Even though container fruit trees are smaller in scale, they can still produce an impressive crop. From everyday fruits like peaches to exotic pomegranates and figs, there’s a great fit for your patio garden (and your taste buds).
Maybe you’ve got a rooftop patio, or are renting and unable to plant fruit trees right in the yard. Or, you just like the ability to be able to grow favourite delicacies in containers. Whatever your preference, there are many excellent options for pint-sized container fruit trees.
Keys to Growing Container Fruit Trees Successfully
Before we dive into container tree varieties, take note of these five key things to remember:
- They need plenty of water, and generous amounts of fertilizer.
- Good drainage is a must. Drain holes plus gravel, broken clay pots, or rocks in a layer at the bottom will help with this. Mulch the top of the container with straw or coconut fibres to retain moisture.
- These trees need containers of at least 10-15 gallons. Bigger is better. For best results and easy portability, keep the containers on rolling plant stands or dollies. This way, you can move them around easily, bring them into a sheltered area during cold snaps, and ensure good air circulation.
- Move potted fruit trees into a sheltered, unheated environment to overwinter. Alternatively, wrap them with old-fashioned Christmas lights and bubble wrap to help keep them insulated.
- Avoid watering during the winter. Your tree will go dormant and you want to prevent drowning the roots.
Starfruit, also known as carambola, is originally from Sri Lanka. As such, it thrives best in moist, hot environments. The entire lantern-shaped fruit can be eaten like an apple, and when cut across the middle, its perfect star shape makes a beautiful accent to fruit platters.
Maher Dwarf and Hawaiian Dwarf varieties are the most successful when grown in pots. Both of these varieties can produce a large crop of up to two dozen fruits. They also show off with clusters of pink blooms on the old wood.
It’s prized for being a low-calorie fruit very high in vitamin C, and provided you can give it a nice warm home, you can definitely grow your own. It will grow in greenhouses and outdoors during the hotter months, and isn’t recommended for cooler climates.
Kumquats have been grown as patio plants since the mid-19th century, and have a good reputation for being quite hardy. In fact, they withstand temperatures down to 18°F when given plenty of space and well-drained soil.
They’re close relatives of the citrus family, and there are two main varieties that do best in containers. Nagami has a bright, almost neon-coloured rind and a sweet-tart taste. Meiwa is larger and sweeter, with a lighter peel.
Either variety is great to eat straight from the tree or to use in making marmalade. Try it in salads, as condiments, or crushed together with ginger and honey as a cold and flu remedy.
These fruits are heavy feeders, and thrive with a good slow-release fertilizer and food formulated especially for citrus trees. Enjoy their fruits from November through mid-spring.
There are a few different varieties to choose from, but the Calamondin orange is the most recommended for container gardening. It can be grown indoors year round, or can be brought inside for the winter.
Its brightly scented flowers turn into small oranges that are great for making marmalade (pair with kumquat) or adding to cold drinks. These mini fruits’ flavor can best be described as a blend between mandarin and kumquat, and the sour juice is great in a marinade.
If your heart’s set on a traditional orange to pick and eat right off the tree, try the Navel. It can be overwintered indoors with a grow light when sunlight is lacking, and will produce fruit from November to February. Try this marmalade recipe using calamondin oranges.
Meyer is one of the best container fruit trees to try. It’s a well-known, user-friendly lemon variety that can be grown completely indoors.
A sweeter variety with beautiful blossoms, the Meyer lemon is a surefire crowd-pleaser. Just move it outdoors during the hot summer months, after acclimatizing it to rising temperatures.
Lemons don’t ripen after they’re picked, so be sure to wait until fruit is soft and uniformly yellow before carefully cutting the fruit off using scissors or a knife. Meyer Lemon coffee cake, anyone?
Dwarf Tahitian is an ideal lime tree for growing in a container. Like other citrus, the blossoms smell amazing, and the tree can easily become loaded down with fruits.
Lime is delicious in iced tea, cocktails, and marinades, and is a great kitchen staple to have on hand. With standard citrus tree care, your potted lime will reward you with years of tart fruit.
*Note for all citrus:
A good potting soil, regular misting and watering, citrus plant food, and a fertilizer with a balance of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium will ensure that your citrus trees are healthy and beautiful year-round. Citrus trees don’t go dormant, so the best time to prune the roots and branches is after it has blossomed and fruited.
Citrus should also be re-potted every 2-4 years to prevent any root binding. You can either move it to a larger container or carefully prune the roots to maintain the current size.
There’s nothing quite like a pomegranate. The ruby-like arils are such a juicy treat that one of the red, round fruits is hard to resist. Like apples, pomegranates can last for several months when kept in cool and dry conditions after picking.
Pomegranates are surprisingly easy to grow in containers, and are happiest in acidic soil and arid, warm conditions that replicate Mediterranean climates. Move them indoors for the winter to avoid any potentially fatal cold snaps, and set back outside for the remainder of the year. If temperatures drop below 40° F, move the plant indoors to a sunny window.
Water the tree thoroughly once per week and fertilize in November, February, and May starting in year two. Use a 10-10-10 fertilizer on top of the soil, not touching the trunk.
You should see fruit after the first two years, and can then fertilize in November and February instead. Harvest season is generally September through October, or when the fruit makes a metallic sound when tapped.
Pears traditionally do very well in containers and are a favourite for eating fresh off the tree. Durondeau and Honeysweet are nice self-pollinating varieties that adapt to container growth, and produce a large quantity of full-sized fruit in a fraction of the space.
These fruits need several hours of sunlight daily. Since pears flower early in the spring, any late frosts can lead to crop damage. Pears are best when picked slightly before ripening, as they will over-ripen quickly on the tree and become mealy.
The best way to harvest pears is to chill them in the fridge for up to a week (depending on the variety). This is because they’ll decompose without ripening if they’re not allowed to undergo the natural chilling/warming process seen in nature.
Apples do well in containers, particularly Honeycrisp and Gala, which will pollinate each other. For this reason, they’re a safe bet for a first foray into a patio “orchard”.
If you prefer a cooking apple, try the Sierra Beauty, Gordon, or Liberty varieties. Like the pear, avoid watering during the winter, and keep it insulated in the event of a cold snap. Gala is quickly becoming the most popular variety over Red Delicious, and Honeycrisp isn’t far behind.
Bonanza is a natural dwarf species that’s recommended for container fruit trees. It stays small (under six feet) while still giving full-sized, juicy peaches. Another plus is that it doesn’t need much pruning, so it’s quite easy-care. It can be grown in an espalier fan shape on a patio or against a fence.
Avoid growing it against a wall, because it will likely get too hot. Peaches tend to bloom in very early spring, depending on which zone you’re in. As a result, it’s best left inside until at least April when there’s no more risk of frost.
Peaches need at least six hours of full sun each day. Water the tree whenever the soil is dry—typically every two days during the hottest weather.
Nectarines need basically the same care of peaches: good, well-draining soil, and protection from early spring frosts with plenty of warm sunshine.
Both peaches and nectarines are in a bit of a hurry to produce fruit, so you might even see pink blossoms on 1-year-old trees.
Like peaches, nectarines are self-fertile, and will pollinate as long as there are some insects buzzing around. Try the HoneyGlo Miniature nectarine, which is cold hardy and produces fruits in August.
A good variety to try is the Santa Rosa dwarf plum for juicy, full-sized fruit. Like larger plum trees, they’ll produce scented blossoms in spring and fruit during August through to late fall
Like their larger counterparts, dwarf plum trees need to be thinned out to produce crops evenly each year. They can be thinned in midsummer, and grown as a bush or a fan.
Plums thrive under the same conditions as peaches and nectarines—several hours of sunshine per day, well-draining soil, and a container at least twice the diameter and height of the root ball.
Because figs don’t mind being root bound, they’re excellent candidates for container gardens. They also have one of the quickest fruiting times of any fruit tree: as early as 1 year after planting, depending on rootstock.
Chicago Hardy and Brown Turkey are good options for containers, and will only grow as tall as you let them. Like any other fruit tree, if you prune the roots and move it to a larger container, it will grow larger.
Figs like warm weather and won’t do well in northern climates. For the healthiest tree, bring it into an unheated indoor area during the coldest times of the year, and move outdoors for some sunshine and warmth every day.
As always, it’s best to talk to an expert at your local nursery to find out which trees are most suited to your zone. They can also provide a complete care guide to find out which varieties are best suited. This isnt an exhaustive list, and there are also many mixed varieties available (limequats, pluots, etc…).
Let your imagination run wild and grow your own miniature orchard.