Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Fruit & Nut Trees

Fruit Trees in Containers

by William Ross


For folks who want to grow their own fruit, but who don't have adequate space or a suitable climate, growing fruit in containers offers several opportunities. Cherries, peaches, figs, apples, tangerines, lemons, and limes are among the many types of fruit trees that thrive in containers. And, you can grow them in just about any region of the country. Of course, container-grown fruit trees produce fewer fruit than full-grown trees, but fresh limes and lemons on a cold winter day in Vermont, for example, are refreshing, not to mention soul-stirring.

Some container-grown apples and cherries (deciduous, or leaf-dropping, trees) will not fruit properly in some mild-winter areas because they require a long period of cold temperatures. Ask your nursery staff about varieties that require a shorter cold period (also called "low-chill" varieties) and that do well in mild-winter regions.

Where to Buy Container Fruit Trees

To get fruit through the winter, buy and plant fruit trees in the Spring. Most plant catalogs and nurseries contain a selection of fruit trees that can be grown in containers. Trees ordered from mail-order catalogs are shipped bare-root.You should plant your tree within a day or two of receiving it, but only after soaking the roots overnight in warm water.

Nursery-bought trees will be either in containers or balled and burlapped. Look for trees with branches arranged symmetrically around the trunk and without broken or diseased limbs. Avoid buying rootbound trees (roots circling the container), and prune any broken or damaged roots before planting.

Choosing a Container

Containers are available in almost every size, shape, and material. Containers made of untreated, rot-resistant wood are good options, but wood rots eventually. Clay pots dry out faster than wooden ones, and fungi and bacteria can grow in the porous surfaces. Also, old clay pots can build up enough fertilizer and salts to make them impermeable to air and water. Plastic pots, on the other hand, are light inweight, but they heat up in the sun. All containers must have adequate drainage holes.

A good fruit-tree container is a 15-gallon pot, which is large enough for a 5-foot tree. Such a container could weigh between about 70 and 125 pounds, depending on what the pot is made of, the size of the tree, and the type of soil. Weight is no small consideration if you have to move the container with the tree in it.

For a citrus tree, a conventional container, called a Versailles planter, is especially well suited because the sides can be removed to make it easy to add or remove soil without uprooting or having to lift the tree out of the pot. The tree it holds can be 10 feet tall, and the planter with tree can require four people or a forklift to move it. Citrus-tree soils are especially heavy because they require sand, which adds considerable weight. The wheeled platforms sometimes advertised for use in moving large plants usually list a rating of the ranges of planter weights between 150 and 400 pounds.

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