By Fiona Cumberpatch published
Apples, pears, apricots and cherries are among the best fruit trees to grow in pots. They provide beautiful blossom in spring, and ripe fruits to pick in summer and autumn.
There are now so many different types of dwarf fruit trees which have been specially bred to thrive in container gardening ideas that there is no excuse not to have a go at growing your own. Investing in a tree can feel a little scary, because they do cost more than your average garden center plant. By following a few simple rules, however, success is in the bag (or bucket)!
Not all fruit trees can be grown in a container, so it is very important to select the right variety. Suitably small or dwarf fruit trees have always been grafted on to a different root system (called rootstock), a process which restricts the size of their growth. Often, these are called patio, mini or dwarf trees on the plant label or description so always check this before purchasing, as full-size fruit trees will not thrive in a pot.
Before you buy the best fruit trees to grow in pots, and to ensure that you are going to get a healthy fruit harvest, find out if you need more than one tree for successful pollination. Some fruit trees, such as cherries, apricots and peaches are self-fertile, which means that as the bees visit the blossom in spring, they will spread pollen from flower to flower so even if you only have one tree, it will bear fruit. This is not the case with apple and pear trees, so they will need a plant partner nearby, either in your garden or within about a mile radius of it.
A large pot is essential for success, and so is a suitable soil-based potting mix. John Innes No 3 is the type recommended by the RHS, as this will slowly release nutrients, so the tree can stay in its pot for a few years without running out of steam.
Finally, choose a sunny spot, and a sheltered one if possible, for ripening the crops and dialing up the sweetest possible flavor. Make sure that the fruit tree is well watered, especially during hot summers.
Then all you need is a big basket or bowl to accommodate crisp apples, juicy pears, fuzzy skinned peaches and golden apricots.
The best fruit trees to grow in pots
Edible cherries are either sweet, perfect for picking and eating, or sour, which are best for cooking. Sweet cherries work well for pot-growing, and they should be placed in an open space with lots of sunshine.
If you’re interested in growing fruit in pots but are very limited for space, opt for a specially bred patio tree, such as ‘Sylvia’ or ‘Cinderella’. ‘Sylvia’ is self-fertile, which means that you only need one tree to produce plenty of fruit.
Keep cherry trees watered once a week during late spring and summer, using a full watering can. Pruning is simple, and just a matter of cutting back each branch by a few inches in the height of summer, typically around July.
There's more advice on how to grow cherries in our guide.
Pear trees are one of the best fruit trees to grow in pots, but you need to make sure you choose a pear tree that has been grown specially for containers. The rootstock, which controls the size of the tree, is usually referred to as ‘Quince C,’ and this will be printed on the plant label or included in the website description.
Pears need good drainage, so when planting, combine two thirds of John Innes No 3 potting compost with a third part horticultural grit. Prune the tree in summer to encourage more fruit buds the following year.
A crisp apple picked from the tree is one of life’s simple pleasures, so it's easy to see why they make our list of the best fruit trees to grow in pots. It’s perfectly possible to raise them in a container – you just need to make sure you have the right sized tree, the correct compost (John Innes No 3) and the largest pot you can find, at least 50cm (20in) tall and 40cm (16in) diameter.
Good varieties for container growing include Discovery, Falstaff, Fiesta, Kidd’s Orange Red and Sunset.
Bare-root apple trees are cheaper to buy than fully grown ones, and are usually available from late autumn to early spring. Planting bare root trees should be done as soon as they are purchased. Once it’s in the pot, mulch it to conserve moisture, and water regularly during the summer. Prune according to instructions.
Patio peach varieties are the best option for small garden ideas. Although the tree is small, the fruit is full sized. In cooler climates similar to the UK, peach trees need to be brought inside from December to the end of winter, and will appreciate growing against a warm, south-facing wall.
Other than that, dwarf varieties are straightforward to grow, and they pack a double punch with pretty blossom from February onwards, depending on the variety, as well as the prized golden fruits.
Watering plants is crucial in summer, and this should be done when the compost feels dry around 5cm below the surface (check it every day).
Plant in a soil-based potting compost and feed every couple of weeks with tomato feed. Most dwarf varieties will not need pruning.
If you only plan to have one peach tree, it needs to be pollinated by another tree within a mile’s radius of your garden.
If you live in a warm climate, there are plenty of fig varieties that you'll be able to choose from for your best fruit trees to grow in pots. For cooler US climates and the UK, choose a fig variety such as ‘Brown Turkey Standard’ which is suited to the cool climate zones. It will need a sunny spot, and it is best to plant figs in the spring.
The restrictions of a container will stimulate them to bear more of the sweet, tawny fruits. Flood the container with water once a week during the summer, and feed with Blood, Fish and Bone in the spring. They are vigorous growers, but it’s fine to prune them to fit the space you have after they have fruited.
In very cold areas, you'll need to consider how to protect plants from winter, so your figs may need fleece protection to stop them getting damaged by frost.
6. Orange and lemon
In areas that enjoy warmer temperatures throughout the year, citrus fruits are an obvious choice as the best fruit trees to grow in pots. In cooler climates and the UK, citrus fruits grow best as part of your greenhouse ideas, on a conservatory window ledge or outside in a very sunny, sheltered spot in high summer. The climate is too cold and damp for them to thrive outside year-round.
Equally, plants will experience leaf drop if they are too dry. Place the pot on a saucer of damp gravel, and water when the surface of the compost feels dry, which could be as often as every day in summer. Use rainwater if you can.
Lemons and oranges need feeding weekly in spring and summer with a specialist citrus fertilizer (try Westland Citrus Tree Feed from Amazon) or use a seaweed-based feed.
They do need some tender loving care and a sheltered, south-facing spot with walls to reflect the heat, but investing in an apricot tree will pay dividends when you’re harvesting the sweet, sun-warmed fruits.
To ensure it's one of the best fruit trees to grow in pots, make sure you choose a tree that is clearly labelled as a patio variety, and is self-fertile, and plant it immediately after purchase into a pot which should be around 50cm (20in) in diameter.
Spring blossom should be protected from night frosts with horticultural fleece or polythene (the RHS advises not letting this touch the flowers).
During hot spells, drench the plant every week, or every three or four days if it’s a very dry summer. A good choice for the UK climate is ‘Isabelle’ which bears fruit in late summer. The trees reach an eventual height of around 1.5-2m.
How to plant a fruit tree in a pot
The experts at Suttons give these tips for planting the best fruit trees to grow in pots.
- Choose a sunny, sheltered position on the patio.
- Opt for a 30 litre container or larger. Avoid plastic containers as they are light and more likely to be blown over in strong winds, which could permanently damage the tree.
- For added stability, use a heavier soil-based compost such as John Innes No 3 potting compost. Good drainage is essential for the best fruit trees to grow in pots, and small stones, or gravel should be placed in the bottom of the container.
- Place the fruit tree in the container so that the graft (knobbly bit) will be about 2–5cm (3/4 to 2in) above soil level.
- Fill the container with compost to within 2.5cm of the rim, firming as you go and ensuring there are no air pockets around the roots.
- Keep the compost moist, and from flowering through to just before harvesting, feed with a high potash liquid fertilizer.
- When the tree is dormant, after 4–5 years replant the tree into a 35 litre or larger container, pruning it hard and also removing 20–30% of the roots.
Which pot is best for growing a fruit tree?
As a general rule, planting pots for the best fruit trees to grow in pots need to be at least twice as deep and wide as the root ball of the tree. Aim for something around 50cm (20in) tall and 40cm (16in) in diameter.
You could try using a halved wooden barrel, or a galvanized dustbin. It is crucial to create drainage holes in the bottom of your chosen garden planter ideas, if it doesn't already have them. Add a layer of crocks at the bottom. These are just small chunks of concrete, broken pieces of pot or pebbles.
One of the main container gardening mistakes to avoid is choosing a pot which narrows at the top, as it will be almost impossible to remove and re-pot your tree when the time comes.
When should you feed a fruit tree in a pot?
The best time to feed potted trees is every two weeks, from the time the blossom starts to open, through to the middle of autumn. Choose a high-potash feed such as liquid seaweed.
How to stake a fruit tree in a pot
Staking (adding a support) is important to stop strong winds flattening a tree or breaking its branches. Aaron Bertelson, author of Grow Fruit and Vegetables in Pots (available at Amazon) has this advice for staking fruit trees grown in containers. 'Choose a sturdy stake, tall enough that it comes to about half the height of the tree you are planting once you have pushed it into the soil. Position it towards the prevailing wind so that the tree is blown away from the stake rather than onto it, which could damage the trunk.'
He also recommends tying the tree to the stake with rubber tree ties. Check regularly to make sure the ties are not too tight as the tree grows.
Want to know about growing vegetables in pots too? Our guide has all the tips you'll need.
An experienced freelance journalist, editor and columnist writing for national magazines and websites, Fiona now specialises in gardens. She enjoys finding and writing about all kinds, from the tiniest town plots to impressively designed ones in grand country houses. She's a firm believer that gardening is for everyone, and it doesn’t matter if you have a single window ledge or an acre, there’s always peace and joy to be found outside. The small town garden of her Edwardian terraced house is currently a work in progress as she renovates the property, but her goal is always to fill it with flowers, climbers, colour, fragrance – and as many of her treasured vintage finds as she can possibly fit in.
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