Stella Otto: The Backyard Fruit Gardener

Today's Tip: Mow vegetation short around the base of fruit trees and bushes to reduce winter habitat for rodents.

Fruit Growing in Containers — A Solution for Gardeners with Limited Space and Time

In today’s mobile soci­ety con­tainer gar­den­ing can be the answer for pas­sion­ate green thumbs who do not have their own per­ma­nent piece of ground or only a very small one. Con­tainer gar­den­ing makes sense for a num­ber of reasons:

New gar­den­ers can start small and add to their gar­den as expe­ri­ence increases their expertise.

Many con­tain­ers are mov­able, so ten­ants can actu­ally take their gar­dens along if they move.

Con­tainer gar­dens are time sav­ing. By the nature of the plants that are typ­i­cally grown in   con­tain­ers, most tasks such as plant­ing, prun­ing, and pest con­trol are greatly simplified.

Weed­ing  is essen­tially eliminated.

Con­tain­ers and the plants in them can be very dec­o­ra­tive and; placed where you can high­light that beauty; add an accent to your out­door liv­ing space.

Con­tain­ers can be raised and placed so that gar­den­ers with mobil­ity restric­tions or arthri­tis that makes bend­ing dif­fi­cult can reach them eas­ily and con­tinue to enjoy the exer­cise that   comes with gardening.

Con­tainer gar­dens can range in size from straw­ber­ries in a win­dow box or a group­ing of flower pots, to a blue­berry bush in a large half whiskey bar­rel, all the way up to a dwarf peach tree in a metal live­stock water tank. In cer­tain respects, fruit grown in con­tain­ers have the same require­ments as fruit grown directly in the ground:

  •  ade­quate sunlight
  •   proper nutrients
  •   suf­fi­cient mois­ture and proper soil drainage
  •   amenable cli­mate with ade­quate chill­ing to sat­isfy dor­mancy needs of the plant
  •   pro­tec­tion from exces­sive tissue-damaging cold or frost dam­age to early flow­er­ing blossoms
  •   proper grow­ing sea­son to mature a crop to full flavor

How­ever, the means used to pro­vide some of these neces­si­ties to container-grown fruit may be dif­fer­ent than for in-ground plants.

Although the grow­ing medium used for con­tainer plants is often referred to as “pot­ting soil,” it is typ­i­cally actu­ally a soil­less mix­ture that is specif­i­cally cre­ated to hold mois­ture while pro­vid­ing drainage. It is best to use one of these prepa­ra­tions rather than using soil directly from the gar­den, as all the bio­log­i­cal processes that take place in a vibrant healthy soil do not take place prop­erly in the con­fines of a container.

Con­tainer grown fruit plants are sub­ject to dry­ing out very quickly, so will require more fre­quent water­ing. With fre­quent water­ing comes leach­ing of nutri­ents. Reg­u­lar dilute appli­ca­tions of bal­anced fer­til­iz­ers every 2 weeks or so dur­ing the grow­ing sea­son will help pro­vide a steady sup­ply of nutri­ents for the plants’ needs.

Although we can not alter cli­matic con­di­tions, mov­ing container-grown fruit to pro­tected loca­tions allows for some pro­tec­tion from unsuit­able weather. Con­tainer grow­ing also gives one the option of locat­ing the plant where the req­ui­site 6 or more hours of sun­light occurs, even if that spot is on a patio or doorstep where there may be no soil to plant in.

Fruit plants best adapted to container-growing include straw­ber­ries; dwarf vari­eties of blue­ber­ries, apples, and peaches; as well as rhubarb or a sin­gle grape vine. So dig in, exper­i­ment and enjoy no mat­ter where or how you grow your fruit­ful garden.

©2013. Adapted from the Back­yard Berry Book: A hands-on guide to grow­ing berries, bram­bles, and vine fruit in the home gar­den and the Back­yard Orchardist: A com­plete guide to grow­ing fruit trees in the home gar­den by Stella Otto.