Fruit growing

Growing fruit trees in containers – The complete growing guide

Last updated on April 28th, 2022

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Growing fruit trees in a container is not nearly as difficult as you would think and it actually brings with it some advantages. A smaller fruit tree in a container is much easier to move around your patio or garden to take advantage of the sun and the shade patterns throughout the day or throughout the seasons.

If you don’t have soil or a position that is well-suited to a particular type of fruit, maybe you simply don’t have any beds or borders at all, you can fill a larger container with the exact growing medium you need to grow whatever you want. Finally, growing fruit trees in containers make it possible for you to grow species that wouldn’t otherwise thrive in your garden.

Always choose fruit trees that have a dwarf root stock

When you have selected the fruit tree you want to plant, always choose a dwarf or a semi-dwarf specimen that has been grafted onto a dwarf root stock. This is usually stated on the label attached to the tree, apple trees, for example, might say M9 or M26.

If you plant a full-size variety it will be very difficult to grow in a pot, no matter the size of the pot. However, most dwarf or semi-dwarf varieties can be grown in a larger container without experiencing any issues. You will have to keep an eye on the tree and once it exhausts its space you’ll have to move it slowly into a slightly larger container, however, most can be contained for a few years in the same pot, if not longer.


Fruit trees to choose from

The best fruit tree varieties for containers include apples. You can grow one type of self-fertilising apple variety very easily because some new types have two varieties grafted to one root stock and these will cross pollinate, however, we recommend getting two separate varieties that cross pollinate because this is usually the better option.

Duo Fruit Apple Tree 2 Varieties on 1 Bare Root Tree Ideal for Small Gardens
  • Now you can grow two family favourite apple varieties from one tree - space saving and easy to grow!
  • Cooking Apple Bramley and Eating Apple Braeburn have both been grafted on to the same tree!
  • This novelty and compact tree will reward you with pounds of cooking and eating apples for years to come.
  • As the tree already has a 'V' shape this tree could be trained along a wall or fence.
  • Supplied as a bare root, grower quality tree, grafted on a single rootstock with 2 apple varieties.

Cherries work well in pots and containers because they have shallow roots, look for a Colt or Gisela 5 root stock. If you are growing a sweet variety it will need a lot of sun and water, and a sour variety can tolerate more shade.

Dwarf Patio Stella Cherry Tree, in a 5L Pot, Miniature & Self-Fertile 3fatpigs®
  • Dwarf Patio Stella Cherry Tree, In a 5L Pot, Miniature & Self-Fertile
  • Patio Stella Cherry will give a very heavy crop of delicious sweet full sized fruit in Summer. It can be kept in a pot inside or outside and will crop best in a sunny spot.You will be able to produce a lot of fruit from a small space with this small tree.
  • Common Name: Cherry Genus: Prunus Cultivar: Stella Skill Level: Beginner Exposure: Full sun, Partial shade Hardiness: Hardy Soil type: All, except very damp Other Notes: Self Fertile
  • This is a very reliable variety which will give excellent results in a warm, sunny and reasonably sheltered position.

Peaches and nectarines work well as long as you give them protection against cold spells by moving them underneath a lean-to shelter from autumn to late winter to protect them from peach leaf curl.

Patio Peach Tree 'Crimson' (R) Bare Root Tree 70cm
  • Dozens of simply delicious, juicy fruits on this compact variety. It's perfect in a patio pot!
  • Gorgeous sweet scented peach blossom and unique deep-burgundy foliage.
  • Fully winter hardy, and very easy to grow.
  • Supplied as a 50-60cm tall, grower quality, multi-branched bare-root tree.
  • Grown on a dwarfing rootstock. Will grow to approx. 1.5m (5ft) in 5 years.

Plums can succeed in containers if you choose self-fertilising varieties, such as ‘Duke of York’, ‘Garden Anny’, ‘Garden Lady’, ‘Peregrine’ and ‘Rochester’. Make sure you add plenty of sand or perlite to your potting soil to optimise drainage.

Dwarf Patio Victoria Plum Tree, in a 5L Pot, Miniature & Self-Fertile 3fatpigs®
  • Dwarf Patio Victoria Plum Tree, In a 5L Pot, Miniature & Self-Fertile
  • Patio Victoria Plum will give a very heavy crop of delicious sweet full sized fruit in Summer. It can be kept in a pot inside or outside and will crop best in a sunny spot.You will be able to produce a lot of fruit from a small space with this small tree.
  • Common Name: Plum Genus: Prunus Species: Domestica Cultivar: Victoria Skill Level: Beginner Exposure: Full sun, Partial shade Hardiness: Hardy Soil type: All, except very damp Height: 180cm Spread: 100cm Other Notes: Self Fertile
  • This is a very reliable variety which will give excellent results in a warm, sunny and reasonably sheltered position. As with all trees from the prunus family, the leaves will start to appear autumnal and slightly shabby with holes from mid July on wards. This is not a disease nor caused by insects, but is mainly due to this years contrasting weather conditions and will not affect the performance of the tree.

Both summer and autumn fruit producing varieties of raspberries and blueberries can be grown in pots as well. You don’t need specific varieties to receive a harvest of fruit, but blueberries need soil-based ericaceous compost.

Recommended root stock guide

  • Apple: M9, M26 (M27 is too dwarfing)
  • Cherry: Colt or Gisela 5
  • Pear: Quince C
  • Plum, damson, peach, nectarine: Pixy or St Julien A
  • Apricot: St Julien A or Torinel

Always pick the right soil – John Innes potting compost

The biggest consideration when growing fruit trees in a container is the soil. The potting soil you choose is going to need much more water than it would in the ground and you’re also going to need to increase the drainage more than you would in the ground, plus don’t forget to add some broken crockery to the bottom of the pot to prevent the drainage holes from becoming blocked.

We recommend using soil-based compost, for example, John Innes potting compost. The other alternative is to use a multi-purpose compost and mix in plenty of grit, around one-third grid to two-thirds multipurpose compost. Because fruit trees are hungry plants we also recommend mixing in some slow-release fertiliser tablets too.

Tigerbox 2 x 10 Litre Levington John Innes No.3 Compost Repotting Mature Plants
  • 2 x Levington John Innes no.3 compost 10 litre
  • Ideally matched to the needs of mature plants perfect for the final repotting of mature plants
  • Traditional mixture of loam peat and washed and graded horticultural grit
  • Re-potting is best done in the spring when plants are actively growing

Use quality pots that are heavy and stable to prevent them from being blown over

Just because a container is more expensive to purchase doesn’t mean it’s better quality. You should always choose a high-quality container for a tree and avoid materials like plastic because they tend to be light and easily blown over unless, of course, they are in a sheltered position or inside a greenhouse or conservatory.

Trees are going to need large sturdy pots that can handle the extra weight of the tree and the soil, but more importantly, help keep the tree fully upright. It should always be at least 50cm in diameter when you are just first planting your fruit tree, with polyurethane or ceramic being the optimum choices.


Always overwinter your fruit trees by giving them shelter

If possible you should overwinter your trees by providing them with shelter, and growing them in pots makes this particularly easy. You can store your fruit trees in your unheated greenhouse or at least in a sheltered position during the winter if they are being kept outdoors. Ideally, you want a location where the temperature doesn’t drop below -9°C for long periods of time and is protected from the worst of the winter weather.


Use the right food and water

Regularly applying time-released fertilisers will help keep your fruit tree healthy and optimise the fruit it produces. Don’t over-fertilise them and always follow the directions on the label.

The best fertiliser for fruit trees will have a wide selection of trace minerals, with high levels of nitrogen. A high-potassium liquid tomato feed can work really well and is worth using once every 2 weeks.

Levington Tomorite Concentrated Tomato Food 2.5 Litre, Red
  • Easy to apply simply mix with water in a watering can according to instructions
  • For tomatoes and flowering pot plants
  • With seaweed extract for maximum growth and better crops
  • Produces high quality, full-flavoured tomatoes
  • Can also be used with crops such as peppers and aubergines

In the summer, when the weather is warmer, make sure you give them the right amount of water so they don’t dry out. If you have containers that are made from terracotta or clay the porous material will cause the soil to dry out quickly, so you should increase your watering accordingly. We recommend letting the surface of the soil become dry between watering but don’t let them get too dry between watering, especially when they are producing fruit. You just want to avoid overwatering.

Last update on 2022-03-17 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Welcome to my site, my name is John and I have been lucky enough to work in horticultural nurseries for over 15 years in the UK. As the founder and editor as well as researcher, I have a City & Guilds Horticultural Qualifications which I proudly display on our About us page. I now work full time on this website where I review the very best gardening products and tools and write reliable gardening guides. Behind this site is an actual real person who has worked and has experience with the types of products we review as well as years of knowledge on the topics we cover from actual experience. You can reach out to me at john@pyracantha.co.uk

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