Lemon tree with fruits in a pot.

How to Grow a Fruit Tree in a Small Space

Even if you have no garden soil in which to plant, you can still grow a fruit tree if you make your choice carefully. Almost all fruit trees can be bought grown on dwarfing rootstocks, and grow well in large containers as long as they’re well-watered and fed. Such small trees can be surprisingly bountiful.

When to start: Late winter.

At their best: Autumn.

Time to complete: 1 hour.

You will need: A large pot, broken clay pot pieces, potting soil, slow-release granular fertilizer, a dwarf fruit tree, pebbles or chips for mulch.

Before planting

Fruit trees grown in containers are almost totally dependent on the fertilizer and water you give them. So, to give your tree the best start and to help it establish, soak the root ball before planting because it is hard to wet dry roots thoroughly afterward. The best way to do this is to immerse the pot in a large bucket of water and leave it to soak for about an hour, or until the water stops bubbling. Then, lift the tree from the bucket and allow it to drain.

Prepare to plant

Choose a large pot with a wide base so that the tree is not easily blown over, and stand it in a sunny, sheltered spot. Make sure it has plenty of drainage holes, or drill your own, and cover them with a layer of broken clay pot pieces to prevent soil from blocking them. Fill the base with compost, and add a sprinkling of slow-release fertilizer.

Tease out roots

Place the tree in the pot, adding or removing compost, until the top of the root ball is about 2in (5cm) below the rim. Then lift the plant, remove it from its original pot, and tease out the roots from the root ball. This encourages the roots to grow out into the soil, stabilizing the tree, and helping it to establish quickly. Place the tree in the container.

Backfill, stake, and mulch

Fill the gaps around the root ball with more soil and water well. Unless the tree already has a stake, insert one now to hold the tree upright and to help anchor it in the pot. If it has a stake, carefully push it down into the new soil below. To conserve moisture and suppress weeds, apply a mulch of small pebbles or chipped bark.

Watering and feeding

It is essential to keep the fruit tree well-watered, filling the pot to the brim each time. To encourage the best crop, don’t allow it to dry out when in flower or fruit, and feed using a tomato fertilizer every two weeks during spring and summer. Water the tree during mild dry spells in late autumn and winter, even though it is dormant at those times of year.

Tips: Size matters

Fruit trees are commonly grown on dwarf rootstocks, which limit the size of the tree. To grow fruit in containers, choose apples grown on M26, M9 or, for really small containers, M27. Look for pears grown on Quince C, cherries on Gisela 5, and for plums and damsons, choose those grown on Pixy.