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Best Fruit for Container Growing

Fruit trees and shrubs, unlike many other edibles, can take up a lot of space when grown in the ground. An average semi dwarf apple tree, for example, takes up anywhere from 15 to 30 feet in all directions. If you want to enjoy delicious, organically grown fruit but don’t have a lot of space, growing certain dwarf varieties in pots is the solution.

Many fruit varieties have cultivars (or can be grafted on dwarf rootstocks) that are well suited to spending their whole lives in containers. Container growing is great for people who don’t have land to plant into the ground, their soil is terrible, or they are planning on moving in the future and want to take their small orchard with them. It also allows you to grow plants that would not otherwise thrive in your location because you can move them to take advantage of microclimates or protect the plants from weather extremes. The following fruit options are some of our favorites to grow in pots due to their outstanding flavor, ease of care, and ability to produce viable fruit quickly.

 

Dwarf thornless raspberries
There are a few dwarf varieties out there, but Raspberry Shortcake is the best. It may be a dwarf plant, but the berries are big, numerous, and flavorful. This shrub makes a beautiful dense shape with lots of green thornless foliage and dots of pretty red fruit. It spreads lushly to fill any size pot, no matter what the shape. This specific cultivar fruits on second- year canes. Following harvest, clip off the spent, old-looking canes at their base. This leaves room for the new green, first-year canes to continue growing. Next year, those first-year canes will produce fruit.

  • Pot size for mature plant: 10 to 15 gallon or smaller
  • Mature plant size: 2 to 3 feet tall and wide

 

Gooseberries
The most flavorful European gooseberry cultivars have tart skins but sweet, delicious flesh. There are options that require cross-pollination to produce fruit, but we prefer self-fertile varieties like ‘Invicta’ and ‘Black Velvet’ from England and ‘Hinnomaki Red’ and ‘Hinnomaki Yellow’ from Finland. All are excellently flavored, heavy-yielding, and mildew-resistant cultivars. Gooseberries produce fruit on 2- to 3-year-old wood, so they need to be pruned every couple of years to remove older branches and to allow new, fruiting branches to form. These shrubs are defoliated by the imported currant worm, which can be treated with organic controls such as pyrethin, rotenone, or bioneem.

  • Pot size for mature plant: 10 to 20 gallon
  • Mature plant size: 3 to 4 feet tall and wide

 

Olives
Olive trees ripen best in relatively dry climates with hot summers and moderate winters. However, an olive tree also grows easily in a pot indoors or out. Full sun and a warm spot will increase the chances of ripening a crop in marginal areas. While many cultivars need a pollinator ‘Arbequina’ is selffertile and makes an excellent table olive or aromatic oil.

Although when grown in the ground, the tree can tolerate a temperature of 18°F or slightly below, to keep the evergreen foliage from dropping in winter and to protect the roots, avoid prolonged exposure to temperatures below 28°F. Pruning back the central leader will encourage side branches and make a more fully shaped tree. In cooler summer areas, the fruit that does not ripen in fall will ripen the following spring, if the birds don’t get it first.

  • Pot size for mature plant: 20 gallon
  • Mature plant size: 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide

 

Dwarf cherries
Cherries usually grow on trees that are at least 25 ¬feet tall. You would have to risk your life to reach the limbs with fruit—if the birds didn’t eat all the cherries first. With the new Gisela 3 cherry rootstock, dwarf, fruiting cherry trees are now a reality. There is a variety of cultivars available on this rootstock, but some of our self-fertile favorites are ‘Lapins’, ‘Black Gold’, and ‘White Gold’. Tart cherries also are self-fertile and the cultivar ‘Surefire’ (pictured) is reliable, tasty, and very productive. Since most cherry trees are purchased as whips (or are only lightly branched), cut the leader back to 2 feet or so to encourage branching. These cherries also train well as a fan-shaped espalier.

  • Pot size for mature plant: 30 gallon
  • Mature plant size: 6 to 8 feet tall and wide

 

Dwarf nectarines and peaches
Genetic dwarf varieties like ‘Eldorado’ and ‘Empress’ peach (pictured) and the ‘Nectazee’ nectarine stay extremely compact because they have short internodes, which means their buds grow very close together. Most varieties also are self-fertile. Although peaches and nectarines are generally shorter lived than other fruit trees, at our nursery we have a potted, 20-year-old peach that is still setting delicious fruit. The compact habit of genetic dwarf varieties means there will be lots of stem density, and you’ll need to thin out some branches to keep the tree opened up.

Heat in the summer develops the sweet flavor in peaches and nectarines. But the trees will need protection from prolonged temperatures above 95°F. So, in very warm areas, some afternoon shade should be provided. All genetic dwarfs, unfortunately, are susceptible to the peach leaf curl disease. Try to move the potted plants under the eaves of your roof to keep the stems dry, from early winter through early spring. Instead, you can spray the tree with an organic treatment of lime sulfur three to four times at four-week intervals starting in early winter.

  • Pot size for mature plant: 20 gallon
  • Mature plant size: 4 to 5 feet tall and wide

 

Apples grafted on dwarf rootstocks
By using dwarf rootstocks to control tree size, any apple variety can be grafted to remain small in stature. These highly productive, compact trees are perfect to grow in a small backyard or pot, but you will need at least two varieties for cross pollination. We recommend disease-resistant cultivars with lots of flavor that ripen at different times throughout summer and fall like ‘William’s Pride’, ‘Pristine’, ‘Liberty’, and’ Enterprise’. A great old-time, russet choice is ‘Ashmead’s Kernal’.

We recommend cutting the main trunk back to 12 to 18 inches tall when you first get the tree. Branches will emerge from below that point and result in a stockier plant. Do not let the tree fruit for a couple years, until it has grown to the basic size and shape you want because it can “runt out,” meaning once it starts producing lots of fruit, its growth slows or stops. Once you allow your tree to fruit, you need to thin the fruit. Place your outstretched, open hand with your thumb at a fruit you are keeping. The next closest fruit you keep should be at the end of your pinkie. Although these apple trees are winter-hardy, you should protect the roots from cold damage by preventing the container from freezing solid. Push it against your home’s foundation, or wrap burlap around the pot for insulation.

  • Pot size for mature plant: 20 gallon
  • Mature plant size: 5 to 7 feet tall and wide


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