Fruit trees are a great way to add beauty to your yard while giving you the chance to harvest some delicious produce during the year. However, if you have limited space, you might want to grow fruit trees in a pot.
So, can fruit trees grow in pots? Fruit trees do grow in pots, and your best bet is dwarf fruit trees. They have a limited size due to genetics (rootstock). You can keep fruit trees small with sensible pruning and small container sizes. You can grow apples, cherries, figs, lemons, limes, oranges, peaches, pears, and plums in pots.
Depending on the dwarf fruit tree you choose (and where you live), you might need to bring the pots indoors for the winter to keep them alive.
In this article, we’ll talk about growing fruit trees in pots and why dwarf fruit trees are a good choice. We’ll also talk about some important topics for potted fruit trees (such as container size, watering, and pruning).
Let’s get started.
Can Fruit Trees Grow In Pots?
You can grow fruit trees in pots, and your best bet will be dwarf fruit trees. Dwarf fruit trees are smaller than normal fruit trees, but they produce normal-size fruit (although with smaller yields).
The size of a dwarf fruit tree is limited by genetics, grafting, or environment.
- Genetics – dwarf fruit trees are selectively bred over generations by choosing smaller trees with less width and height (generally, dwarf fruit trees are not GMO, but you can check to be sure).
- Grafting – two or more varieties of one type of fruit are “combined” into one. This gives you the best characteristics of each tree (for example, a disease-resistant rootstock on the bottom and excellent fruit on the top).
- Environmental conditions – a fruit tree grown in a small container will have stunted growth, due to the limited space for its roots (similar to the idea for bonsai).
This smaller size makes it easier to move and care for dwarf fruit trees. It also makes pruning and harvesting much safer and more manageable.
Growing fruit trees in pots is a great option for small spaces (such as patios, porches, or balconies). The container size will depend on the fruit tree you choose and its maximum size (so, choose smaller varieties if you don’t have much space).
Fruit Tree Container Size
According to the University of Florida, new dwarf fruit trees often arrive in a pot that is about 4 inches in diameter. However, most fruit trees will soon outgrow this starter pot (even dwarf fruit trees).
Dwarf fruit trees may be able to grow for 1 to 2 years in container that is about 8 inches in diameter. However, further growth will be limited (due to the plant getting root-bound in the pot).
(For reference, a 5-gallon bucket has a diameter of about 12 inches).
At some point, you should transplant your fruit tree into another larger container. The University of Vermont suggests a minimum container size of 5 gallons, with repotting every 3 to 5 years.
The ideal dimensions of a pot for a fruit tree are:
- Volume: 15 to 20 gallons
- Width: 18 to 24 inches (1.5 to 2 feet)
- Depth: 12 to 16 inches (1 to 1.3 feet)
This larger pot size is ideal, since it leaves more room for root growth. Just remember that a 20 gallon pot with a tree and full of wet soil will be pretty heavy.
So, if you need to move a large container indoors for winter, decrease the weight. Harvest as much fruit as you can and let the soil dry out a bit to make the pot lighter before moving it.
Fruit Tree Container Materials
Containers made of stone, terra cotta, or ceramic are nice to look at, but they are heavy and difficult to move. They can also crack in the cold if water in the soil freezes.
If you need to move your fruit trees indoors for the winter, consider plastic pots instead. Plastic pots are lighter than clay, making them easier to move. They also retain more moisture than clay pots.
It is a good idea to fill your container with well-draining soil to prevent root rot. Soil that stays too wet for too long causes root rot, due to lack of air.
To create well-draining soil, try mixing 1 part peat moss with 1 part topsoil or potting soil.
How Often Do You Water Fruit Trees In Pots?
The best way to water fruit trees in pots is to feel the soil every few days.
- If the soil is wet on top, do not water.
- If the soil feels dry deeper than a few inches, then you can water.
You will need to water more often for fruit trees in pots than for fruit trees in the ground. The soil in containers will dry out faster, and a dwarf fruit tree in a container has a smaller root system.
You will also need to water fruit trees more often right after transplant. Give them less water later in the summer, and keep the soil just slightly damp in the winter.
If your potted fruit trees are outside in the summer, pay attention to the weather forecast. A hot, dry spell with no rain means you will have to water more often.
If you are going away, you can use water bottles turned upside down to drip water into the slowly over time (by gravity).
Due to faster drainage in pots, the soil may also lose nutrients faster. So, monitor with a pH test kit and add a slow-release fertilizer if needed.
How Do You Keep Fruit Trees Small?
There are three basic ways to keep fruit trees small:
- Container size – choose a small pot to limit the root system, which will reduce the growth and size of the fruit tree.
- Grafting – choose the variety of fruit you like best and graft it onto a dwarf rootstock to keep the tree small.
- Pruning – prune away branches as the tree grows, which will keep the height and width manageable.
When pruning potted fruit trees, follow the same principles as for standard size fruit trees. The best time to prune fruit trees is in late winter to early spring.
What Fruit Trees Are Best Grown In Pots?
The best fruit trees to grow in pots are dwarf varieties of various types, such as:
Let’s take a closer look at each type of dwarf fruit tree.
Apple trees are a great choice if you want to grow fruit at home. Even better, there are some dwarf apple trees that you can grow in pots.
There are also columnar (or “pillar”) apple trees available. These columnar apple trees have a very narrow branch structure, which means they have a limited width.
This makes them a good choice if you want to grow fruit in a tight space.
You can find the following columnar apple tree varieties at Stark Brothers:
You can also find the following columnar apple trees from Fast Growing Trees:
Cherry trees are another great choice if you want to grow fruit at home. However, you will have to decide if you want sour (tart) or sweet cherries.
Here are some dwarf cherry tree varieties you can choose from:
- The Carmine Jewel Dwarf cherry tree from Gurney’s (sour cherry).
- The Dwarf North Star cherry tree from Willis Orchard Company (sour cherry).
- The Juliet Dwarf cherry tree from Gurney’s (sour cherry that tastes sweet).
- The Romeo Dwarf cherry tree from Gurney’s (sour cherry, but with high sugar levels).
- The Sam Sweet Dwarf cherry tree from Stark Brothers (sweet cherry).
Most fig trees cannot tolerate as much cold as apples, cherries, or other cold-hardy fruit trees. However, you can still grow them indoors (or outdoors in summer or if you live in a mild climate).
Here are some dwarf fig tree varieties you can choose from:
- The Black Jack fig tree from Willis Orchard Company
- The Brown Turkey fig tree from Willis Orchard Company.
Dwarf lemon trees are a great way to get citrus fruit indoors during winter. However, many lemon trees cannot tolerate cold.
The Meyer lemon tree from Stark Brothers will grow to a maximum height of 8 to 10 feet tall and 3 to 5 feet wide.
Dwarf lime trees are another great choice if you want citrus fruit indoors during winter. Like their citrus cousin (lemon), lime trees cannot tolerate cold.
The Key lime tree from Stark Brothers will grow to a maximum height of 6 to 8 feet tall and 5 to 6 feet wide.
You can keep it smaller and thinner with careful pruning.
Dwarf orange trees are also an option if you want to grow citrus fruit for eating indoors during winter. Orange trees cannot tolerate cold (probably why most oranges are grown in Florida or California!).
The Calamondin orange tree from Stark Brothers will reach 6 to 10 feet tall. Use a smaller pot to keep them smaller indoors.
Peach trees are wonderful for growing fruit that you can eat fresh or preserve. There are several dwarf peach trees that you can grow in pots.
There are also columnar (or “pillar”) peach trees available. These columnar peach trees have a very narrow branch structure, which means they have a limited width.
This makes them a good choice if you want to grow fruit in a tight space.
You can find the Crimson Rocket Columnar peach tree variety at Stark Brothers.
Pear trees are easy to grow and can be eaten fresh or preserved. There are some dwarf pear trees that you can grow in pots.
Plum trees are nice for growing fruit that you can eat fresh or preserve. There are several dwarf plum trees that you can grow in pots.
For example, these are some dwarf plum trees from Stark Brothers:
- The Damson Dwarf plum tree.
- The Methley Dwarf Plum tree.
- The Shiro Dwarf Plum tree.
- The Santa Rose Dwarf Plum tree.
Now you know more about growing fruit trees in pots and how to choose a container size, soil type, and fruit tree. Try out one or more of the varieties above and you’ll be growing fruit in a small space in no time!
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