When you pot up a fruit tree, you can savor springtime blossoms and feast on fall fruit anywhere -- 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.
- Start your tree-potting project in early spring, while the trees are still dormant. Bare-root trees work especially well, although potted nursery stock can be used, too. Shop a mail-order company with a good reputation, or use a high-quality nursery. Shop between late January and March for the best selection of bare-root trees.
- Look for trees that are vigorous, whose wood looks good, and trees that are not desiccated, scuffed, bruised, or split. Check the graft union (the bump near where roots meet trunk). Has it healed? Are there cracks or dead tissue or peeling bark? Sometimes the graft doesn't take, so it's smart to take a few minutes to examine the joint. If it's not a solid union, it may break years later from the load of the fruit.
- 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.
You can choose either ornamental or fruit-bearing fruit trees for your container. Here are some choices:
- Crabapples ('Red Flash' and 'Centennial')
- Any apple on M27 or P22 rootstock
- Genetic dwarf plants, such as peaches and nectarines
- Figs (they actually like being root bound)
Think big. Don't squish a tree into anything smaller than 18 inches in diameter. Preferably, choose a pot 20 inches or wider. Containers can be plastic, terra-cotta, wood, or ceramic.
Large half whiskey barrels and plastic pots offer low prices and high durability. Plastic is lightweight, making it easier to move your tree. In most cases, a dolly or a pot with wheels will be helpful, since you should move the tree into a sheltered area -- a garage or shed -- during the winter to protect the tree and to keep the container from freezing.
Choose good-quality potting soil for your container. Ask at a local nursery, and look for nutrients to mix with the soil, such as bonemeal, blood meal, and bat guano. Garden soil will be too heavy, may not drain well, and may have insects, weeds, or other problems.
Continued on page 2: Planting and Care