How to Select Fruiting Plants for Container Gardening
Certain characteristics make some fruits better than others for growing in containers. But first and foremost, grow what you like to eat! If you love fresh strawberries on your cereal, by all means give them a go. If blueberries are your morning fruit of choice, plant those. And if you live in Minnesota but still dream of having a lemon tree, containers make it possible.
Some fruiting plants are just smaller than others and, consequently, make easy container subjects. Strawberries, for example, grow on tiny, clumpy plants that are perfect for pots.
Even within fruit types, some varieties can be better for containers than others. Meyer lemons, for instance, are compact plants that easily stay below 6 feet in a large container. Eureka lemons, on the other hand, get huge — upward of 20 feet — not a good container choice.
Not all fruits can be grown everywhere. Fruit trees have varying degrees of hardiness to winter cold temperatures. Many also need a certain amount of winter cold (called chilling hours) before they bloom and set fruit; types that set fruit in mild winters are called low-chill. Some, like peaches, grow best where summers are hot and dry. Others, like raspberries, prefer cool summers. Remarkable differences in adaptation even exist among different varieties of the same fruit type. The point is, if you want to grow quality fruit, select types and varieties that are well adapted to your area. To find out for sure, ask your local nursery person or Cooperative Extension agent.
Fruits grown in containers are less winter-hardy than those grown in the ground. Even hardy trees and shrubs, such as apples and blueberries, need winter protection in cold climates. Move evergreen citrus and other semitropicals into a greenhouse or indoors in winter.
Most good potting soils work fine for growing fruit and berries. Blueberries are an exception — they require a very acidic soil, which can be created by mixing any good potting mix with 50 percent peat moss.
In general, the bigger the container the better. For most fruit, you need at least a 15-gallon size container or one with at least an 18- to 24-inch-wide diameter. Half barrels work well. Strawberries and some dwarf blueberries can be grown in smaller pots.
Fruit and berries can be purchased bare-root (without any soil around their roots) during the dormant season or already growing in containers at other times of year. Fruits and berries need full sun and regular water and fertilizer. Skimp on any of these, and you’ll get reduced yields and poorer fruit quality.