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Fruiting Trees You Can Grow in Containers

Apples, peaches, and other tree fruits are ideal candidates for containers. Beautiful spring flowers followed by luscious fruit — what’s not to love? Fruit trees do require a bit more care than other fruits, especially when it comes to managing insects and diseases. The results are well worth the extra effort.

If you want full-sized fruit on your apple, peach, plum, or nectarine tree you have to remove some of the fruit by hand, which lets the tree focus its energy on the remaining fruit. When the fruit is about the size of a quarter, pinch off all but one fruit per cluster, leaving the remaining fruit are 6 to 8 inches apart.

  • Apples: Most apple varieties are available grown on a nice selection of dwarfing rootstocks that allow you to choose almost any size tree. One of many good rootstocks for containers is EMLA 27, which usually gives you a 5- to 7-foot-high tree.

    • Growing tips: Most apples need cross-pollination, so you may need to plant more than one variety. Trees need regular pruning. The fruit must be thinned.

    • Adaptation: If you choose the right varieties, apples can be grown almost anywhere temperatures don’t fall below –20 degrees Fahrenheit

  • Apricots: Apricot trees generally get too big (about 15 feet) to grow in containers for any prolonged period. However, some catalogs sell varieties on dwarfing rootstocks.

    • Growing tips: Some varieties need cross-pollination to produce fruit; others are self-fruitful. Trees require annual pruning to remain healthy and fruitful. The fruit must be thinned to reach full size.

    • Adaptation: Apricots have a rather limited range of adaptation, preferring areas with long, dry summers. In other areas, they’re prone to disease. Trees also bloom very early, making the blossoms subject to frost damage.

  • Citrus: Where winter temperatures don’t fall much below 26 degrees Fahrenheit, many varieties of citrus make excellent container plants year-round. In other areas, trees can be brought indoors. Some of the naturally smaller citrus that can thrive in containers for years include Meyer lemon, Bearss lime, and the hardier Nagami kumquat and Satsuma mandarins. Otherwise, grow just about any variety grafted on Flying Dragon dwarf rootstock for the perfect 6- to 8-foot-high container tree.

    • Growing tips: Most varieties are self-fruitful and don’t need to be pruned to remain productive. Feed with fertilizers that contain zinc, iron, and manganese to avoid micronutrient deficiencies

    • Adaptation: Varieties vary by cold hardiness and the amount of summer heat that they need to ripen fruit. In very cool summer areas, grow acidic fruit like lemons and limes.

  • Cherries: Normally quite large trees (upwards of 35 feet), most sweet cherries are not well-adapted to growing in containers. There are bush cherries available, such as Jan and Joel, that get 4 feet tall and wide. You need two varieties for cross-pollination.

    • Growing tips: Most varieties must be matched carefully with another to ensure cross-pollination. Some, like Dwarf Northstar, are self-fruitful. Prune annually to keep trees healthy and productive.

    • Adaptation: Local variety adaptation is very important. Cherries are best grown in areas with mild, dry summers. In other areas diseases can run rampant.

  • Figs: With beautiful, large, lobed, tropical-looking leaves, figs are really eye-catching in containers. Although they’re normally quite large trees (up to 40 feet high), severe pruning can keep them more pot-size — and they still bear fruit. Figs are only hardy to about 15 degrees Fahrenheit, but they can be brought into a cool garage to get them through cold winters.

    • Growing tips: Figs are pretty much carefree — just keep plants watered, fertilized, and if necessary, protected in winter

    • Adaptation: Other than the sensitivity to cold temperatures, figs are widely adapted.

  • Peaches and nectarines: Both types of fruit are available in genetic dwarf varieties, like El Dorado, Garden Gold, and Stark Sensation peaches and the nectarine, Nectarcrest. All are perfectly suited to container growing. They’re attractive trees with a compact, muscular-looking appearance. They reach about 4 to 6 feet high in a container and are self-fruitful.

    • Growing tips: Prune the trees annually to keep the center open. Thin heavily to ensure large fruit at harvest time.

    • Adaptation: Peaches and nectarines are best adapted to areas with hot, dry summers. They can be grown in other areas, but diseases are more troublesome.

  • Pears: Pears are available on dwarfing rootstocks, but the result is still a tree that can reach 10 to 15 feet high.

    • Growing tips: Fruit thinning usually isn’t necessary. Some varieties need cross-pollination. Otherwise, pears are pretty easy to care for.

    • Adaptation: European varieties like Bartlett, Bosc, and Comice are best adapted to dry summer areas that have fairly cold winters. Hybrid pears, like Kieffer, often have lower chilling requirements.

  • Plums: Plums are generally too large to remain healthy in anything but the largest container for more than a few years. Even dwarfing rootstocks can get over 10 feet high.

    • Growing tips: Prune regularly to keep them healthy and productive. Thin to maintain fruit size.

    • Adaptation: Plum trees are widely adapted but subject to diseases in areas with warm, wet summers.

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