Fruit trees come in a range of sizes: full-size (four metres or larger), dwarf (two to three metres tall), columnar (60 centimetres wide and up to four metres tall) and miniature (one-and-a-half metres tall).
Apples and pears need a cool winter, but there are still plenty of options for people living in warmer climates – look for dwarf peach, papaya, mulberry, macadamia, persimmon, almond or mango trees. Consider dwarf quinces, apples or blueberries for balconies and small gardens. Mail-order nurseries stock a large selection of fruit trees.
If you only have room for one full-size tree, plant two varieties 15cm apart in the same hole. This is particularly effective when combining apples, pears or plums that need a cross pollinator, but it can also be done with trees of different species. Prune overlapping branches to reap more fruit over a longer period.
Alternatively, you can buy trees grafted with two or more varieties of fruit, whether it’s a mix of citrus, stone fruit, apples or pears. Just remember to mark branches so you don’t accidentally prune off a variety.
Pruning is key, says Craig Castree, a Victorian-based horticulturalist and the author of Edible Gardens. “If you can’t reach the fruit when you’re standing with your feet flat on the ground, trees become too hard to manage,” he says. “Trim vertical growth to encourage horizontal growth, which produces more fruit and will be easier to pick.”
He also says: “No net equals no fruit.” So, protect your crop from local pests such as birds and possums.
Strategic pruning can reduce the space needed without a huge loss of fruit, from trees trained in neat lines or fan shapes (espaliered), to column-shaped cordons (trained to grow as a single stem). You can even buy stepover apple plants that act as productive bed edging and grow to a height of about 50 centimetres.
If you’re not sure about your pruning skills, try Fleming’s Ballerina range of columnar apple trees, which are bred to stay in shape.
Miniatures are perfect for growing in pots and dwarf sizes suit larger tubs. Meyer lemons, cumquats and mandarins are best suited to tubs. Buy wheels for your tubs so you can move them.
Some specialist suppliers graft trees to order. Choose from heritage varieties not widely available, or have a favourite fruit tree cloned onto dwarf rootstock.
Caring for container trees
- Keep tubs in a sheltered, sunny position
- Apply a slow-release fertiliser every six months
- Keep soil moist at all times
- Pick off pest insects
- Trim the branches and roots every two years and change the potting mix to keep plants healthy
- Instead of tubs, try bonsai bags, which can be used to temporarily hold fruit trees if you’re moving house
- Apples and pears need different pruning to stone fruit; check before chopping.
words Jane Canaway