If you’ve always dreamed of having a fresh fruit at your fingertips but don’t have the space to grow full-sized trees in your yard or garden, you’re in luck — there are actually many fruit trees out there that also thrive in containers. As long as you plant the right variety and provide it with proper nutrition, you’ll be able to enjoy fresh fruit all season long.
Fruit Trees that Thrive in Containers
If you have a favorite fruit, chances are there’s a variety of it that's been specifically bred to grow in containers. This is true of apples, figs, peaches, nectarines, lemons, and pretty much any other fruit you can think of.
Apple trees will grow as bushes in containers as long as they have dwarfing rootstocks. Since pollination requires two or more trees, you'll want to pick out varieties that will readily cross-pollinate with one another, such as Granny Smith, Fuji, Honeycrisp, Pink Lady, Cox, Jonagold, and Gala.
Figs are the quintessential container fruit. Whereas many other plants don’t grow well when they’re rootbound, fig trees actually prefer it. If you live in a cool climate, you should consider protecting them from frost, hail, and snow by either bringing them inside or covering them with horticultural fleece. Easy-to-grow varieties include Brown Turkey and Black Mission.
Pear trees need a little extra care, especially if you live in a place that experiences late frosts. Like apple trees, pear trees with dwarfing rootstocks will typically take on bush shapes. Try a traditional Bartlett or grow a slightly more eccentric variety like Moonglow.
Plum trees produce a lot of fruit and are relatively low-maintenance, especially because a single tree can often bear fruit without being pollinated by another tree beforehand. Just as you would with other container fruit trees, you'll want to choose plum tree varieties that produce dwarfing rootstocks.
Cherries are also self-fertile and easy to grow in containers. However, you likely won’t be the only one snacking on the fruit, as birds may try to sneak a snack as well. Protect your trees with bird netting to keep your harvest from getting stolen.
Peaches and apricots grow best in places where they won’t be subjected to late winter frosts. Since the trees flower in the early spring, you’ll want to make sure they’re protected from any frosts and storms during that time. If frost is in the forecast and you can’t put them under an adequate shelter, you’ll want to either cover them with horticultural fleece or bring them inside. Although most varieties are self-pollinating, planting them in pairs will ensure you get a larger, healthier harvest.
Give Your Trees a Good Home
Once you’ve decided what fruit you're going to grow, it’s time to choose the right containers for the trees. Trees need space, so select a pot that is at least 20 inches in diameter. The material of the pots is entirely up to you. Fruit trees grow well in terra cotta, plastic, or ceramic pots, as well as whiskey/wine barrels. If you plan to move the trees indoors during the winter, you'll definitely want to take the size and material of each container into account. After all, it's much easier to move a lightweight plastic pot than it is to move a heavy ceramic one.
Fruit trees need plenty of water and sunlight to thrive, but they also need growing media (potting soil) that contains nutrients. Potting soils are generally sterile. That’s so you won’t introduce diseases and insects into the container. We favor splurging on the highest quality potting soil you can find, and preferably one that contains nutrients. Remember, once the tree is planted, you will not change-out the soil very frequently, so it’s best practice to start with the good stuff. Even though a high quality potting soil may contain nutrients initially, young trees tend to deplete them pretty quickly as they grow. Adding nutrients throughout the growing season with a slow-release plant food like Osmocote will ensure that your trees are receiving the right amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium when they need them most.
Fruit Tree Maintenance 101
The best part of planting fruit trees in containers is that you can move them around to find the best growing location for them. More specifically, you'll want to look for a place that gets plenty of sunlight and has minimal exposure to wind and the elements. Of course, trees also need some protection from the sun to grow properly, so your best bet is to place them in a spot that meets the sunlight requirements on their tags.
Water is also important. The downside of growing trees in pots is that they tend to dry out sooner than they would if they were planted in the ground. Set up a watering schedule to ensure your trees get all the water they need. Check the soil often by sticking your finger in it and making sure it doesn’t get too dry.
Replace the nutrients in the soil throughout the growing season with a nutrient-dense plant food like Osmocote. Every few years, you'll want to remove each tree from its container, prune the roots, replace the soil, and add in a bit of compost.
The first few years of growth are especially important. While you may be antsy to pick the harvest, you're better off pinching off the developing fruit for the first couple of growing seasons. Postponing the harvest will allow the trees to put their energy towards establishing roots and developing strong, healthy growth. If you want to enjoy a bumper crop of tasty fruits, a little bit of waiting is essential!
Container Fruit Trees are Great, Even If You Have the Space to Plant Them in the Ground
Regardless of whether you have a large yard or several acres of land, planting fruit trees in containers allows you to place them much closer to the kitchen. Instead of running clear across the property to pick lemons for a refreshing pitcher of lemonade, apples for a homemade pie, or figs for a savory jam, all you have to do is walk over to your patio or deck and take what you need. Plus, who doesn’t love the sight of fresh fruit trees?
Healthy fruit trees may take a few years to grow, but with proper nourishment and plenty of sunlight and water, you’ll be able to harvest fresh fruit for years to come.