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In the Garden with Drew – Growing Fruit in Containers

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Drew Demler // State Fair of Texas Greenhouse Manager

I have said many times that there are few gardening pleasures that can match the experience of eating home-grown fruit. Getting to eat fruit at the peak of ripeness is a true treat indeed. Fruit grown at home is so much sweeter and more flavorful than anything you can get at the grocery store. It is also super rewarding for a gardener to be able to grow his own juicy goodness. And don’t forget – by growing your own produce, you control what is done to it.

But what about those of us with small yards? After all, most fruit trees can get pretty big. Are those of us with a small space out of luck on this fruit-growing business? Not necessarily. Luckily, there are several types of fruit trees and bushes that can be grown in containers, allowing them to fit into smaller spaces.

Growing fruit trees and bushes in containers restricts the size of the plants by restricting the root growth; therefore, fruit can be grown in smaller places where an in-ground planted tree would get way too big. Not all trees like to be grown in pots but there are several good choices. The following is a list of some of the best choices for container-growing fruit:

Stone fruit16_greenhouse_peach

Varieties include peaches, plums, nectarines and apricots. Though I have not tried growing apricots in a container, I have had good luck growing the other fruit trees listed that way. Even in containers, the trees can produce a really nice crop. There are genetic dwarf varieties of stone fruit trees available, but most people (myself included) will tell you that standard size trees give better quality fruit and do just as well in a pot.

Figs16_greenhouse_fig

Almost any variety of fig can grow well in a pot. The leaves of fig trees are particularly ornamental and can dress up a patio or outdoor living space. On those winter days when it is icy or the temperature drops into the teens, I would recommend protecting your fig with a blanket or pulling it inside of a house or garage. Doing so will prevent it from freezing and will keep it producing fruit!

Citrus16_greenhouse_orange

Any kind of citrus really thrives in a pot, but all of them will need winter protection eventually. Most citrus will take a light freeze (down to about 30 degrees Fahrenheit), but when temps start dropping into the twenties, it is best to bring them into a protected area. I have owned some citrus trees for over 10 years now that are still very productive. I simply drag them into my garage in the winter and then put them right back out when it warms up. My personal favorite citrus is the Miho Satsuma, but there are lots of great varieties to try.

Blueberries16_greenhouse_blueberries

Tailor-made for growing in a pot, blueberries love an acidic soil with good drainage. Most quality potting mixes will do the trick; simply look for those with peat moss, which creates an acidic condition, and perlite, which helps the soil drain properly. Blueberries grown in pots will need a little extra fertilizer now and again to help maintain the proper acidic soil condition.

Strawberries16_greenhouse_strawberries

Smaller, trailing type of plants which are great for pots and can even be grown in hanging baskets. Growing them in pots actually helps keep slugs and snails from attacking the strawberry fruit.

There are a few things that you need to know about growing trees in containers before you start your adventure. For one thing, trees grown in pots need to be watered regularly. By summer time, in most situations, trees will need water daily so be sure you are able to keep up with this task. A drip irrigation system connected to a timer is easy to install and will help ensure regular watering. Also, trees need to be fertilized periodically to keep up with their nutrient demands. Just apply a slow-release fertilizer two to three times a year and you should be set. Fruit size of container-grown plants tends to run a little smaller than normal as compared to in-ground grown fruit. I recommend extra thinning (the process in which you remove fruit from your tree while it’s still small to increase fruit size) on your tree to help out with this. Try to leave six inches of space between each piece of fruit.

So, if space is at a premium, there is still hope of getting your own backyard harvest. If you can keep up with the watering needs and follow the simple steps for up-keep, you can have success. Now is the time of year when fruit trees start to show up in the garden centers. Don’t let a small space limit you — get a pot and a tree and get it growing. You’ll be picking your own sweet treats in no time!

That’s all for now from the Errol McKoy Greenhouse on the Midway. To learn more about growing fruit trees and specific variety recommendations, please check out articles I wrote last year. Thank y’all for reading. I’ll be back with more real soon, and until then, happy gardening!

Drew Demler
Manager, Errol McKoy Greenhouse on the Midway

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