Growing your own tree fruit in your garden may seem ambitious – not everyone has the space for sprawling pear and apple trees, you may think. But with the development of dwarf rootstocks (rooted stems that juvenile trees are grafted on to), growing a fruit tree in a pot has got a whole lot easier. Ready-grafted pot-grown trees are readily available at most garden centres, so you’ll just need to choose a lovely container and pot it on at home (see the end of the article for how to do this).
Here, I’ll round up my top five favourite fruit trees that thrive when grown in pots, and let you know how to get started with planting out a tree of your own. Let this year be the one where you harvest your own crisp apples, plump plums or even fragrant gooseberries.
Small, tangy home-grown apples are one of my favourite snacks. Choose a sheltered, shady spot for your fruits to thrive and plant out in a pot at least 45-50cm wide. Great eating varieties include Discovery, Falstaff and Sunset.
Cherry trees are a real treat all year round, particularly in spring when they’re adorned in masses of frothy blossom. Sweet varieties of cherry love to be in the sun, but sour varieties will tolerate shade – plant in a pot at least 60cm wide. Varieties Lapins, Sunburst and Stella are all self-fertile (will pollinate themselves).
Patio peaches and nectarines
Peach and nectarine trees are good and hardy, but their flowers aren’t – so they’ll need placing in a sunny spot and their delicate blooms protecting with fleece in a frosty spell. Pot in a container at least 45cm wide and re-pot every two years, keeping well watered to be rewarded with juicy, fragrant fruits. Duke of York and Peregrine are great peach varieties, and Early Rivers and Nectarella for nectarines – all these are self fertile.
Figs are a fairly mediterranean fruit, and thrive especially in warmer, sunny gardens. Those who live far up north might struggle to bring forth fruit, but these structural trees with their attractive foliage are a treat year-round. These only need a pot between 35-45cm, and varieties such as Brown Turkey or Brunswick are UK-hardy.
Little gooseberry plants will need cordon or standard training to grow into a lovely and attractive little tree, and they only require a pot that’s about 30cm across. They’re very productive, so you’ll be rewarded with plenty of fruit for a small space. Greenfinch and Invicta are lovely, flavourful varieties.
When you’ve chosen your selected fruit tree from your local garden centre, it’s time to pot on. Choose a container with good drainage holes, and enhance drainage further by adding broken crocks or gravel to the bottom of the pot. Cover the base with John Innes No 3 potting compost. Next, gently remove the tree from its pot, sit it in the centre of the container and place a strong plant stake alongside it. Fill the gaps around the sides of the rootball with more potting compost, patting down well (but not compressing), and water in well. Finally, tie the tree to the stake at the top and bottom of the trunk using tree ties. Be sure not to overpot (planting in a pot that’s too large), or the delicate roots risk being drowned and rotting.
If you’re keen to pot a lovely flowering tree, you can read my article on five great trees for smaller gardens here.