Tips for Growing Fruit Trees in Containers

August 11, 2010

The previous article shared some great reasons to cultivate a backyard orchard in containers, and today it’s time to follow up with ideas to help you get started with growing fruit trees in pots.

Oranges, apples, limes, blueberries, bananas, and pomegranates are among the most popular choices for growing fruit trees in containers. Then there are my personal favorite potted fruits; fig trees, which are easy to grow, productive, and hardy in many areas. Read on for general cultivation tips and ideas specific to growing fruit trees in containers.

  • Ideal Varieties – For cultivating potted fruit trees it’s best to look for dwarf varieties or choices such as figs that are naturally easy to maintain in a compact size. Many fruits are perfectly comfortable growing in a container, and will still yield a decent sized harvest of tasty fruit for your enjoyment.
  • Planting Stock – There are plenty of Internet suppliers offering an assortment of fruits to stock your container orchard, as well as local retailers that you can turn to. But don’t overlook friendly gardeners in your neighborhood that may be willing to divide or share their own plants to help you get started.
  • Choosing Containers – When cultivating fruit trees it pays to use the largest sized containers that you can get your hands on. But that doesn’t mean that you have to spend a fortune on expensive pots. Get creative and recycle, search out bargains at yard sales, or take advantage of off-season sales at the garden centers.
  • Potting Soil Mixes – Make life easier for yourself and the fruit trees by using a potting soil mix that is lightweight and promotes even drainage, but doesn’t dry out too rapidly. This will encourage better growth and plant health at the same time that it eases the strain of moving the containers around and reduces the frequency of watering.
  • Feeding Potted Fruits – Compared to fruit trees planted in the ground, you’ll need to provide fertilizers on a regular basis to satisfy hungry container grown trees. A variety of commercial organic fertilizers, compost, foliar sprays, and liquid soil amendments can be used, but be sure to taper off your feedings as the growing season winds down and the fall season approaches.
  • Irrigation – This is a big responsibility and one that needs to be considered when planning your container fruit tree orchard in order to ensure that you have the time and water resources necessary to care for it. Fruit trees growing in containers are thirsty and need to be watered on a daily basis during the summer months and while you are away on vacation.
  • Pest Control – Your best option here is to do your homework in order to identify fruit types and specific varieties that are naturally resistant to the insects and diseases that are found in your growing region. Insect traps, bird netting, and other organic controls are all easier to manage in the smaller scale of the potted orchard than they would be out in the field.
  • Winter Care – If you live in a cold winter climate it’s a good idea to move dormant trees to a sheltered spot for the winter. They need very little winter care and will do fine in a garage where they can survive without any sunlight and just a small amount of moisture. On the other hand, tropical fruits will need to find a spot inside the home where they can stay until things warm back up outdoors.

Other Considerations for Growing Fruit Trees in Containers

Stakes and trellises are your friends and some type of support is often needed to keep your container fruit trees growing straight and upright. Pruning is used not only to manage fruit production but also to keep the plants in balance and at a size that is suitable for the pots that they are growing in. In addition to pruning the top growth, root pruning may occasionally be helpful.

As mentioned earlier larger containers are best for fruit trees but don’t start small fruit trees out in a huge container, it’s better to pot them up to a bigger container as they mature and increase in size. Rotate your containers a half turn every so often, just as you would a house plant to promote more even growth.

Potted fruits won’t provide as much production as field grown trees, but they will deliver the same satisfaction and sense of accomplishment as you lovingly tend to their needs and watch them grow from tiny specimens into small but mature trees yielding luscious, ripe fruits!

Other Related Vegetable Gardening Posts:

  • What are some dwarf varieties of fig trees?

  • Kevin

    It is so hard to find information specifically about container plants and trees. Thanks for the helpful advice. I have been watering my trees totally wrong and they showed it.

  • Barb Keeler

    For dwarf figs, I defer to the master, Bassem Samaan over at Trees of Joy. He has been collecting and cataloging fig trees in his garden for ages. You can also contact him on Facebook. His knowledge and selection of figs far surpasses any other resource.

  • Growing fruit trees in containers is a great idea. I guess all dwarf varieties are more suitable for this. I will look out for some trees on small rootstocks for container growing.

  • Kenny Point

    Technically I don’t know of any dwarf fig varieties in the same sense of a dwarf apple that is grafted onto a special rootstock to keep it small, but many figs are easy to maintain naturally at a compact size that is great for growing in containers… the Brown Turkey variety is a good example. I agree with Barb and Bass’s site is a great resource for more detailed cultural info on various figs.

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  • Carmen

    Couldn’t figure out where to comment on your growing tropicals e-mail, so I’m here. I did buy the tropical fruit trees from a company that specializes on them. Last year I actually had acerolas (alternate name West Indies cherries) here in Minnesota in the summer. I’m sure you know what they are since you do go to the tropics. My daughter got emotional since it was so unexpected. For anyone who doesn’t know what they are they grow in zones 9-11 vs 4A here. Birds had never seen them, but they found them soon enough, this year I’ll cover them. I also grow taro for cooking, limes and a bay tree among others. Thank you for the Primer and for your site.

  • Kenny Point

    You are welcome Carmen, thanks for stopping by and sharing the information on the acerolas that you planted. I’ve never grown them or taro but I will have to consider adding them to my garden!

  • Lee_in_Iowa

    Meemsnyc, Look at the website , which combines work by UC-Davis, which is collecting worldwide varieties to preserve, and Jon of Encanto Farms, who has a “boutique” nursery of figs and fig “starts.” Then browse around on Edible Landscape’s webpages about figs, too. That should be a great start. (At least, that’s how I got started.) Richter Nursery has very inexpensive Chicago Hardy Figs, even though they specialize in herbs; they pack them carefully, and the tiny ones I got last summer are going into gallon pots this spring. Hope this helps!

  • Lee_in_Iowa

    Oh, and folks, when buying figs, do beware of the difficulties of getting them off Ebay. There are some WONDERFUL dealers there (hermansuer and pitandiego are both reputable–see the Figs4Fun Forum; I have also had personal experience buying from them and receiving the correct items), but there are also some folks selling fig trees there, that are just plain mislabeled. AND you can’t get figs to grow “true” from seed, but there are dealers who are insistently selling fig seed. The rating system Ebay uses doesn’t really allow for buyers to come back a couple of years later and say, Hey, this isn’t actually producing the kind of fig it’s supposed to. If you buy from reputable nurseries, or reputable fig aficionados, you’re safer.

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