Don't have a garden but want to keep some fruit trees? If you have a patio or balcony you can keep fruit plants in pots. That way you can exploit their decorative potential, observe them for signs of the changing seasons and have the satisfaction of picking your own fruit. Today we look at which are the best fruit trees to keep on the patio and how to grow them.
How to choose potted fruit plants
Choose hardy fruit trees that are suitable for your local climate: for example, apple trees grow well in cold regions, whereas lemon trees need warmth. Work out how many potted fruit plants and which varieties you can fit in, depending on the size of your patio/balcony and its load-bearing capacity.
Take into account how big the plants will become when mature, so space them out accordingly. Ensure that each plant has sufficient sun exposure, shade and air circulation, to create the best conditions for survival. Also consider whether the location is affected by strong winds.
The fruit trees that you plant on your patio can be dwarf or standard plants. Dwarf fruit plants available in garden centres and nurseries may be the result of selection (genetically small plants) or grafts (standard plants grafted onto dwarfing rootstocks). In any case, they need to be able to self-pollinate in order to bear fruit, otherwise plan to have multiple trees of the same variety. Contrary to what their name might suggest, dwarf plants produce fruits with dimensions and characteristics that are identical to those of normal fruits.
A particular type of plant grafted onto dwarfing rootstock is a columnar fruit tree, which bears fruit along the trunk. These plants are trained (pruned) so that they develop small productive branches directly on the trunk. Even before they became popular ornamental and patio plants, columnar fruit trees were used in intensive fruit growing because they are easy to manage.
Here are some suggested fruit plants for your patio. Regardless of which ones you choose, before buying them from a nursery make sure they are in good health:
Dwarf fruit plants: cherry, almond, apple, pear, peach, plum.
Columnar fruit trees: cherry, apple, pear, plum.
Other plants for your patio mini-orchard: kiwifruit, lemon, pomegranate, table grape vine and even strawberries and berries (such as raspberries and currants), which prefer shadier spots on balconies.
Some potted fruit plants, such as grapevines, need support structures: here's how to make a DIY trellis.
We mentioned that dwarf fruit plants can be derived by grafting: here you will find a more general overview on grafting fruit trees.
How to grow fruit trees on your patio
As a general rule, fruit plants that adapt well to patios are fairly simple to manage. Although each variety should be treated according to its particular characteristics, some basic rules apply to all. When planting, choose a sturdy pot of adequate size and with holes for water drainage, then cover the bottom with a layer of expanded clay. The soil you fill the pot with must be well drained to prevent water from accumulating and stagnating, but at the same time it should retain moisture: we advise a mixture of topsoil, peat and, if possible, mature compost.
As the plant grows and you notice that the roots have thickened on the surface, replace the container with a larger one. Only repot when the plant is in its dormant period and the temperature is mild, such as in late autumn or before the arrival of spring. When repotting, take the opportunity to change the topsoil at the same time.
Fertilising at least twice a year, in spring and autumn, will help to supply the soil with nutrients. You can use compost or fruit tree fertiliser.
Adjust waterings to suit the season: more frequent in summer and only when needed (if the soil is dry) in colder periods.
Minimal pruning is needed to keep the foliage tidy, eliminate excess branches and allow more light and air into the canopy. But in any case, dwarf plants only have slow and limited growth.
Monitor the health of your mini-orchard so that you can react to problems early. You can use copper fungicides and pesticides based on natural substances or vegetable active ingredients, such as nettle macerate, which is effective against many common parasites (we previously published a blog article about natural treatments for taking care of the vegetable patch).
Now that the chilly season has arrived, you need to protect potted fruit plants from the cold by moving them inside, applying mulch or covering the canopies: these are just some of the typical jobs to be done in the winter garden. Mulching also serves to keep the potting soil moist, in both summer and winter: all you need is some DIY compost, made using a balcony composting bin. Here you will find further information about mulching and making your own compost.
You need minimal tools to grow fruit trees on your patio and hand tools will suffice. In case you want to try planting standard fruit trees in a plot of land or a corner of your garden, it is advisable to have appropriate power tools. From a rotary tiller for working the soil to a transporter for carrying loads, from a brushcutter to a garden tractor and wheeled brushcutter for clearing the area, from a chainsaw for pruning to a mistblower for applying pesticides.
Protective clothing: although utility gloves and protective spectacles may suffice for a balcony garden, in a full-sized orchard you need clothing that protects you from high-powered tools with sharp moving parts.