Top fruit tree growing advice and information from Real English Fruit

Soils and container choices for mobile trees

Suffolk PinkIt is important to ask the question: are fruit trees suitable to live and produce fruit in containers? Just visualize the enormous change we humans present to fruit trees. Under normal conditions the trees can explore and find the nutritional elements they need in a great volume of soil. If they cannot find what they need close by, the tree roots grow either deeper or further outwards until they finds the major/trace elements essential for their wellbeing. If however we plant our trees in a container, then we dramatically curtail root growth and make the trees very much dependent on us for their nutrition and moisture requirements. Some plants are more fruitful in containers. Take for example the fig. If it is planted in good, well-drained soil without any root restriction, it will tend to produce wonderful leaves. But this is often, under our climatic conditions, at the expense of fruiting.

Summarising, if we plant fruit trees in containers, then the type and quality of soil is of the greatest importance. What is a good quality soil? A good soil has a crumb-like structure, and the sand and clay particles are present in such a ratio to make it possible for the tree to take up everything that it needs; oxygen, water and the essential nutritional elements. Soil-based John Innes compost number 3 comes the closest to fulfilling these requirements.

There are numerous choices available in the form of containers for fruit trees. Containers have a great effect on the wellbeing of fruit trees. To begin with, the size/volume of the tree is in direct relation to the size and capacity of the container. The bigger the container, the larger the tree. That of course if soil and water are readily available for the tree roots to explore. Secondly, not only the dimension of the container used is of influence. It does make a difference if it is a clay pot, plastic or made from any other material. Roots of fruit trees like to stay cool. Thin plastic pots are not suitable. Double-walled plastic is fine. Whichever pot is chosen, the drainage holes must never be blocked. Excess water in the container kills a tree just as quickly as drought. Therefore make sure the holes are loosely covered with broken clay pot pieces. A good size container will have a depth of 45 cm and a diameter at the top of approximately 40 cm. After a couple of years, repot the tree in a larger pot, using a soil-based compost.

When to feed and how to water your trees

A watering can is not ideal. Particularly in containers one needs to pay close attention to the fact that more often than not the water, when applied using a watering can, escapes via the sides of the pot or container. The water comes through the drainage holes and one thinks one has done a good job of watering. The centre of the pot stays dry and the trees suffer from water stress. It is better to apply the water via a drip system , which applies little water each time it drips. Also, soil is often very difficult to rewet if allowed to dry out too much.

Apply water and nutrients at a regular intervals, definitely before wilting occurs. For fruit trees, apply a general purpose fertilizer such as Growmore in the early spring. To strengthen fruit buds apply a light dressing after picking the fruit. Slow release fertilizers can do a good job. You can also foliar feed your trees with very good results. Fruit trees like good light conditions and if possible a sheltered position.

Some cooking apples will do reasonably well if partly shaded. However cherries, pears and peaches do best when grown in full sunlight. Plums do also well in slightly shaded positions. No fruit tree does well if put completely in the shade of a wall or another tree.

Which types of fruit tree can be grown in containers?

Single stem trees such as cordons usually do well. More demanding are espalier and fan types of trees. Pears, and apricots are ideal for growing as espaliers. Cherries, peaches and plums do better when grown in an open fan shape.

Over cropping

It is very nice to grow a good crop. If you overcrop the tree, the following year the tree does not crop at all or only a little. It therefore pays to thin the fruitlets, whichever type of crop it is.

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