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Container-grown trees ‘better from the start’ says WA grower

This article by Judy Kennedy originally appeared in the Winter 2021 edition of AFG, now available online.

John Hearman says the container trees have a better root structure in the bags with a lot of really fine feeder roots. Credit: Victoria Baker

Western Australian grower John Hearman first heard of container-grown trees four years ago at a Future Orchards walk at Manjimup, when a South African guest speaker talked about the benefits of growing trees in pots.

“I thought wow, what a good idea! At the time we were growing traditional bare rooted trees but with the dwarfing rootstocks we were struggling to get a good even tree, even on new ground,” says John.

He decided to experiment at home and now supplies container trees to about 10 growers between Perth and Pemberton.

“I’ve set up a shadehouse and I use 10L black plastic bags with drain holes in the bottom, sitting on plastic on the ground inside which make them easy to work on,” John says.

“I’ve experimented with a few different potting mediums and made sure the water is evenly distributed and this has been my best year yet, the trees are looking really good. They’re up out of the ground so they’re warmer, and the shadehouse helps with protection from the heat and wind.

The extra root mass of the container trees. Credit: John Hearman

“The medium is exactly the same and they honestly grow twice as well. The M9 rootstocks definitely have a better root structure in the bags with a lot of really fine feeder roots.”

John has room to grow up to 20,000 container trees in his shadehouse alongside his eight hectare apple, pear and stonefruit orchard near Donnybrook, and says he’ll continue to fine tune the process. He’s also ordered a thousand trees grown from tissue culture on JM series rootstock, to be delivered by the end of the year.

The container trees on M9 rootstock that he planted in his own orchard are on their second leaf, and while he doesn’t have any other M9 planting to compare to, John is confident there is a benefit in that the pot grown trees are significantly taller and better to begin with, which will assist them in the long run.

One negative is that the pot trees are harder to transport. John can fit 50 into a bin that would take up to 300 bare rooted trees, but says the benefit is that they don’t need to be dug out and bundled up, or put into the cool room while waiting to plant.

“Last year I had an order ready and waiting in the bins and the customer would just come in every morning, load onto his truck and plant that day.

“The tree costs are the same as a bare rooted tree too. By the time you move onto new ground, set up irrigation pipes, pumps, spread lime, fertilise and prepare the ground, it’s a lot more work than you realise.”



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