Good Natured Gardening: Fruit trees for small spaces

So how do trees access the internet? Obviously, they log in. With that pathetic attempt at humor, you now have your first clue about what this article is about.

container trees

It’s about the internet. Well, wait. It’s about logs. Just kidding. Obviously, it’s about apples, lemons, and kumquats. More specifically, fruit trees that can be grown in containers.

Phew, that was exhausting.

For those times when life doesn’t give you lemons, you can always grow them yourself…in a container.

Whether you have a patio, a balcony, deck, porch, or a small yard, you likely have enough space to grow a fruit tree, maybe two.

Dwarf and ultra-dwarf varieties are the best candidates for patio containers.

A dwarf fruit tree might reach 7′ tall. An ultra-dwarf fruit tree could reach 5′ tall and maybe 3′ wide. A regular fruit tree usually grows taller than 20′.

For dwarf varieties, consider these seven: crabapple, kumquat, orange, persimmon, plums, Doc, and Grumpy.

Dwarf apple trees do well in containers too. Consider Gala, Jonagold, and Pink Lady.

Dwarf peach trees (examples: Bonfire peach, Contender peach, Pix Zee peach) and apricot dwarfs (example: Pixie-Cot apricot) will produce fruit within two years of planting.

Dwarf cherry trees perform well in patio containers, but they would need a lot more chill hours than we get here. Some varieties: Nanking Dwarf Cherry, Lapins. Stella, and Northstar.

The Meyer lemon tree, a hybrid between a lemon and a mandarin orange, is one of the easiest and most popular patio fruit trees.

The dwarf Pomegranate (eg, Nana) grows 3′ tall.

There are some dwarf fig trees that grow to 3′ tall and do not need much attention. Examples: Black Mission, Brown Turkey, and Petite Negra.

Correction: According to my grandchildren, Dwarfs Doc and Grumpy are Snow White’s friends and not really dwarf trees. Sorry for any confusion.

Grow established trees from a nursery rather than planting from seeds, which is a very long process. Many varieties of fruit trees cannot reproduce from seed.

Make sure the fruit tree you buy is self-fertile…unless you have room for a significant other.

Ceramic, clay, metal, plastic, terracotta and wood are popular container choices. Get the largest container that your space allows so you can minimize transplanting them.

Heavier clay pots are more stable in windy conditions. Lightweight plastic pots might be your best choice for balconies.

Plant caddies or roller bases make moving containers very easy. Invest in a quality one because those little plastic wheels often don’t hold up well outdoors.

It is best not to use soil directly from your yard. It’s prone to diseases, insects and weeds. Plus, yard soil will not drain as well in containers. Instead consider using soil-based compost. In the spring, replace the topsoil with more compost-enriched soil. Remember, better living through better dirt.

Fertilize with high-quality organic plant food. They’ll need much more than just egg shells and banana peels.

Containers dry out fast so water them deeply and thoroughly.

Dwarf fruit trees in containers are easy to prune and harvest. You might not even need a ladder.

Now trees will need potting into a larger container every few years, when they have outgrown their pot. When they get too big, your only alternative is to plant them in the ground

Fruit trees should be grown outdoors. Apple trees can’t grow indoors. However, some lemons and oranges can grow in a sunny indoor location.

You can also grow fruiting shrubs on your patio and balcony in containers and small spaces: raspberry, blueberry, strawberry, and Goji berry.

Of course, there are numerous small, non-fruit trees that grow well in pots outdoors, depending on the weather. Examples: Japanese maples, dwarf cypress trees, Crape myrtle, and Bay trees.

Still tight on space? Think itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka. Think bonsai. Genetically, a bonsai fruit tree is the same as a 20′ fruit tree that is maintained by pruning.

Of course, you won’t produce the same yields to harvest that you would with a full-size tree. It is widely unknown that bonsai trees produce fruit. Bite-size fruit. You could eat the whole tree in one sitting.

Consider crabapple (eg, Harvest Gold.), limes, or Meyer lemon. Calamondin orange trees and quince are also good starter trees. If you’re up for a challenge, try apples, cherries (eg, Bright ‘n Tight), persimmons, or pomegranates.

There will be some people who will say that caring for a fruit tree bonsai isn’t much different than caring for a standard one. Horse feathers! You’ll need patience and the hands of a surgeon to prune them.

Did you know…a slice of apple pie is $2.50 in Jamaica and $3 in the Bahamas? These are the pie rates of the Caribbean.

I’m listening for any incoming groans…but I don’t hear any. Great. My work is done here.

Schmidt is also a Poway resident and award-winning garden columnist with over 40 years of gardening experience.