Not enough room for an orchard? Try planting a small fruit tree in a container.
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.
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.
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 1x1 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.