Thursday, 19 January 2012

Patio fruit

By Aurora @ Island Dreaming

Since gaining our allotment last year, our patio container garden has fallen by the wayside a little, which I have spoken about before.We have lots of large deep pots standing empty for much of the year, being dug over by cats and colonized by weeds. I have been debating how best to use the patio for some months.

Patios have their advantages and disadvantages as growing spaces. Whilst you are restricted to growing a relatively narrow range of compact crops in pots, high maintenance plants that require specialist feeding or frost protection can lend themselves to container growing. Patios tend to regulate heat over the course of a day, the slabs warming up faster in the day and losing that heat slowly overnight. They may even provide a longer growing season than bare earth.

Our allotment also has advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, it has deep open rich soil in which most things will thrive with a little attention. On the other hand is a paradise for winged things - everything from sparrows to Canada geese; and the evidence of the war on birds is everywhere. Metres and metres of netting cover fruit trees and in some cases, whole plots are caged. Apart from two very thorny gooseberries that should look after themselves, we have declined to install any other fruit on our small plot.

Back to our patio - there are no winged things, or rodents. Thanks to the huge cat and fox population, my neighbours elaborate bird feeding station has been visited only by a very aggressive magpie. Which makes our neighborhood perfect fruit growing territory from a pest point of view. All manner of fruit can be grown in containers. The cats are less likely to dig over containers with large, perennial plants in than they are seedlings. The trees and bushes will add some vertical interest to the garden and make the most productive use of space. Unfortunately, there is a lag time of a few years before trees will produce fruit, making me wish I had made the investment years ago. As that did not happen, there is no time to start like the present.

The initial investment in large containers, soil and plants is large in comparison with a packet of seeds, but the pay off is a relatively low maintenance, high output garden. Apart from regular watering and some seasonal pruning and possibly some pest or frost protection, the 'gardener's shadow' is less important to success than growing annuals.

This year we have invested in an apple on a dwarfing rootstock, which will restrict its height to a maximum of two metres and a cherry tree of similar stature. Thanks to their height, they can sit against a short north facing wall and catch the sun, turning a cold and dark edge of the patio into something more productive and pretty. This year we plan to add a self fertile kiwi which will be trained up a rose arch. We have added a grape that will be trained as a standard and are now considering a fig tree, which fruit best when its roots are restricted. If I had space to overwinter one indoors, I would consider a citrus tree also.

On a personal note, there is something wholesome and soothing about a tree, especially a fruit tree, something that stirs in me when I look out over the garden and see the twigs starting to bud. Which is a good enough reason as any to go forth and plant.


LindaG said...

Very interesting post.
We have been buying a lot of dwarf fruit and nut trees because as I (we) get older, neither of us like to climb ladders anymore.

Good luck with your purchases.

Do you know if anything has been done article wise on the best way to set up containers for gardening? Like mixes of dirt, drainage requirements, etc.? I would like to do some container gardening, but so far I have had limited to know success.

Thanks again for your article!

becky3086 said...

I think the apple tree that I bought last year died but the peach tree still lives on. Just don't seem to have any luck with apple trees...but I'll keep trying.

Frogdancer said...

It'll all look lovely!

louisa @ TheReallyGoodLife said...

I completely agree that it's stirring when they start to bud - we planted a morello cherry tree last year and every step of that -- budding, blossom, sparse first year fruiting -- was a delight last year.

I'm thinking of expanding our patio fruit tree collection this year - I don't want to give over any more of our limited bed space to fruit trees but would like some more all the same. Our neighbours have gone away for a year and left their patio plum tree in our care so at least we'll have something to cover us until ours start producing :)

Aurora said...

LindaG - it depends very much on the crop. I haven't come across articles online, but The Edible Container Garden by Michael Guerra has a comprehensive crop section that explains the requirements of each plant, including fruit trees. It is an excellent book. The only certainty is that the bigger the container the better, as larger pots will allow better root development and retain water more effectively.

Good luck with your trees everyone. I would love to add a peach, but have never known anyone grow one without it succumbing to leaf curl. And possibly an espalier Morello against our North wall...

LindaG said...

Thanks Aurora. I will be looking for that book this weekend. Much appreciated and good luck this year!