsty!  I used to think it was because the unglazed terracotta pot was letting the soil evaporate too easily.  Nope.  I figured out that it’s because there isn’t anything holding in the water – as in mulch!  If I am not able to water the tomato every single day, the poor thing withers, and it’s been withered down a lot lately.  I am going to try layering some paper on top of the soil and see if that will make a difference.  Better late than never!

Growing Pomegranate in a Pot

One of our two pomegranate trees.

We also have a couple of pomegranate trees in pots.  These are trees I got at a clearance sale because I couldn’t pass them up.  Unfortunately, the variety of pomegranate was not marked on the pots, but since the variety Wonderful is the most popular here in California, I am going to assume that is what they are.  They had several blooms this year but didn’t produce any fruit, so hopefully we will get one or two next year.  We are planning to get several more pomegranate trees that we will plant along the road frontage of our future mountain homestead, but these two make a great start in that direction. If you would like to know which variety of pomegranate my husband and I have decided to plant (along with the two Wonderful variety we already have), and how we made our decision, you can go HERE.  Hopefully we will be able to get them into the ground this next spring, but we have some clearing to do before that will happen.

Almond trees grown from seed

These are three of the volunteer almond trees we saved before we tore out our vegetable garden and rolled out lawn in it’s place.

Finally, I have three volunteer almond trees.  They all look fine – one is really tall, one is quite short and the other is the middle child.  Looking at the pots they are in, the growth rate of each tree really makes no rhyme or reason – the tallest tree being in the smallest pot!  Nonetheless, they are all surviving just fine.  They are babies of the almond tree we have in our backyard, that produces some of the most juicy, sweet almonds you will ever eat.  Hopefully these babies will produce almonds just as good – in about five years!

Here is where I need some advice

The dilemma:  I know the almond trees and pomegranate trees will be fine up on our mountain homestead, but what to do with the Meyer Lemon, the Tango Tangerine and the Ginger?  We will be living in our trailer while we build our home, and as anyone who has ever been in a travel trailer knows, there just isn’t any extra space.  None.  So, where do we put our three tropical weather loving potted plants?  We do have a small 5′ x 6′ plastic greenhouse.  I think I will put the two trees inside the greenhouse in the middle of our fruit orchard, so they will be able to get sunlight during the day.

But what happens when it freezes?

I did see one method to keep an unheated greenhouse reasonably warm.  It involves horse manure.  You see, apparently horse manure gets really hot and stays hot for a couple of weeks as it decomposes.  From what I have read, a nice sized pile of horse manure, insulated by some grass or straw, inside a box, will keep a small greenhouse frost free for two weeks.  Actually, that doesn’t sound too bad, but will it make the lemons and mandarins smell or taste a little… well… poopy?

Another method I read about was using water as an insulator.  Apparently you would line the north and east sides (at least) with jugs of water (milk jugs work), two or three rows high with boards between stabilizing them so they don’t tumble over.  The milk jugs absorb the warmth from the sun during the day and then radiate the warmth back into the greenhouse during the night.  That method sounds like it is do-able also.  But what happens when you have a few days in a row without any sunlight?

I suppose if the temperature drops below 28 degrees, which is the lowest temperature most citrus can tolerate, we could always put our little propane heater in the greenhouse – on the lowest setting of course.  But again, do we need to worry about fumes hurting the trees or even the fruit?

What do you think?  We only need a temporary solution because we plan to start building the pit greenhouse next year – hopefully before the next winter settles in.

Any suggestions?

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29 thoughts on “Trees and Plants in Pots

  1. So much to ponder! I am in zone 5/6 and have been trying to figure out some of the same issues – how can I have citrus trees when the winters drop to single digits and we often get negative temps with wind chill? Our house stays about 50 degrees warm in the winter.

    Some thoughts I have for my plan –

    1. Heat mats for seeds. You can purchase them at some nurseries and online. Place them under the pot and keep them on.

    2. Wrap the pot/planter with an blanket, or two. I think it’s important to keep the roots warm.

    3. At night, loosely wrap the base of the tree/top of the tree with plastic or burlap or a blanket. Kinda make a tent for it for the night time.

    4. A grow light. I bought a few terrific grow lights from Johnny Appleseed. My avocado plants (three started from seed) had new growth through the winter, even though we ran out of heat several times last winter and had interior temps as low as 32. The aloe vera plant has also had new growth through the cold winter last month. For these guys, still in pots, I had them placed close to the propane heater and under the grow light about 9 hours a day. The interior temps I mentioned last year? Those were monitored right next to the propane heater.

    Let us know how things work out for you! And happy house building!

    • Good evening, Sara! Luckily our future homestead is actually in zone 7 or 8, depending on who you talk to, so even though it snows in the winter a bit, the temps rarely get below 24 or 25 degrees. Wrapping the tree and the pot is a great option, however we will be off the grid and using batteries for seed mats or grow lights might present a problem, though it isn’t impossible with inverters. Thanks for taking the time to give me these suggestions! Anything I can learn at this point is a blessing 😀

      • I am not sure how much juice a good grow light sucks up, but to give you a perspective…

        I have three grow lights on, 9 hours a day, do 2-3 loads of laundry and use a dryer*, have two plugged in tall freezers, plus the fridge…and my electric bill each month averages $18-19.

        To keep my electric bill low, I unplug what I am not using. The stove/oven/dishwasher/hot water tank/phone/grow lights are always plugged in. I turn the breakers off for the rest of the house if we are not using them, to include the separate breaker for the hot water tank.

        As much as we would like to live off the grid, DH is unwilling to give up hot water, cooked food, the fridge/the freezers, phone, etc.

        We don’t use the dishwasher (it’s new and never been used) and we don’t have air conditioning.

        *DH insists we use a dryer to dry clothes. I prefer to hang them to dry. So for now, we do it his way, but once we finish the inside of our house, it will be done my way. 🙂

        I hope you share with us how you do go off grid! It is a goal of DH’s and mine, but we aren’t there yet. Can’t get any solar company to talk to us since our utilities are soooooooo low. We pay more for a landline/internet than we do for all other ulitities combined! And we have slowest dial up internet and only 911 phone service (which is the cheapest option.) (That means we are charged per minute for every call we make, even if it’s “local.” But we have to have a landline to have internet.)

        • Wow – you guys are frugal with your power! Congratulations! We are pretty frugal ourselves, which is why we aren’t afraid to go off-the-grid. We will have a stand alone solar system with battery storage, and perhaps a wind generator. We will heat with wood in a masonry heater (very efficient and the most non-polluting way to burn wood) to keep warm in the winter and will use a whole-house fan along with earth tubes to keep cool in the summer. The house will be built using passive solar technology, with most of the windows on the south and west sides and only one window on the north. We won’t have a dishwasher, but we will have a tankless water heater integrated with a solar water heating system. Our cell phones work up there quite well right now, so we will probably use that technology for our internet also. Since refrigerators are getting so energy efficient, we can easily have an electric refrigerator/freezer on a solar system. Some people don’t realize this. As long as you go for a very energy efficient model and don’t get the ice or water through the door option, or an ice maker, there is no reason you can’t have a ref/freezer on a medium sized residential solar system. Right now at our future homestead, we have our travel trailer set up so we can live comfortably on the weekends we are working up there. We can watch satellite TV all day long (if we wanted to) with the modest solar system we have set up. It also powers our lights (all LEDs), fans and water pumps – no problem. I will have a propane dryer, but plan to use a “solar air dryer” most of the time. I will be cooking with a range/oven powered with propane, but will have a single burner induction cooktop also (very efficient). The masonry heater will also serve as an oven in the winter, but on our back patio we will have our bbq grill, a pizza oven that also roasts breads and meats, along with a propane cooktop. So, if TSHTF once we are set up with all this on the future homestead, the only problem we might have would be the propane for the dryer and for the range/oven – both of which aren’t necessities to cook our food in either the winter or summer! You see, living off the grid doesn’t mean going back to caveman days. It means living within the parameters of your system that you have set up. Yes, the solar system will be expensive to start with, but at least we won’t have to worry about the continual rise in power rates, nor will we have to worry about power outages. As long as we are relatively frugal with our power, like we are now, living off the grid should be just as comfortable as living in a grid-tied system!

          • Will you privately email me the information for your resources? Solar power, heat source, etc. Thank you!

            We also do propane, have a waterless tank, and have a generator. The gen is not working right now, but we’s got it. The plan has always been to get off of the electric companies plan. With our low electric bill each month, I am pretty confident, that if we had a solar system with storage tanks, we could go say goodbye to the electric bill. (They won’t like it, but we will!!)

            We have all the goods to make a fridge that doesn’t require electricity. Just haven’t put it together. It doesn’t hold much, but it can help in a pinch.

            We’d have to switch to Sprint ($160+) a month to get working cell phones and data. Right now, we pay $40 a month. Hard to justify that switch when we would still need to pay for the landline and dial up internet ($60 a month) so DH can work from home.

          • We are going to be out of town for a few days – going to the Heirloom Festival in Santa Rosa, CA. When we get back I will be happy to talk with you privately by e-mail. In the meantime, google for masonry stove and you will get lots of pictures and information on that. It is an old concept that is being refined and is becoming popular again. Also, you can google for off-the-grid solar and you will find lots of companies that sell solar systems. Some of these companies will put together a kit for you when you tell them what your energy requirements are. You can inter-tie the tankless propane water heater with a solar water heater, where the hot water from the solar system is stored in a hot water tank, so that when the tankless turns on, it doesn’t have to use as much energy to get the water up to temp. Most of the summer and fall (depending where you live) you won’t need the tankless at all because the solar hot water systems work so well these days. The other thing I can tell you is that you want every light bulb in your home to be LED. I know they are expensive in the beginning, but they save a lot of power and last a long, long time. We are lucky that there is a cell tower on a mountain within sight line of our property, so we get Verizon loud and clear. We haven’t settled on whether we will actually use that or go with a satellite internet system, such as Hughes Net, but we will wait until we are actually living up there to make that decision. As far as refrigeration, I have been canning a lot of meat and poultry lately, along with vegetables, fruits and beans. Because of this, my need for refrigeration and/or freezer are greatly reduced, which means a 16-18 cubic foot refrigerator/freezer will be more than sufficient. I will contact you again when I get back.

  2. I grow citrus in pots in coastal NC. Our weather in Jan and Feb can get to and below freezing. Last winter was very very cold for several weeks. I move my trees to my east facing covered front porch and cover them with frost blankets. 2 or 3 layers of the light fabric which comes on rolls from the garden dept at home depot or Lowes. Has kept my lemons oranges and lime trees all alive. The fabric is thin enough to let the light in but keeps the frost off.
    They also thrived well in the greenhouse in the winter light protected from frost and winds but a clip on heat light on cold winter nights didn’t hurt. It does get down to mid 20s here on occasion.

    • Thanks for this valuable information, Sunny! It sounds like our normal winter temps will be much like yours, so you give me a lot of hope that the trees will survive the winter. Thanks. I will certainly look into the frost blankets. The idea of sunlight still getting to the tree, but frost not getting through, sounds just like something I need. I never thought about growing a lime – silly me! Now I want a lime tree 😀

  3. I am looking into that fabric in the garden department! I have used old sheets to protect plants but the maintenance of covering and uncovering plants each day can be a bit of a ugh! I live in Central California and we get into the teens quite a bit in the winter. This summer I planted a dwaft meyer lemon in a pot with plans to move it onto the porch for the winter and now I will get that fabric so I don’t have to cover and uncover each day. I am going to use that fabric on our strawberry bed too. Learning how to be a good gardener and what works were you live can be a challenge and come with some casualties. Sadly I have killed my share of plants in the past 4 years of being where we live now.

    • That fabric sounds like a great solution, doesn’t it! Unfortunately, I have had a few casualties myself, but each has become a learning experience. Thanks for writing a comment, Bonnie!

  4. I don’t have any advice for you, but I think that is awesome that you can grow your own citrus trees! I’m in PA without a greenhouse so no citrus trees for me. 🙂

    Best wishes for your move to the mountains and future homestead!

    • Thank you for such kind encouragement, Jendi! Once we get the house started and at least closed in (walls, doors, windows and roof) we will start preparing for other things, such as the pit greenhouse. The ground temps in our area are about 58 degrees fahrenheit, so keeping the greenhouse above freezing during the winter shouldn’t be a problem, and growing citrus will be a reality. I’m just hoping to keep the trees alive until we get to that point. I have been enjoying your community blog and have learned a lot from it. Thanks!

  5. Couple more good ideas:

    A compost heater using a sump pump which circulates water through a coil in the middle of a compost heat, then connects to flexible hose which can be zig zagged in a grow bed under the soil to keep it heated and then returned to the sump. As long as things are covered so the frost can’t settle on them keeping the roots warm should suffice.

    Not sure I can upload anything here, but I have an ingenuous plan from a guy in Australia, for a simple conversion of a chest freezer into a refrigerator which is super efficient. Because stand up refrigerators dump all the cold on the floor as soon as you open the door you lose a lot. Notice that your standup kicks on each time you open and close it but your chest freezer doesn’t. Because they’re top loading the cold stays in. Anyone interested can email me at diogyphus@aol.com and I’d be happy to share the 1-2 page pdf that has the plans and specs on energy consumption. Trade off, of course is access, but using baskets and a bit of organization can mitigate that somewhat.

    The frost blankets that Sunny mentioned are also known as “floating row covers”. Just in case you get a blank stare.. 🙂

    • Thank you so much, Phil, this is great information! Sounds like you know your stuff 😀 I am going to come over soon to get that PDF – thank you so much for sharing!

  6. Sorry..I mistated the size of that chest freezer pdf. It’s 6 pages with the wiring diagram and pictures. Still a small file and contains some comments about other things the author did in his quest to seek a zero emissions life.

    His claimed consumption for what appears to be about a 7 cubic foot chest freezer is .1kWh per day…less than a 100w light bulb uses in 1 hour. The compressor runs for about a minute and a half every hour to maintain temps. Took him about an hour to do.

    Put “CHEST FREEZER” in the subject line and I’ll reply to all requests. Of course, if you want to pass something along in the email it’s always more than welcome.

  7. Hi Vickie,
    again a great post.
    The fruit trees in pots for planting tranportieren and then stand on the porch is a good idea.
    My suggestion for the winter it would take with gas heating with an electric furnace to versuchen.Dann flow also no fumes out.
    Can you implement it?

    kind regards
    Uwe

    • Greetings, Uwe. Thanks for the suggestion. If the temperature gets below freezing, I think I could use the frost blankets and a small propane heater. That should do the trick, I think!

  8. Oh everything looks so good!! We were born and raised here in the Nashville Tn area but were so blessed that my husbands work took us to Northern CA. for a little over four years. We loved it and also lived in the Sacramento area. I remember a small town called Vacaville that we would go through on our way to the bay area and everything was called like nutwood or something like that. It is so true all of the wonderful fruits and nuts that grow in that area are awesome. We had our first Meyer lemons while we were living there and fell in love with them. Thankfully we can still buy them here in TN. for a very short time each year. Still not the same as getting them off the tree in the backyard though!

    • Ah, yes, the NutTree in Vacaville! When I was little, that was a great place to stop, stretch your legs and do a little shopping. Now we go across the freeway to the Outlet stores! 🙂 I am glad you can get Meyer Lemons in Tennessee. I would bet you could also grow them if you had a place to put them during the winter. I have a friend who brings hers inside her house every year and it sits right in front of her southeast facing window, so it gets the morning and early afternoon sunlight. The lemons ripen quite nicely while inside her house and sometimes, because of the warmth, it also blooms! The smell is amazing. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Come again soon!

  9. I would love to hear more about the Heirloom Festival, held, of course, in my old area. SoCo does it better! It was so lovely being in a community where you get to live by your heart. My home there is always inside me.

  10. Good morning, Vickie!

    What about making one of those aluminum can heaters to keep your temporary greenhouse warm enough? Would that possibly work? Then you wouldn’t have to worry about anything but sunlight.

    Also, you mentioned the tallest plant in the smallest pot. I will bet that is because it has less space for roots to grow. I always thought that when there isn’t enough space to grow down under, they thrive above!

    Have a good weekend! You are getting closer. You must be getting so excited. I’m excited for you.

    • Hello, Sharon. Good to hear from you! We thought about the aluminum can heater, but as you know, it only works when the sun shines. Our worry is about those cold, snowy days when there is no sun and therefore no warmth. The heater doesn’t work then. 🙁 Smart thought about the biggest tree being in the smallest pot – I didn’t think of it that way. Thanks for giving me something to think about! Have a great weekend.

  11. The tin can heaters that Sharon is speaking about are called rocket mass heaters. Phil’s link (preceding) can also get you instructions on making several varieties of those. He has tried several and can tell you more about them. Great stream of ideas here…gotta love think tank links!!!

    • Hello Sunny. I know – isn’t it great when people are willing to make comments to help each other? But, actually, I think she was referring to one of my DIY projects (you can see it under DIY projects, above) where my husband and I made a space heater using aluminum (soda) cans. It works very well, but alas, only when the sun shines. Have a wonderful weekend!

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