Fruit growing has undergone quite a transformation over the years.
There was a time when oodles of growing space was essential for anyone interested in cultivating even a modest collection of apples, pears, plums, etc.
But not now. Browse a specialist catalogue or visit a garden centre and you’ll find a selection of dwarf trees perfectly capable of turning the dream of a container-grown patio orchard into reality.
Look for apples grafted onto the M27 rootstock, plums on Pixie and cherries on Colt if you want the fruits to stay within picking distance.
Varieties grown on dwarfing rootstocks also tend to mature and start production earlier than counterparts grafted onto more vigorous root-stocks.
Add the advantage of a cultivar that is self-fertile and there’s a good chance of instant cropping. Our plum tree was planted in the autumn and a modest crop formed the following summer. This has also been the case with apple trees.
Recent developments with soft fruits also point towards dwarf types for containers. Two autumn fruiters, Raspberry Little Red Princess and Blackberry Little Black Prince, are also thorn-less.
Having made the decision to grow a few fruits in containers, think about the possibilities. Peach and nectarine plants are constantly being temptingly offered through the press, and a diversity of soft fruits adapt well to container cultivation.
Whichever you choose, the key is to remember that unlike garden-grown plants, those in containers will always have a restricted root system. Apart from the occasional shower, they will rely on you for food and water. So first priority has to be the growing medium.
My preferred container for an apple tree is a large terracotta pot. The drainage holes at the base of this are covered with a two centimetres layer of large pebbles or small stones. This is then overlaid with a piece of turf, grass downward-facing.
Now for the compost. Peat-based is not suitable because it is constantly drying out.
Soil is so much better thanks to its bulky nature, and John Innes number 3 potting compost is ideal. Alternatively, make up your own mixture, it’s not too difficult and saves money.