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With careful selection of cultivars and appropriate growing methods, it is possible to grow fruit such as apples, cherries, pears and plums in containers. This is a great way to grow fruit in a small garden, particularly as it keeps trees smaller than if they were grown in the ground.
There’s a wide range of fruit that can be grown in pots.
All the tree fruits listed here will pollinate each other. However, the pollination group numbers (where applicable) are shown in brackets; aim to pick at least two trees of the same or adjacent-numbered pollination group. This matching of the groups is always done with the same fruit, such as apples, and will not work between different fruits such as apples and pears. These are just a few of the fruits suited to pot culture.
*These need to be hand pollinated when grown in a greenhouse or conservatory, by transferring pollen between flowers with a soft brush.
Once you have chosen which cultivar you want to grow, you will need to select the rootstock it grows on, at least for some fruit trees. The rootstock will help control the cultivar’s vigour and make it more suitable to grow in a container. Look on the label – you will often see there is a cultivar name with the rootstock printed next to it, such as Apple ‘Discovery’ M9.
These are the best options:
Rootstocks are not required for blueberries, grapes, figs and olives.
As far as the type of container, clay pots are heavy and stable; plastic is durable, light and easier to manage. For most fruit, choose pots 45-50cm (18-20in) in diameter.
Fruit trees, vines and bushes can be planted in containers at any time of year. However, spring (March or April) is a particularly good time, as the roots soon grow and establish into the new compost.
When planting, place plenty of crocks (small pieces of broken clay pots) in the bottom of the clay containers to retain potting media during watering. Use a good-quality compost (John Innes No 3 is ideal), or multi-purpose compost mixed with one-third by volume grit or perlite. Incorporate controlled-release fertiliser pellets, or feed fortnightly with a high-potassium liquid tomato feed.
Fruit in containers is usually a little more hassle than growing fruit in the open ground. Do keep the following in mind:
Fruit grown in pots is pruned just the same way as fruit grown in the open ground. See our individual plant and pruning profiles for further advice;
Apples and pears: pruning new treesApples and pears: summer pruningApples and pears: winter pruningEspalier training treesFan-trained trees: initial trainingFan-trained trees: pruning established fansFigsGooseberries, red and white currantsOlivePlum pruning
Container-grown fruit needs careful watering throughout the summer to prevent the fruits dropping before they ripen, and the leaves browning around the edges.
There are some common problems to watch out for as well. These include apple canker, apple scab, bacterial canker, brown rot, peach leaf curl and silver leaf.
Take care not to overpot.
Apples and pears: growing and training as cordonsApples and pears: summer pruningRootstocks for fruitTrees for containers
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