Pot your way to fruit this year


ALWAYS WANTED to grow your own fruit trees, but don’t have a garden? Well, you can still have your mini orchard on a terrace, patio or balcony if you use pots to plant your trees in.

On a deck, on a patio, or even on a sliver of balcony, a dwarf fruit tree needs sunlight and almost no growing room.

You can move it, although once the container is full of soil and the tree gains bulk, you may not wish to move it often.

You also will want to keep the potted tree within reach of the hose for easy maintenance. Otherwise, get set for easy pickings of apples, pears, figs, or other fruit, no matter how limited your space is.

Choose a tree with a balanced shape, such as a tree with four to five solid, evenly spaced branches. You may not be able to see the roots, but they are important.

There should be plenty of undamaged, fine white roots (known as hair roots). The more healthy hair roots on the tree, the better the chance of transplant success because these are the tree’s lifeline to nutrients and water.


1. ADD SOIL. Make sure drainage holes are clear in a pot at least 18 inches wide. Add commercial planting mix with a pH of about 6.5. Firm the soil and moisten slightly as you mound it up in the middle of the pot as a base for the roots.

2. PREP TREE. Tip the tree and gently work it loose from the nursery pot—don’t pull it by the branches. Tease the roots apart, or use a hose to rinse the soil out of the roots. Trim off overlong or damaged roots.

3. SET TREE. Use a straightedge to center the tree on the mound. Let roots drape down around the mound. The graft union of the tree should be just above your planned final soil level. Adjust the mound level until it sets correctly.

4. BACKFILL. When the tree is set, fill the pot with potting soil around the roots up to the graft union. Work quickly, so the roots are exposed as briefly as possible.

5. WATER. Soak the soil and let it drain. This eliminates air pockets around the roots. Add potting soil if settling occurs. Repeat.

6. ADD SUPPORT. Support the young tree. A 1×1 trellis anchored in the pot works well, or use bamboo or other stakes. Loosely tie the tree to the support. Rigid tying can harm the tree.


Set the pot in a sunny site out of the wind. Wind can be hard on a young tree and will dry out containers quickly. When the soil dries out to about an inch deep, water the tree thoroughly.

Limit pruning to severely damaged, broken, diseased, or crossing branches.

Remove a tree from its container every two or three years, and prune the roots so they do not circle around inside the container. Replace the soil with new potting mix. Then replant the tree in it. The hardest task may be waiting.

For the first two or three seasons, let the tree flower, but pinch off developing fruit. If the tree bears fruit too soon, it will not establish sufficient roots and wood strength. It may grow lopsided, new branches may not develop, and the tree eventually may break.

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