Grow fruit even in limited spaces

by How Does Your Garden Grow? By Sharon Daniels

You can grow your own fruit crops even if you don’t have land to plant anything into the ground, or if your soil is terrible, or if you’d prefer a crop to be sited near the house, or if you may move in the future and want to take your orchard along.

Large containers make this possible.

Strawberries have long been planted in large tub containers or in pyramid terraced gardens which accommodate their runners.

A 10- to 15-gallon pot can accommodate dwarf thornless raspberries which bear full-size fruit, or a crop of self-fertile gooseberries.

An even larger container can let you harvest from dwarf cherries which grow 6 or 8 feet tall and wide but are easier to pick from than a full-size cherry tree, or even an apple tree grafted on dwarf rootstock. You do need two varieties of apples for cross-pollination.

Some fig varieties are fairly perishable, but if you grow them at home you can harvest fresh ones. I found a self-fertile fig for container culture or small spaces, so you can eat fresh fruit or dry it for later use.

Don’t use native soil when you plant fruits in containers. Instead, mix 50 percent medium bark, 30 percent peat or peat/compost and 20 percent perlite. For each five gallons, add two tablespoons lime and dolomite lime each, one tablespoon kelp meal and one tablespoon bone meal or rock phosphate.

You may not need a huge amount of soil as the rootball will help fill the pot and you add fresh mix to the bottom and around sides and top.

Blueberries are delicious to eat out of hand, top breakfast cereals, cook into jam, or bake in muffins, cobblers and pancakes. Grocers sell them year-round, but if you have the space, they are easy enough to raise in containers.

Patio blueberries stay naturally small and are readily available. Check the gardening catalogs which may be filling your mailbox this month. Some patio blueberries grow about three feet tall and produce a few pounds of full-size fruit. Others are classified as “very dwarf” and remain only a few inches high even when they are four or five years old.

Blueberries should be pollinated with a cultivar which flowers at the same time. Look for varieties you harvest early or later to extend the crop period.

Some container-grown fruit crops may be indoors at least in cold months of the year. This is not a new concept as wealthy families in the 17th through 19th centuries had the means and desire to have fresh fruit, and it became fashionable—as well as practical—to build orangeries.

Orangeries were forerunners of greenhouses, either added to a residence or constructed as stand-alone buildings with expanses of glass to admit sun.

Crops then usually were oranges, lemons and limes. Many of these can still be grown indoors, as can kumquats. Meyer lemons are a popular choice but be aware that they may grow large.

Sharon Daniels is a Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener volunteer.