Growing Fruit On The Patio And Small Garden

Fruit should find a place in every patio and garden no matter the size. In the very smallest there must surely be room for a tree or two to be trained against walls of the house; even in the paved town garden or patio a few fruits may be grown in pots.

Fruit-growing is a part of gardening with a fascination all its own. As with vegetable-growing one has a useful end-product but in achieving that end one has quite different problems to solve and the interest of a quite different mode of growth. As a by-product, too, one is rewarded by beauty of spring blossom, summer fruit and autumn leaf colour, which can add much to the general decorative effect of the garden.

For many gardeners, however, the greatest joy of home fruit-growing lies not so much in cash-saving, horticultural interest or visual effect, as in the enhanced flavour of fresh fruit eaten direct from the plant. One has to remember that all produce in a greengrocer’s shop is relatively stale as it began to lose flavour from the moment it was harvested. Moreover, commercial growers have to select the varieties they grow for the size of their yield, their ease of culture and their ability to withstand the rigours of handling, grading and transport, rather than for their flavour.

Choice of SiteGrowing Fruit On The Patio And Small Garden

Possible sites for fruit may be divided into three areas: (1) in a clean-cultivated area specially dug for the purpose just as a special plot may be provided for vegetables; (2) in the decorative part of the garden, e.g. beds cut out of the lawn; (3) against house, patios, garage walls, or boundary fences or walls.

A Special Plot

The provision of a special plot reserved entirely for fruit is the ideal. This enables you to group together fruits having similar manurial needs-gooseberries and red currants close to the apples, for instance, as these all call for much potash, and blackcurrants next to plums and pears, these three requiring more nitrogen than the first trio.

Having all your fruit in one place also simplifies spraying and makes it easier to provide protection from birds.

Although the fruit plot often has to border the vegetables it is unwise to mix the two if you can avoid it. Vegetables often need much richer soil than is good for fruit and dotting fruit trees among the vegetables leads to complications when spraying.

In the Flower Garden

These same objections hold when fruit trees are planted in the flower garden. Perhaps the least objectionable is cutting out beds from the turf and planting trees in the lawn. When a grass-spoiling chemical is sprayed the adjoining turf can be temporarily covered with plastic sheets or old sacks.

Trained trees (espaliers or cordons, see below) can be planted on either side of a pathway to form an avenue or arch and make a picturesque feature, the attractiveness of which quite compensates for any spraying or feeding problems with the adjoining plants.

Against Walls or Fences

The third possible site-against walls or fences-is one much too often neglected. Patios are actually ideal for fruit growing. A wall provides shelter and warmth and, therefore, sometimes enables less hardy fruits to be grown successfully. A tree trained against a wall can be more easily given temporary covering in the event of spring frost and can very easily be netted over to keep off birds. A tree growing against a house wall, being so close at hand, often receives better attention than those at the other end of the garden.

fruit tree against wall

There are, however, certain points about the wall-training of fruits which must be borne in mind. This is an extremely dry situation and regular attention will always have to be given to watering. When planting, set the stem 9 in. away from the foot of the wall. In summer, red spider mites which thrive in the dry, may be a nuisance: occasional syringeing with clear water will discourage these pests.

If you are planting against a solid fence or boundary wall, think of the ultimate height of your tree. A fan-trained tree will soon reach 10 ft. and an espalier, which can be restricted to the number of tiers for which there is space against the wall, may be a much better proposition.

If you intend planting against an open fence, remember that there are no protective benefits and if the fence forms a boundary, the pruning, spraying and picking of the fruit may put a strain on good neighbourly relations.

Any kind of fruit tree may be grown against a wall if desired but to make the best possible use of this privileged position one should reserve it for as choice a fruit as may be grown outdoors in your particular district. In the south it would be a waste to grow apples against a wall (and red spider mites would certainly be a worry) where figs, peaches or nectarines might flourish. In some of the less clement parts of eastern Scotland and the north-east of England, using wall protection may be the only way to be assured of a good apple crop.

The selection of fruits to grow against a wall should depend not only on the geographical situation but also on the aspect of the wall itself. House walls seldom face the cardinal points of the compass exactly, but the following recommendations may be used as a guide:

  • For east-facing walls: Early plums and pears. These are also suitable for north-east and north-west walls in the south, the fruits advised for north walls being a safer choice in the north.
  • For south-facing walls: Apricots, figs, gages, peaches and nectarines, pears sweet cherries and grape vines. In northern and very exposed areas use such sites for pears and plums.
  • For west-facing walls: Apricots, early peaches and nectarines, south of the Thames. North of that river, plant plums, early gages, pears.
  • For north-facing walls: Morello cherries, blackberries and loganberries, and, grown as cordons, gooseberries and red and white currants. These fruits, grown against a north wall, will ripen their crops later than the same varieties grown in a sunny position in the open garden and thus lengthen the season.

Fruit trees and bushes need sunshine for healthy growth. It is the action of sunlight upon the leaves which enables them to convert carbon dioxide and oxygen from the air and various minerals in solution absorbed by the roots into new tissue, including eventually the fruits which are your aim. Insufficient sunshine can result in weak growth, poor colour in the fruit and indifferent flavour.

In small gardens it is not always possible to allot an ideal situation to all the fruit. Some, however, can tolerate partial shade better than others – the cane fruits (raspberries, blackberries, loganberries and other hybrid berries), gooseberries and red, white and blackcurrants – but these will crop later than those in full sun.

Remember that the trees you plant will themselves cast shadows and so the tallest specimens should be on the north side of the plot.

Shelter from wind is valuable but never plant close to a hedge or tree whose roots will spread into the soil and rob it of nutriment intended for the fruit. Exposure to biting east winds in the spring can result in frost damage to blossom but, much more likely, this will be the cause of poor setting because the pollinating insects have been discouraged from flying.

What Fruits to Grow

Fruits are normally divided into two main classes:

(1) The soft fruits which include herbaceous plants such as strawberries, the shrubby ones, such as blackcurrants and gooseberries, and the cane fruits, such as raspberries and blackberries. All these are grown on their own roots.

(2) The top or tree fruits. Apples, pears and plums are common examples. The named varieties you buy at a nursery have all been budded or grafted (mostly, the former) on to roots (known as the rootstock) raised separately and designed to impart certain desired characteristics to the behaviour of the tree. Thus for garden planting apples are frequently budded on a weak-growing rootstock which will result in the tree starting to fruit earlyjn life and never growing too big.

Tree fruits may be pruned or trained to various different shapes or forms:

Standard

This is the old-fashioned bushy-topped tree with a vertical stem of 6 ft. before the lowest branches arise.

Half-standard

Half-standard olive tree

As above, but with a stem of only 4 ft. A half-standard, therefore, is only 2 ft. shorter than a full standard and both types are too large for most gardens. Not only do such trees eventually take up much space (30-40 ft. each way) but a ladder is essential for spraying, pruning and picking, and a good crop (possibly over 200 lb. of apples) is probably greater than any one family wants of one variety. Half-standard plums of the varieties whose branches tend to ‘weep’ downwards (such as ‘Warwickshire Drooper’) are sometimes planted in gardens but such a tree still requires from 15-20 ft. each way according to rootstock.

Bush

This is the most common form of tree, with a clear stem of from 14 to 3 ft. below the branches. Soft fruits are also grown as bushes, the clear stem of red and white currants and gooseberries being about 6 in. Blackcurrants are grown as bushes but with no leg, the branches being encouraged to grow from as low down as possible. Apples are sometimes grafted or budded on weak-growing rootstocks which result in quite a small tree. Dwarf bushes are very suitable for garden planting.

Cordon

Cordon fruit tree

A single-stemmed tree without branches, fruiting spurs arising directly from the main stem. To induce early fruiting, cordons are frequently planted at an angle of 450 and are then referred to as oblique cordons. This is a useful type for the small garden and enables a range of different varieties to be planted in a small space, thus spreading the season of use and reducing the risk of poor cropping because of inadequate cross-pollination. Single vertical cordons are useful for growing against house walls, filling in comparatively narrow spaces between windows etc. Pears do well in such places.

Double Cordon double-cordon-fruit-tree

This is formed by training the stem horizontally on both sides of the short vertical stem and then training up a single vertical stem or cordon from the extremity of each ‘arm’ so that the tree is U-shaped. In a similar way a triple cordon can be trained with three main vertical stems. The double or triple cordon shape is most often used with gooseberries and red currants. Espalier A tree with a central vertical stem from which horizontal branches spring in pairs, one on each side. Apples and pears are often grown in this form along-side paths but espaliers are also useful for training against walls particularly where space for upward extension is limited.

Fan

From a short vertical leg the branches are trained like the ribs of a fan, all in one plane. Fans are often trained against walls but they can equally well be freestanding but fastened to horizontal wires. Fans are most usually formed from peaches, nectarines, apricots, pears and plums, but apples can be trained in this form, against horizontal wires.

Pyramid

A Christmas-tree shaped tree, with a central vertical stem from which the branches radiate. Apple and pear pyramids on dwarfing rootstocks are excellent for the small garden. Although there are no dwarfing rootstocks for plums, pyramid-training is gaining in popularity for keeping garden plum trees within bounds.

Family Tree

This is not a shape but means that several varieties have been grafted together to form one tree. The ‘family trees’ sold commercially are usually in the form of bushes but this is not essential.

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