A miniature orchard will bring colour and interest to a patio… not to mention fruit, says Adrienne Wild
Growing your own fruit bowl is rewarding and possible in the tiniest of gardens, where pots are used to support vitamin-rich favourites like apples, pears, plums and cherries, plus the more exotic peaches, nectarines, grapes and figs alongside your ornamentals.
To grow fruit trees in pots for the patio select dwarf forms, such as apples that have been grafted on to M27 rootstock, and Ballerina trees, which have a columnar habit and can be trained to make ornamental features, such as an arch or fruiting tunnel that leads to a sunny sitting area.
Apples, pears, plums, gages, damsons and self-pollinating cherries, such as ‘Sunburst’, are available as slim-fit Minarette trees, which are created by clever pruning at the nursery to achieve a columnar, vertical cordon effect.
They bear their fruits on short spurs along the length of a vertical stem and are perfect for making a peep-through screen to wrap round the patio to add privacy.
Unlike Ballerinas, Minarette trees require regular summer pruning whereby all the new season’s growth is trimmed back to two to three leaves.
Winter pruning is only necessary once the tree is in full production and new fruiting spurs are needed.
Pruning may also be needed to maintain shape and remove any damaged or diseased shoots, or any that are crossing as these may rub and encourage disease.
To avoid a disappointing fruit crop, check the pollination needs of any apple varieties you’re growing. If it isn’t self-pollinating, you may need to grow more than one plant in order to see fruit.
Buy ‘Pixie’ plum trees, which reach about 1.8m, for containers and if you need to prune, do it in spring or summer and never in the dormant season, otherwise the plant will be at risk of being infected by silver leaf disease.
When you prune shoots, always cut to just above a bud or where the shoot joins a main branch.
If there is a late frost, be aware that a plum tree could lose most of its flowers and the fruit set will be poor.
If there is a summer drought or an excessive amount of rain, the fruit crop will also suffer, so be vigilant when it comes to finding the plant a warm, sheltered spot on the patio and give copious amounts of food and water throughout the growing season.
Plan to re-pot every two years to keep the plant productive.
Note, too, that plums should be picked a few days before they are fully ripe and allowed to ripen in store, or they will go soft.
Don’t let squashy, overripe fruits, or a bumper crop, go to waste, though, as the addition of sugar and water can magically turn them into tasty jam.
Alternatively, steep them in gin, rum or brandy to make a delicious Christmas tipple.
Figs, peaches and nectarines
These benefit from being grown in pots as restricting the root growth leads to shorter fig plants loaded with fruit.
The fully hardy fig variety ‘Brown Turkey’ and the outstanding new Bavarian fig ‘Violetta’ and old French variety ‘Rouge de Bordeaux’ can be relied on to grow well in containers.
In milder districts of the UK, it’s possible to grow an exotic peach on a sunny, sheltered patio.
Look for a self-fertile dwarf variety such as ‘Garden Lady’ and ‘Bonanza’, which produces pink flowers in spring followed in midsummer by a heavy crop of sweet-tasting, yellow-fleshed edible peaches.
If you want regular-sized peaches, which will ripen in mid-June, thin out the tiny fruitlets after the risk of frost is past, otherwise leave the small fruits to develop and use them for preserving.
If you prefer the smooth skins of nectarines then you could try ‘Nectarella’ or white-fleshed ‘Terrace Ruby’.
These varieties require little or no pruning and stay quite compact, reaching only 1.2-1.5m in 10 years.
Citrus fruits and vines
Although they are not hardy in Britain, citrus fruits can be grown in pots outdoors in summer and brought into a cool frost-free conservatory or porch for the winter.
Of all the lemons for pots, ‘Meyer’ is the best as it has a compact, tight bunching habit. Ensure the container is large enough and has good drainage and be sure to water regularly.
Grapevines will also grow in pots provided they, too, have good drainage and plenty of sun. Training them as standards, with a main stem topped by a small group of branches is best.
Choose a wide-bottomed pot and fill the base with a layer of gravel for stability. Use John Innes No. 3 potting compost and feed with a high potash tomato feed during the summer.