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  • Low maintenance container growing - buried bucket technique

    Hey everyone. I tried posting this over at bountiful figs, but it looks like that site activity level is almost dead. I'm hoping there will be lots of interesting great fig conversations here on ourfigs.com.

    I'm leaning on setting up a drip irrigation system for my container grown figs next year, but came across a post on GardenWeb in which a poster buried their container figs in the ground. I thought this might be an interesting idea in that having your containers buried would keep the roots cool, reduce moisture evaporation, make watering easier and allow one to remove the tree rather easily at the end of the growing season if they wanted to bring it indoors for the winter (due to hardiness concern) and/or give it away to someone.

    Has anyone ever done this? If so, I'd love to hear your experiences and reasons for doing so.


    Malcolm - Carroll County, MD (zone 6b). Interested in cold hardy figs. Currently container growing, MBVS, St. Rita, Olympian, RdB, Beale, Sal's EL, UCD 184-15s and Desert King.

  • #2
    I plan on trying it next season. From what I've heard it's a decent compromise between planting in ground and being able to easily move a tree into protected winter storage. I'm hoping it gives me a big bump up in productivity since my friends now know that I'm growing figs and have lined up for their samples.
    Stuff I grow: Google Doc


    • #3

      Thanks for the response. Any idea type of pot would be the best for this? I need to up pot all of mine any way so I might as well do it with a pot that would work well with burial. Personally I'm thinking of using some 5 gallon Home Depot buckets and drilling some 1/4 holes in the sides and bottom.

      Malcolm - Carroll County, MD (zone 6b). Interested in cold hardy figs. Currently container growing, MBVS, St. Rita, Olympian, RdB, Beale, Sal's EL, UCD 184-15s and Desert King.


      • #4
        BTW, how do I add a personal footer to all my messages. It wasn't very apparent in the Settings menu.
        Malcolm - Carroll County, MD (zone 6b). Interested in cold hardy figs. Currently container growing, MBVS, St. Rita, Olympian, RdB, Beale, Sal's EL, UCD 184-15s and Desert King.


      • #5
        I put quiet a few of mine inground this spring and it really worked out well. Mine are in 4 1/2 gallon pails and I drilled about 14 holes in total 3/4" in size in 2 rows one along the very bottom on the side and a row about half way up. My only mistake was burying the pails all the way.... do not do that lol. It made digging them up last weekend not much fun (I had 40 to dig up lol). I would just sink them deep enough to cover the holes underground. I will take some pics tonight to show the effects but roots were growing out of all the holes. I would go at least 3/4" (it was the biggest spade bit I had at the time). 1/4" won't allow for much room for the roots. I would go an inch myself.

        Don't drill holes on the bottom.. you will have a tough time digging those pails out. With them on the side it would be easier to run a spade down to cut off the roots to pull the pail out. Instant root pruning

        My plants loved this setup and were very healthy. Once the roots grew out and get established (it took about a month or so after planting them) I did not have to water very often at all.


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        Last edited by TylerJ; 10-29-2015, 03:53 PM.
        London, ON, Canada zone 6a


        • #6
          Drill the holes in the side at the bottom but don't drill holes in the bottom. When it's time to move the buckets you can easily cut the roots at the side but if you have roots coming from the bottom it's much harder to cut them. Many of us have been doing this for a long time. I don't even bury the pots anymore I just make sure the soil underneath is wet when I water them and they all root into the ground.
          Bob C.
          Kansas City, MO Z6


          • #7
            I grow some figs that way. Here's what I do:
            I use a 5 gallon bucket and drill a bunch holes (1/2") on the outside lower 1/3 of the pot. DO NOT PUT HOLES ON THE BOTTOM.
            This way the roots can grow out of the sides and into the earth. I bury the pot about 1/2 way down. At the end of the season (when fully dormant) I take a spade and cut down the side to cut the roots that have escaped out of the holes and pull out the pot and put it into my unheated garage or shed. Every other year during the late winter I will pull the plant out of the pot and root prune at least 1/3 all the way around and underneath and replant in pot.
            Ive had great results using this method here in zone 7a NJ
            Last edited by Coop; 10-29-2015, 09:47 PM.


            • #8
              Ahh.. great advice on the hole sizes and burial depth. That makes sense. Glad to hear others are doing this as it sounds logical to me. Definitely going to give this a try right after up potting in early spring.

              Malcolm - Carroll County, MD (zone 6b). Interested in cold hardy figs. Currently container growing, MBVS, St. Rita, Olympian, RdB, Beale, Sal's EL, UCD 184-15s and Desert King.


              • #9

                Welcome to our figs forum community.

                There has been some discussion of the partial pot burial methods, http://www.ourfigs.com/forum/figs-ho...to-bury-or-not and its success.
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                I've buried 5 gallon buckets ~3 inches deep in compost and mulch with very good results in growth and fig production, but with only one row of 16 - 3/4" diameter holes on the side near the bottom of the bucket. Good Luck.

                The advantage to maintaining a single row of "roots" at the bottom of the bucket is ease of removal (digging) in fall and root pruning to form a smaller root ball in spring when re-potting since the bottom 3-4 inches is removed as a "slice".
                Last edited by AscPete; 10-29-2015, 09:03 PM. Reason: added clarification 'advantage'
                Pete R - Hudson Valley, NY - zone 5b


                • #10

                  As you'll see in the topic that Pete references, many folks use this method when they can. The trick seems to be to only have holes on the outside of the pots.

                  Good Luck and welcome.
                  Kevin (Eastern MA - Zone 5b/6a)


                  • #11
                    I used that method with my first year trees this past summer. Had no losses, however, did not pick any figs from these trees. Not so unusual for first year, but other have harvested from thier plants. Also hooked up drip system which worked great. Still trying to dial in just how much and how often. Learning process I quess. Had much better luck with older figs planted in Bill- type SIPS.
                    Attached Files
                    Dave- Waterford, Ct. Zone 6a


                    • cis4elk
                      cis4elk commented
                      Editing a comment
                      Nice setup. I plan to have mine protected in the future, this was the first year I had some losses to birds and squirrels.

                  • #12
                    That's an impressive setup you had there Dave! I have to say though I noticed the same thing. Mine were 2 and 3 year old trees that were put in ground for the first time and although they grew great and looked really healthy I didn't get many ripe figs from them which was quite disappointing. I thought maybe I just didn't irrigate enough or maybe they were too close together and shaded too much. I even started them early in a greenhouse they were all in full leaf by mid May. I'm hoping next year with more sun by having them in a different location and maintaining proper soil moisture will result in more ripe figs.
                    London, ON, Canada zone 6a


                    • #13
                      That does look nice Dave.

                      I don't have any useful experience with it but I plan to sink 5 buckets in the ground all of the way down with 40 1" holes drilled all around.

                      I did it with 4 for a couple months this year which weren't so bad to dig up but they are still small and the roots that grew out weren't large yet.

                      I'd prefer to only sink them half way but I didn't want the buckets showing in the front yard.

                      I've read before that containers ripen faster than in ground but I thought it was because containers can be brought out of dormancy earlier and protected more during frosts. Maybe it's more about the restriction of the container?
                      Don - OH Zone 6a Wish list: Verdolino, Black Celeste


                      • #14
                        The thread below has some interesting information on burying pots. I was intrigued by the pot-in-pot technique - getting the pots loose in the fall can be difficult. Don, this might allow you to sink your pots completely without the dig-out hassle in the fall.

                        I've been rooting pots in-ground for years by just placing them on the ground. The pots are tree pots - no center hole on the bottom, just side holes. The pots sink a couple of inches on their own and the roots are invisible. Even with the pots almost at ground level it can be difficult to sever the roots. A shovel doesn't work. I've resorted to marking the hole location with a white china marker and using a hand pruner to cut the roots.

                        These figs benefit from the extra nutrients in the soil, but I don't see any improvement in watering frequency. I still have to water the pots every day or the trees droop. I was wondering how often other folks with rooted-in pots are watering - and how.
                        Last edited by fignut; 11-01-2015, 10:05 PM.


                        • #15
                          I would think the benefit of burying a pot would only work if the depth the pot was buried was sizable. That way, it could wick moisture out the ground (reducing the amount of watering), obtain nutrients from the ground and the roots and soil inside the pot would stay cooler resulting in less evaporation.

                          What would be the benefit of doing a bucket in bucket technique (other than making it easy to remove at the end year)?

                          In terms of the holes cut into the sides of the bucket, wouldn't it make more sense for those holes to be more numerous and smaller? That would allow for better root oxygenation and only allow thin roots grow of the bucket. The thinner the roots, the easier it would be to pull out the bucket at the end of the season.
                          Malcolm - Carroll County, MD (zone 6b). Interested in cold hardy figs. Currently container growing, MBVS, St. Rita, Olympian, RdB, Beale, Sal's EL, UCD 184-15s and Desert King.


                          • #16
                            I tried to post this link http://figs4funforum.websitetoolbox.com/post?id=5265618 above, but clicking on it didn't bring up the specific page - just to F4F. I tried to delete the link by editing, but couldn't get rid of it. Sorry - I'm not familiar with the format.

                            From what I've seen, Malcom, the opposite is true - shallower is better. Read Herman's posts in the above link.

                            I haven't done pot-in-pot, but according to Ottawan, who puts soil in the outer pot, you can get all the benefits without the work of digging the roots out in the fall.

                            Thin roots grow out of the pot though the holes. Those thin roots then become of thicker as the season goes on. I've seen some roots being "strangled" by the hole in the pot when they get really thick. I don't know if more roots leaving the pot would translate into less thickness of the roots overall.


                            • #17
                              The deeper the pots are buried the less benefits that are gained. Partial burial works because the feeder roots escape the pots and are able to get better air exchange and absorb more nutrients since most soil microbial activity and nutrient breakdown occurs in the topsoil, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Topsoil . The increased aeration helps air exchange and removal of CO2 and other gasses which boosts root and vegetative growth.

                              There isn't any actual "wicking" with the partial burial pots, the branch roots that escape create multiple feeder roots which increases the total root mass and absorption surface areas. The increased thermal mass of the soil (ground) helps to stabilize the pot temperatures along with the shadow of the leaf canopy, but they can also benefit from lighter colored pots.

                              Smaller holes only restrict the roots that try to escape and cause more of the roots to circle within the pots, larger holes allow the roots to escape easier especially when they are on the side and partially buried, which reduces the work needed to dig out the pots in the fall. The larger escaping roots help to anchor the pots and keep them from being knocked over by winds.

                              I agree with Fignut that there is increased nutrients and growth but usually no decrease in watering frequency, and I also usually still water once or twice a day. In my experience the most growth is achieved with in-ground partial burial, SIPs are 2nd and regular Containers have the least amount of growth.

                              I tried the above ground pot in pot with 5 gallon buckets inside 1/2 thirty gallon barrels and 1 gallon pots inside 5 gallon buckets this past season and it works similar to partial in ground burial...

                              Attached are photos of a VdB that was partially buried 2 inches in mulch this past summer there are no bottom holes in the #5 Nursery pot and the visible roots are about 50% less than when it was growing.
                              You may only view thumbnails in this gallery. This gallery has 8 photos.
                              Last edited by AscPete; 11-02-2015, 11:17 AM. Reason: typos and added topsoil link
                              Pete R - Hudson Valley, NY - zone 5b


                              • fitzski
                                fitzski commented
                                Editing a comment

                                With your pot in pot setup, did you completely bury the outer pot or just a few inches?

                                Was there a height difference between the two pots?

                                I can see where you might bury the larger pot deeper and then the smaller pot only a few inches and keep the tops of the pots level or almost level. Is that what you did?

                                Of course a picture would help


                              • AscPete
                                AscPete commented
                                Editing a comment
                                The outer/socket pot (1/2 barrel or 5 gallon bucket) is placed on the surface, above ground, its not buried, it could be placed on a driveway or paved surface. I've attached photos of the 1 gallon inner/liner pot inside a 5 gallon bucket/outer/socket pot. The potting mix (used 5-1-1-1) in the 5 gallon bucket outer/socket pot is approximately 4 inches deep with the 1 gallon inner/ liner pot buried about 2 inches in the mix, the roots grow into the socket pot (5 gallon bucket).

                                The 1/2 barrel socket pot and 5 gallon liner are similar except that the 5 gallon liner buckets have 16 - 3/4 inch drain holes on the side near the bottom.

                              • fitzski
                                fitzski commented
                                Editing a comment
                                Thanks for the pictures. I see what you did.

                                Interesting idea to contemplate over the winter.

                            • #18
                              Thanks for sharing all this usefull info, I plan to try this technique next summer.


                              • #19
                                One thing I did notice from this method was that some varieties responded very well, while others not so much. I know not all varieties grow at the same rate but I am just throwing this out there. Sun, potting mix, pot size, fertilization and irrigation was constant for all. Still trying to figure that out. The ones that grew vigorously were Kadota, Brunswick, LSU Tiger, and Dark Colasanti. These showed over 5' of growth for the first year and set figs. Alma, Jurupa, Strawberry Verte, LDA, RBD, showed 3 to 4' of growth. Pananas Purple,Black Bethlaham, Red Sicilian showed about 2 to 3' feet of growth. My Dominick Italian, Sal Corleone, and Bourjassote Gris did not have a good growth rate at less than one foot. Most of the trees set figs, however none made it to ripe. I'm not surprised of this since all were from last winters cuttings.
                                Last edited by DaveL; 11-02-2015, 08:34 AM.
                                Dave- Waterford, Ct. Zone 6a


                                • #20
                                  Thanks all for the explanations and pics. This is a great thread and I'm learning lots. Couple questions:

                                  1. What do people do with the feeder roots that are created once they remove the pots from the ground? Do you prune back the feeder roots to the surface of the pot?
                                  2. I've seen a couple different descriptions on how the "pot-in-pot" technique is done. Is this technique at its best when the "socket" container is significantly larger than the fig container and filled the socket container contains growth media (as this is not mentioned in the link below)?

                                  Below is a corrected link to the LSUAg website that discusses the pot-in-pot technique (as the F4F's link was outdated):

                                  Malcolm - Carroll County, MD (zone 6b). Interested in cold hardy figs. Currently container growing, MBVS, St. Rita, Olympian, RdB, Beale, Sal's EL, UCD 184-15s and Desert King.


                                  • #21
                                    I do same as rest of people
                                    Post here. I had 65, 5 gal pot tree in ground up to rim of pot and covered the top with mulch. I make holes around 1/4 way up from bottom and then at the very top for the roots trying to climb out of the top of pot.

                                    When we remove them from the ground we heavy wet the surrounding soils and gently pull up on them and the pot with roots all come out unharmed. My trees are all about 3-5 ft tall so I no want to prune much. Because next season they all go in ground with no pot.
                                    Zone 5 Chicago IL Wish list:
                                    1) Rest peacfully Amico Bello Buddy 👼🏼.
                                    2) This weeks ebay auctions.


                                    • #22
                                      Up potted several varieties over the weekend that were in storage to five gallon containers. Thanks again for all the useful information on this thread. I used 5 gallon Home Depot buckets and drilled 6-8 1" holes around the sides of the bucket (3/4" from the bottom) using a spade bit. After several instances of getting the plastic cutout stuck to the spade bit and needing to manually unscrew from the bit to remove it, I started drilling in the forward direction and then once I lightly cut into the plastic I drilled in reversed and had no more issues.

                                      Filled each pot with Pro-Mix HP interspersing Osmocote time release fertilizer as I added the Promix. Filled each bucket to about 3" from the lip then topped it off with some pine shavings to reduce moisture loss.

                                      Question for everyone out there doing drip irrigation.... What size dripper would you use with a 5 gallon bucket? What size for a 1 gallon. How long would you allow them to drip and how often per week?

                                      Malcolm - Carroll County, MD (zone 6b). Interested in cold hardy figs. Currently container growing, MBVS, St. Rita, Olympian, RdB, Beale, Sal's EL, UCD 184-15s and Desert King.


                                      • #23
                                        Hi Malcolm, last year I used an adjustable dripper. I found a lot of variables came into play when choosing what to use. How well your soil drains, amount of sun, pot size, wind and ambient temperature are just some to mention. Therefore by using an adjustable, I could adjust each dripper to my needs. I used two drippers on my larger pots and one on each of the gallons. The whole system was set on a timer which could also be adjusted. Early spring and in the fall I ran it once a day, during the dead of summer, twice a day. The thing with everything being adjustable is the flexibility to adjust on the fly without any further expense. Again this is just what I use and had no issues.
                                        You may only view thumbnails in this gallery. This gallery has 1 photos.
                                        Dave- Waterford, Ct. Zone 6a