The best patio fruit trees

Val Bourne / 03 January 2014

I would like to grow some fruit on my patio. Is this possible?



It is, as long as you have a warm and partly sunny position to encourage nectar-rich blossom that will attract early pollinators. Warm temperatures are also vital for pollen tube growth, particularly with pears and cherries. Most fruit trees need to be grafted on to miniature root stock and grown in weather-proof containers. Pot feet will allow excess rainfall to escape. Regular watering in the summer months is a necessity too, to prevent fruit dropping prematurely.

The naturally dwarf sweet cherry ‘Garden Bing’ will provide almost-black fruit in July. ‘Stella’ (grafted on Gisela 5) will give you redder fruit, but you must net against birds. Both are self-fertile, cropping on their own.  Most apple trees need to be grafted on dwarfing M27 rootstock, although ‘Garden Sun Red’ is naturally dwarf with pink-red fruit. ‘Falstaff’ is an excellent pink apple and self-fertile too.  

‘Scrumptious’, a red-fleshed sweet apple, can be eaten straight from the tree. ‘Sibley’s Patio Medlar’ and  ‘Sibley’s Patio Quince’, part of a naturally dwarf range developed by Will Sibley, are both highly decorative.

Anything you grow on a patio must be good to look at throughout the year. It must be compact and healthy, so it’s important to go to a fruit specialist.   

Medlars and quinces

The quince, Cydonia oblonga, comes from a wide region of South-west Asia, Turkey and Iran and possibly predates the apple. The pale-green, downy foliage and ice-pink pink blossom, like apple blossom on steroids, make the quince particularly handsome in spring.  Pear-shaped fruit that turns yellow in autumn, can either be cooked as fruit, jellied, or added to meat dishes.

Quinces normally form bushy, large trees that would normally be too large for a patio. However ‘Sibley’s Patio Quince’ is grafted onto a dwarfing rootstock to produce a small tree up to four feet at most. (120 cm) It will yield up to 50 sweet yellow fruits, roughly the size of a tennis ball, within three years. The only maintenance needed is to pinch out the growing tips twice a year to keep it in shape. Quinces are thirsty trees, so watering is essential.

Medlars (Mespilus germanica) have been grown in Britain since Roman times, although it’s indigenous to southwest Asia and southeastern Europe, especially the Black Sea coasts of modern Turkey. The russet-skinned, brown fruit is rather like a large rose hip in form. However the fruits cannot be eaten fresh: they are bletted, or allowed to partially rot, before being eaten in the winter months.

In Medieval times the medlar was known as the dog’s bottom tree (or the monkey’s bottom) and when you look at the fruit you can soon see why. Eating the fruit is an acquired taste, but this handsome tree has white spring blossom and a spreading profile.

‘Sibley’s Patio Medlar’ has been grafted on to Quince Adams rootstock to restrict its size and after four seasons it will yield around 30 full-size fruits per tree. After flowering and when growth starts, the growing tips should again be pinched out when about five inches long to maintain a bushy habit. Whether grown in a pot or in the garden, Sibley’s Patio Medlar is thirsty and requires plenty of moisture.  For this reason I recommend wooden planters for the medlar and the quince, rather than warm terracotta that tends to dry the roots.

Apricots

There is also a patio apricot called ‘Dawnglow’. This genetically dwarf variety, which Will Sibley discovered in France, is ideal for pot culture if grown in John Innes loam-based compost with extra grit added. Given a warm, sunny spot, it will produce a delicious crop of succulent, fragrant apricots in late August. Will reports he has seen up to 80 full-size fruits on a mature ‘Dawnglow’. It’s easy to grow and care for, only requiring regular pinching out of the growing tips and the addition of a slow-release fertiliser, such as Osmocote,  a couple of times a year. There are patio peaches, but the few fruits tend to be large and rather tasteless.  

Will Sibley’s range also includes a Patio Almond, a Nashi Pear and a Victoria Plum, all from www.dtbrownseeds.co.uk.

Figs

Figs make excellent container plants as long as they are well-watered. If they become short of water the fruit drops off immediately, or becomes dry and horrible to eat. Figs are also hungry plants as well. Feed them every week with a tomato-rich fertiliser during the growing season, between April and August. A twice-monthly seaweed foliar feed will produce a glossy sheen to the foliage and the leaves can be a real feature.

Gardeners may want to move their fig to the greenhouse for the winter in colder areas. It’s best to opt for an early-cropping fig such as ‘Dauphine’ in cold gardens. This red-fleshed, slightly stripy brown fig crops prolifically and the fingered foliage is very handsome.

‘Angelique’, a pale skinned fig with a red flush on the sunny side, has pink flesh and a very good flavour whether grown in a pot or up against a wall.

Fig ‘Panache’, a 17th century bushy variety with stripy green and creamy-yellow fruits, is very spectacular but it needs a really warm patio to produce August fruit. The delicious red flesh is said to resemble a strawberry.

Compost and pruning

A loam-rich John Innes soil-based no 3 compost is a good medium to use because it holds water and nutrients longer. Add extra grit for drainage, roughly 20%, at planting time to improve drainage. Renew the compost every three years and prune the roots before planting again.

Pruning should be gentle and restrained, for vigorous lopping will encourage rapid growth. Pinch out the shoots in the growing season and prune apples and pears in winter. All stone fruit is pruned in summer, after picking. Figs should be have their shoots pinched out in June, to encourage the formation of new shoots which will carry embryo figs for next year. Half  the shoots that are carrying fruit are pruned back in November, to encourage fresh shoots in the following spring. Aim to have 9 - 12 inch spacings between the fruit, because the figs need enough space to allow the sun to ripen them.

Suppliers

Blackmore Nurseries www.blackmoor.co.uk
D.T. Brown www.dtbrownseeds.co.uk
Reads Nursery www.readsnursery.co.uk

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.