Growing Fruit in Containers

Fruit grown in containers needs a bit more care than if grown in the ground. Potting mixture dries out quickly, and potted plants need frequent watering when actively growing. In very cold weather, plants in pots need protecting from frost. The plants also depend on you for regular feeding, so they can crop year after year.

There are few things more enjoyable than freshly-picked fruit. Strawberries, apples, pears and even figs can be grown in large tubs or pots on a sunny balcony or patio.

growing-fruit-in-containers---lemons

General guidelines

  • Choose a sunny, sheltered spot, so insects can pollinate the flowers and fruit can ripen.
  • For tree fruit, buy a 3 year old bush suited to tub growth. Unless you have suitable pollinators nearby, buy a self-fertile variety or a ‘family tree’, with branches of 3 compatible varieties grafted onto a single trunk.
  • Use a minimum 30cm (12 inches) deep pot, though larger containers, such as beer barrel halves are better and need watering less often.
  • Make sure the container has drainage holes, and place a layer of drainage material 5cm (2 inches) deep in the bottom.
  • Use rich, soil-based potting mixture.
  • Most fruits can be fan-trained up a sunny or lightly shaded wall, in the same wa y as this blackberry cane.
  • Feed plants regularly, especially when the fruit is swelling. Watering is most important too at this time.
  • Water the plant before planting.
  • Plant firmly, using your fist to compact the soil round the roots.
  • Water and feed regularly when growing, especially when fruits are swelling. Lack of water is the main cause of ‘fruit drop’, when immature fruits are shed by the plant.
  • Top-dress tree fruit each spring, using fresh potting mixture.
  • Prune, according to the needs of the particular plant, to encourage further crops. Always remove dead, diseased or inward-growing branches.
  • Watch out for pests and diseases, and act quickly if you see a problem.

Many fruiting plants have lovely flowers, foliage and autumn leaf colour. After all, plants grown for their fruit are cousins of the ornamental cherries, crab apples and vines grown for their beauty. By choosing carefully, you can have the best of both worlds.

Apples and Pears

As well as bush trees, these can be grown as dwarf pyramids, or trained as a cordon (single, angled main stem), fan or espalier (2 or 3 tiered horizontal branches growing from a main stem). Cordons, fans and espaliers need special pruning, but are excellent for growing against a wall, where space is limited.

For bushes or pyramids, the first winter after planting, cut back last summer’s growth by a third, to an outward-facing bud. (Young bark is a different colour and texture from the old wood.) This helps build a strong framework. Cut off any badly placed side shoots and any growing on the trunk. If fruits form during the first summer, leave only 2 or 3 on, so energy goes into growth. Most will fruit on 2- or 3-year-old side shoots. Cut these back to a 5cm (2 inches) stump the winter after fruiting. Some, such as Worcester Pear-main, fruit on the tips of young shoots, and need different pruning, so note the variety when you buy it.

Figs

Figs actually fruit better when their roots are contained, but their large, lobed leaves are attractive in their own right.

Figs make a naturally decorative bush, or can be fan-trained against a wall. Figs only carry fruit on 1- or 2-year-old wood. The first spring after planting, shorten the branches of a bush fig by a third, back to an outward-facing bud. Once a good framework of stems and branches has formed, 3 or 4 years later, begin pruning for fruiting. Every March, cut the oldest branch back to a few buds from its base. In late spring, pinch out all the side shoots, just above the fifth leaf.

Remove fruit formed in the first summer on a young tree, leaving two or three only. This directs energy into growth, and will in time give a fuller crop.

In cool temperate climates, ripe figs mature from the pea-sized figlets developed the previous summer. (You can see them where the leaf stalk joins the stem.) In September, remove all larger, immature figs, as they rot in winter and pests and diseases can enter. ‘Brunswick’ and ‘Brown Turkey’ are the best outdoor varieties.

Blackberries

The evergreen ‘Oregon Thornless’ and ‘Cut-Leaved Blackberry’ have tasty fruit and attractive, fern-like leaves. After planting, cut back to 25cm (10 inches) from the ground. Wall train the stems, or ‘canes’, up trellis or wires, or up a wigwam of bamboo poles. After cropping, cut out the old fruiting canes.

Fruit to try

The following can also be grown in containers, with some extra care. Ask your garden centre for advice on choice, pruning and general care.

  • Cherry Morello is self-fertile, and will crop in light shade, such as against a north-facing wall.
  • Grape Grow as a standard, or up a wall, providing you can reach it for priming! ‘Black Hamburgh’ is best.
  • Peach Choose a very hot, sunny spot, or fan train against a south-facing wall. Hand pollination is necessary.
  • Plum ‘Victoria’ and ‘Laxton’s Gage’ are self-fertile. Prune in summer.

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