Dwarfing rootstock makes it possible to have orchard in pots

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Picking fresh fruit in season is an important part of my gardening life, and the good news is that so much progress has been made in developing dwarfing rootstocks that mini-orchards on patios are perfectly feasible.

Arguably, you no longer need a garden, just space for containers, but that would need a little planning.

It helps if the site gets a sprinkling of sunlight and you choose self-fertile varieties.

Remember that the roots of any plant growing in a container cannot go foraging and are totally reliant on you for food and water.

Lightweight composts, such as peat-based ones, dry out too quickly. Soil-based John Innes is better because it has a bulky nature and is much more reliable in retaining moisture.

If organic-rich garden soil is used as a substitute, be prepared for weeds appearing.

Make sure there is adequate drainage. A layer of large pebbles helps. I cover these with a piece of turf, grass facing down, then plant up.

Any potentially tall tree planted in a container will have its natural growth restricted, be it an ash or apple, but by choosing any of the fruiting types deliberately grafted onto dwarfing rootstocks, you have the best possible chance of success.

A Victoria plum growing on Pixy rootstock in this garden has grown no taller than three metres in as many decades.

There was a modest harvest the first year after planting. Most fruits on dwarf rootstocks offer this, unlike their counterparts.

Had it been on Saint Julien stock, we’d have had to wait longer for fruit and eventually use ladders to harvest.

M27 is the most dwarfing for apples at less than two metres tall after 10 years.

More vigorous types, such as M111, are not suitable for small gardens or patios.

Gisela 5 is the dwarfing answer for Stella and Morello cherries.

Soft fruits are an important part of our annual harvests because any excess can be preserved in the freezer.

Most bushes can be pot-grown. Strawberries lend themselves to tower cultivation, and if you plant primo-cane raspberries over the next week or so, they’ll actually fruit this year.

If there’s a little space outside the house and fruit-growing is on your wish-list, now’s the time to act.

Start with a few strawberry plants in a tub, have the first with cream over Wimbledon fortnight and, believe me, you’ll want more.

 Alnwick Garden Club meets on Tuesday, February 23, at 7.30pm in the town hall.