Thinking of planting a fruit tree? No doubt you'll consider an apple, a plum or a pear tree.But how about something more exotic? Did you know that you can expect full sized fruit from even tiny, patio-sized fruit trees such as peach, nectarine and apricot? Its all about the variety of tree and the rootstock. Here's a simple guide to get you started, it's a lot easier than you might think.
Peaches, apricots and nectarines are naturally compact and slow growing. In fact, they grow only a few centimetres per year. If you are intending to keep your tree in a pot, the nature of growth means that it won't outgrow its container. You can keep it happy for many years provided you feed and water it regularly.
Patio exotic fruit trees can even be perfectly happy on a balcony. Growing trees in pots gives you the added flexibility of being able to move them around, plus you can take them with you if you move house. This also gives you the possibility of being able to move the tree into a greenhouse or under cover during the winter, for added protection.
Fruit from these little beauties can be amazing. A ripe peach picked from the tree is hard to beat. Apricots are packed with juice and far tastier than the fruit purchased from a supermarket and the trees themselves are not particularly tender now that modern cultivars are available. Nectarines can be a delicious success too. These trees will thrive on a warm south or south-west-facing wall in a patio pot or grown against the wall in a fan shape. They are best out of a heated greenhouse as they like a dormant period during the winter. Who would believe these types of fruit trees would be viable here in the UK?
What rootstock for an exotic fruit tree? One of the most successful is undoubtedly St. Julian A as it restricts the vigour and size, yet gives the tree enough strength to do what it needs to do. Most fruit trees and some ornamental trees are grafted onto rootstocks. They control the vigour and the ultimate height of a tree and allow them to grow in a smaller space than if they had retained their natural roots. Rootstocks can also improve disease resistance.
Growing exotic fruit trees in pots
Growing trees in pots gives the added flexibility of being able to rearrange the containers and move them around the garden in order to catch the maximum amount of sunshine. And you can take them with you if you move house. You can move less hardy trees, such as dwarf peaches, into a greenhouse during the winter, then bring them out on show for the summer. Patio trees are even perfectly happy on a balcony.
What you will need to do, however, is to carry out regular pruning on your containerised trees so that the task of picking fruit is simple. You can create easy access to all sides.
Peach tree blossom appears in March and April and is every bit as luscious as a flowering cherry tree blossom! Be careful, however, some flower protection from frost might be necessary in order to safeguard the fruit crop. It might also be necessary to do a bit of manual pollination too. There are few pollinating insects around in early spring, so you can transfer pollen by pushing a soft little paintbrush into the flowers and spreading the pollen from one flower to another.
Taking care of your patio fruit tree
Regular watering is the key to good, juicy, evenly-sized and shaped fruits. Dont allow your pots to dry out. The containerised fruit trees will also need a high potash feed every couple of weeks during the spring and summer. The fruit, when it appears, will also need to be thinned out. Remove small and mis-shapen fruits when they are very small and aim to have just one fruit every 15cms along the branches. Bear in mind that fruit appears on young shoots that were made in the previous season, so you might need to prune out the older wood as the years go by. Summer pruning is recommended in order to minimise disease.
peach leaf curl, a fungal disease that is spread by rain splashing on the plants. You can minimise the problem by covering the plants with some sort of rain shelter from January to May, or by moving the plants under cover during this period. Peaches can suffer from
Nectarines come into flower very early and these blooms will therefore need some sort of protection so that the flowers arent affected by frost. If this does happen, you are likely to lose your fruit crop.
The trees themselves are tolerant of cold temperatures but they do like to occupy a south-facing position and have some protection from winter chill. They produce fruit at a surprisingly young age, even one-year-old trees try to give you a nectarine or two! You'll probably be delighted by the ease in which this plant produces high yields of fruit.
You can train your fruit trees into different forms such as fan-shaped (diagram below) or bush form.
Fan-shaped trees trained against a wall are very popular and a patio tree can occupy a pot for as many years as you wish.
A bush form, planted in the garden, can also be highly successful. Basically, the more sunshine your plant receives, the healthier the plant will be and the more fruit you are likely to enjoy.
Apricots can be just a little more difficult to care for, but this makes them even more desirable! They can tolerate frost, but you will probably need to protect their very early blossom in order to enable the plant to set its fruit. This is one of the earliest plants to flower as the blooms can appear right at the end of February, throughout March.
Youll need to do a bit of hand-pollinating. Apricots can sometimes fail for unknown reasons and this is generally due to cold or wet weather. If you provide sufficient care and protection from the damp, these exotic fruit trees should thrive. Carry out pruning every season without fail in order to encourage a good, bushy tree with a plentiful amount of new growth on which the fruits will appear. They benefit from a sunny, warm position and protection from wind. These trees will benefit from regular feeding and reliable watering too because apricots hate to have dry roots. The rewards are certainly worth any effort that you put in. The fruits are juicy, with the most delicate and pleasing flavour.
For all these wonderful, slightly exotic fruits, harvesting should be done in summer when fruit is coloured and the flesh near the stalk feels slightly soft. Fruit generally ripens in stages and when it is ready it should easily come away from the tree. Of course, it tastes best when eaten straight from the tree so take a tissue with you to mop up the juice!