A long time ago (ok, 6 years ago), we lived in a small third floor apartment. The beautiful highlight of this small apartment was its gorgeous deck. As an added bonus, the apartment had access to a communal sundeck, and we were allowed to grow fruit and vegetables on this bountiful, sunlit patio.
I grew up gardening, but as I got busier in my high school and university years gardening dropped away to be replaced by other, loftier pursuits. This sundeck was my first foray back into the world of gardening, and I wanted nothing less than a fruit tree. The problem? We were three floors up and the only option was to garden in a container.
You can certainly grow fruit in containers. Strawberries come to mind, those little red nuggets that are ideal for growing in vertical or confined spaces. But trees? Was it possible?
Yes, it is, but you need to think like a fruit tree to be successful.
First, choose the correct fruit tree. You need a small or dwarf rootstock. This is the part of the tree that grows large. Growers can place many different types of fruit on a dwarf rootstock, so this should not unduly limit the types of fruit you can plant. You just need to make sure that your fruit tree will not grow too high. Figs, Asian pears, plums, dwarf apples and sweet cherries will all grow in containers.
Determine how many fruit trees you need. Many trees need to be pollinated by another tree of the same type that flowers at the same time. You can do everything right, but if your tree isn’t well-pollinated it will not produce fruit. You will have a great crop of leaves instead.
Make sure you have pollinators too. You may need to hand-pollinate fruit trees that grow high up on the decks of high rise buildings. If you’re close to the ground but uncertain that the pollinators will find your, consider getting mason bees.
What kind of location does a fruit tree need? It loves sun, for one. Choose a location that has sun from 10 am to 4 pm at a minimum. Make sure that the tree is sheltered from the wind.
When you are growing food in pots, you need to pay close attention to the nutrients that your plants need. They can’t get nutrients from some of the usual sources, such as large swathes of compost or falling leaves. Use an organic fruit tree fertilizer to provide nutrients to your trees. You can also supplement with small-space friendly fertilizers like compost tea.
Finally, make sure that your plant has good drainage. There’s nothing worse than rotting the plant’s roots with a pot that doesn’t drain. Since your plant does not have a lot of space to spread, make sure that you keep it damp in the summer. Choose a large pot like a half wine barrel to ensure that the plant has enough space for its root system.
Would you grow fruit trees in containers?
Image courtesy of Oeil de Nuit.