Growing Fruit in Containers

Hand putting fruit plants into small pots
Hand putting fruit plants into small pots

If your garden is too small to grow fruit trees and bushes in the open ground, why not try potting them up? Many types of fruit can be grown successfully in pots and tubs. Most can be kept out-of-doors all year round except for periods of prolonged hard frost. A few, such as figs, melons and grapes, are better in a greenhouse or conservatory, although suitable varieties are fine outside in a warm, sheltered position. Outdoors, all that is necessary is some standing room and some sun for at least part of the day. The only variety that will do well in a sunless north-facing site is the Morello Cherry. Yields will be less than in the open ground, but useful amounts can be obtained. The life-span of the plants is shorter, but most trees and bushes will fruit well for at least 10 years.

Types of Fruit that can be Grown

Tree Fruit: Apples, Pears, Plums, Cherries, Peaches, Nectarines, Apricots, Quinces, Figs and Citrus.

Bush and Soft Fruit: Currants, Gooseberries, Blueberries, Melons and Strawberries.

Not suitable for containers: Cane fruit (Raspberries, Blackberries, Loganberries and other hybrid berries).

Varieties

Almost any of the standard varieties will be successful; but avoid those apple varieties that produce a lot of bare wood at the bottom of branches.

Rootstocks

DO NOT use very dwarfing rootstocks. The container will restrict growth sufficiently and the plant needs a moderately vigorous root system to sustain itself under these conditions.

Suitable stocks are: Apples – MM 106; Pears – Quince A Plums, Peaches, Nectarines and Apricots – St. Julien k Cherries – Colt. Other fruit usually grow on their own roots.

Containers

Fairly heavy thick-walled containers are best e.g. large clay pots, stone or concrete troughs or wooden tubs. These will give stability, will protect the roots from extreme temperatures (hot and cold) and being porous, will allow air exchange. They need good drainage. Plastic pots, usually much thinner, are less protective; however they are easier to move around. Growbags are suitable for melons (which are annuals) and strawberries (which are replaced every 2 -3 years).

Lemon tree grown in a container/ pot where space is limited

Compost

For most plants use a soil-based compost, e.g. John Innes No.2 or 3 (= J.I. potting in some brands). The weight gives stability in wind and there is better buffering against changes in temperature and moisture. For strawberries and melons use potting compost or growbags.

Watering and Feeding

Treat as any other pot- plant; water as necessary, up to twice daily in summer; feed weekly while growing and fruiting using liquid tomato food. In winter (November – March) they will need very little attention; no feeding and minimal water.

Potting on

Initially use a container size that will just hold the roots comfortably. Pot on in alternate years, in winter, into a container 2 ins. (5cm.) wider in diameter each time. In the in-between winters, take the plant out of its pot; if the roots are crowded, slice off about 1 in. (2.5 cm.) all round and under the root ball; put back in the same pot with some fresh compost.

Pruning and Training

This is generally the same as for plants in the ground. Top- fruit can be pruned as bushes or half-standards; or trained into cordons, espaliers or fans (with a suitable framework of canes). In the first years, summer prune bushes in early August by shortening all new lateral shoots to 2 -3ins. (5 – 8cm.); leave branch leaders unpruned. Once fruiting has started very little pruning will be needed.

Fruit trees grown in a container

Winter Care

Most plants can be left outside all winter, except in very hard weather, when they can be moved into a greenhouse, garage or shed and/or the pot can be wrapped in a thick layer of insulation, to prevent the root ball from freezing. Grapes and figs are better under cover all winter. Citrus must be in a frost-free greenhouse or sunroom.

Pollination

Varieties which are not self-fertile will need pollination partners grown alongside. This applies to all apples; also to some plums, pears, and cherries although there are now several self-fertile varieties available. If frost threatens at blossom time, take the plants under cover, or protect with fleece overnight; remember to uncover when the temperature rises during the day for access by pollinating insects.

Pest Control

A big advantage is that fruiting plants can be netted against birds. Other controls can be applied as for open-ground fruit.

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