Growing Small Fruit Trees

I just bought the book with the same title, by Ann Ralph.

I am growing three fruit trees in containers, and am thinking about this. Does anybody here have experience with this?

I got enough fruit last year, but it was a lot of work to keep them irrigated.
I had planned to root prune them this winter, but I didn’t and the pluots are already flowering.


Very interesting! Thanks for sharing.

I really suggest planting an 18 inch length of 2 inch pipe vertically close to the tree, leaving 6 inches or so protruding. You can then get water and feed directly to the roots. I keep the top covered with an inverted old beer glass. I’ve had a few fail on me when I neglected this.

I guess you could remove the pipe when fully established, but I’ve never bothered, as it might be good to use in a dry spell.


Several things are important with containerized fruit trees, the foremost being nutrition. Normally, a trees roots have a horizontal size that often extends outside the canopy/leaf drip zone. Mycorrhizal fungi can infect the roots and increase the trees nutrient availability. Since these are not practical in containers, broad spectrum fertilizers produce the best results. Mix up the types and don’t stick to one brand. Keep an eye on iron, as it is easily depleted. Seaweed foliar fertilizer can be very helpful at supplying micronutrients.

Deep roots tend to primarily pick up water and anchor the tree. The shallower roots are better at picking up nutrients. So, “deep feeding” is a myth. Nutrients migrate downward. There’s no need to give them a head start to the drain holes.

Watch the flowers for pollinators. If there are not a lot of bees, using small watercolor brushes, tied to a thin bamboo stake can help fruit set if you do the bee work. Do this in the morning. Many years ago, we had Cherimoya trees, growing in the greenhouse in big pots. Manual pollination was the only way to get fruit. It was worth it!

If, by some chance, the tree is loaded with fruit, you may need to pick some off, “fruit thin”. Ideally, fruit should not be touching each other.

In hot regions, it may help to shade dark-colored pots so the soil does not heat up. Roots, in general, like to be cooler than the tops. There are white and light colored materials which can help. Otherwise, as the day goes on, the soil and root zone heat up. It takes awhile in a big pot. At night, when there is no photosynthesis, the hot root zone is metabolizing faster and in need of more sugars. There can become competition for metabolic resources.

Some things easily sneak up on you, like high winds! As fruit forms, it can get heavy, watch for stressed limbs and support them or thin fruit. Be sure to examine your trees every spring to make sure any strings, labels, support lines, etc. are not getting tight on the bark! You don’t want “girdling”.

There are protective, mesh bags, with drawstrings, which can help keep damaging insects off fruit. Surround brand of kaolin clay can be very helpful repelling insects and/or preventing sunburn. Keep in mind, it’s messy!

There are better bird nets than the black, thin poly type usually marketed. I’m fond of AviGard. Just remember: apply the netting after fruit is about half ripe and take the netting off when you don’t need it, before branches and new leaves grow through it!

Sorry, I don’t have any humane ways to stop fruit-thieving squirrels, rats …or camels.


I always knew there was something useful you could do with a basketball court.


@Auspicious, when we got here, the sports court was also for volleyball.

I am including an updated picture of the Blenheim apricots. They are near a manzanita that is often in bloom around the same time.

@bogman, I like to garden when I am working with my environment, without too much help. I don’t think I can do what bees do on the regular, although I am happy to step in here and there.

I will fertilize and water as best I can, hope for the best, and count on my CSA and farmers market as a back up.

I have two pluot varieties, but the fruit seems easily available, and maybe as good as home grown.


Shrinkrap, since you have so many blooming plants, bees should be doing their thing. Honey bees are kept by a lot of folks, but the best pollinators are the smaller, native bees, Like the Orchard Mason Bee. They’re really cute! They also like to stuff mud into holes, padlock keyholes, weed eater exhaust pipes, etc. When padlocks are left open here, I have to plug them with a stick during the warm months.

I’ve only met one fellow who said all the bees were gone in his area, presumably from nearby agricultural spraying. I asked this famous bean collector how he could grow so many varieties of beans without them crossing. His reply was a bit disturbing, to say the least. No bees means no mixing of pollen.


The manzanita usually attract what I think are honeybees. There are also some other gadabouts around the stone fruit that I try to learn more about. They don’t look like the orchard bees; somehow “hover” comes to mind.

Maybe Hoverflies, Syrphids? Sounds like you have pollination covered. Syrphids are fun, kind of wacky little bugs. sometimes, they’ll keep landing on you or just hover nearby. If you’re lucky, you’ve got a/some species of those which eat aphids. The larvae, a tiny maggot, it usually green and not visually pleasant, but a welcome and esteemed larvae. Of the highest caliber, as maggots go!

Another curious and fun fly group are the Bee Flies, Bombyllidae, who are also pollinators with predatory larvae. They actually hover more than the Hover Flies, at least out here they do. Their fuzzy body can move pollen around, much as with bees.


Yes, I think I think I’ve seen hoverflies.

Thnk you again for so much useful information. I’ll be back many times to review it. Its nice to be able to ask questions. I have some books, but I mostly really on stuff I find from from UC Davis. The are in the neighboring county.

I am so jealous of both- too low for manzanita, too hot for apricots. :weary:

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I feel quite fortunate, and I am checking my privelage.

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I’ve got pears!!!

I’ve got peaches!!! I’m surprised by such a small tree how many I’ve got coming in this year. This weekend it’s getting fenced in to protect it from deer.


Blenheim apricots!


Dang, that looks tall! Is that a “small” fruit tree? But I do love me some apricots.

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It’s about six feet in a wine barrel liner on a sort of trolley . I did not prune the apricot as suggested for small trees, but assume it is being stunted by growing in a pot. It’s about four years in the pot and this is the second year that seems to be doing okay, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for continued success. The two pluots have been a bust and I might take do a “Hail Mary” with them next time I prune.

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I grow kumkvat on my balkony


I picked the wrong year to look to start a dwarf grafted combo lemon/lime tree in a container here in South OC. Finding a grafted specimen would be hard enough but this year there’s a disease attacking citrus here and nurseries within 5 miles of any reported case are unable to sell any citrus at all. I went to a large nursery in a safe area and what would normally be around 100+ citrus trees totaled maybe 8. There were signs posted apologizing for the lack of stock with no suggestion as to when they might have some. :woozy_face:


Giving ApricotKing a run for their money? If I know you trying the SlipPit process will come next. Just kidding! Good luck with your apricots.:slightly_smiling_face:

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