Sandy Soil And Container Trees

By Teo Spengler | April 4, 2022
Image by Olga Rodina
by Teo Spengler
April 4, 2022

For a long time I thought of outdoor potted plants as geraniums on the windowsill. Those days are gone. When I took up residence in San Francisco’s Outer Richmond neighborhood, I learned just how helpful it was to have the option of planting trees in containers. My Meyer lemon tree was my first, but not my last, container planting experiment for trees.

Why Plant Trees in Containers?

Many garden problems that appear to require time-consuming solutions can be solved in a minute by container planting. One good example is living where the winter is too cold for your plants. 

If your trees are hardy to zone 6 and you live in zone 5, you only have a few options. One is to swap in all your trees for hardier species. One is to move to a warmer location. The third, and only workable solution is to transplant your trees into containers and move them inside in winter. 

Sandy Soil and Container-Plant Trees

I don’t face the cold issue in San Francisco. I’m in hardiness zone 9 or 10, which means no freezes ever. But I have become a fan of container planting trees for another reason: the soil. 

My neighborhood in San Francisco used to be part of the area called Outer Lands. These were the vast sand dunes that banked the Pacific on the western edge of the city. In time, the dunes were developed into my neighborhood, the Richmond, and a neighboring region, the Sunset. The houses in these areas were built on the dunes and we have sandy soil  – like 100 percent sand – in the backyard. 

Selecting Your Soil

To plant trees in the backyard, I would have to dig out a large hole – large enough for the nature tree’s root system – and replace the sand with good soil. This mammoth project can be avoided by planting trees in containers. 

With pot planting, you get to pick your own soil, ideally the type ideally suited to the tree. That was the argument that won me over. I tried putting a Meyer Lemon tree in a pot and – after several years of great lemon crops – have never looked back. 

Of course, you can’t grow coast redwoods or beech trees in terra cotta pots, but fruit trees are a breeze. I now have the lemon tree, an apple tree and a dwarf cherry too. All seem happy and healthy with their roots in well-draining, compost-amended soil.

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