Growing fruits in containers is very different from growing vegetables in containers. To begin with, growing fruits is a major commitment. Since most fruits take 2-3 years to produce a crop, a gardener must have the patience to care for the plant several years to reap any benefits.
When growing fruits in containers, space is also an issue. Most fruits will grow into sizable trees or plants. Many of them must be wintered over and in harsh weather, this means you must have a place under cover to protect your plants from the cold and drying winds of winter.
The best reason for growing fruits in containers is also true of vegetables. There is absolutely nothing better than picking a vine-ripened warm strawberry from your own garden. The taste is amazing and you will never find better tasting fruit anywhere that rivals what you grow yourself. The same can be said of all container grown fruits; blueberries, strawberries, currents, gooseberries, figs, and all manner of fruit trees, from apples to peaches will always outdo the flavor of any supermarket produce.
If you’ve read this far and are still with me, here are thoughts and ideas to consider if you have decided that growing fruits in containers is something you’d like to pursue.
Where Should I Start?
The easiest fruits to grow in containers are strawberries and blueberries. These are good plants for a new fruit grower to start with. Soft, succulent strawberries are difficult to find in the produce department. This is because strawberries are best when ripe, but are also very fragile at this stage. For this reason, they are picked as they are just beginning to ripen but still green. Most of the flavor is lost when they are harvested in this manner. If you want quality strawberries, you must go to farmers markets, pick your own, or grow them yourself.
Blueberries are among the top favorites when considering growing fruits in containers. Blueberries are quite easy to grow in containers. The most important thing to remember when growing blueberries is that they must have constant moisture. The soil must be damp, but not wet. Blueberries also prefer acid soil, so choose a high acid soil when planting blueberries.
Both strawberries and blueberries produce best in full sun
Planting Strawberries in Containers
When planting strawberries in containers, start with purchased plants. Containers should be a minimum of 18″ deep and hanging baskets should be 12″ across. Don’t be afraid to plant in larger planters or baskets when growing fruits in containers.
Fill the container with potting mix and plant your berries so the crown is level with the soil surface. Once planted, water your container thoroughly and let the soil settle. Readjust the soil level if necessary to keep the crown (the plant center where the leaves originate) at the surface level. Keep in mind that if the crown of the plant it covered, it could rot and all your work is for naught.
Most people treat strawberries as an annual, even though the plants will last 2 -3 years. With regular watering and fertilizing, strawberries will produce fruit the first year. Once the berries start to grow, fertilize them every 2 weeks with a fertilizer made for vegetables.
You may find the birds like your strawberries as much as you do, but since you are growing them in a container, it’s easy to cover them with netting to keep the birds from a strawberry buffet.
Planting Blueberries in Containers
When planting blueberries in containers, you will start with either bare root plants, if you have ordered them by mail, or you can purchase a potted plant from your local nursery or garden center.
Large wooden planter boxes or half whiskey barrels are good choices for blueberry plants because they look natural and make a good background for your blueberry plant. If you live in a cold climate, a clay pot is not the best choice for a container as it will most likely crack over the winter.
Because your container will be very heavy once filled, move the pot to its final position before potting up the plant. The pot should be set on bricks or pot feet to aid drainage. Pot feet protect not only your pots, but also your plants.
In winter, pot feet will keep your containers off the ground and protect them from freezing and breaking. In the summertime, the pot feet will keep your pots from coming in contact with concrete heated to high temperatures from the hot sun. Keeping your pots from direct contact with the cold ground or hot flagstones will not only keep your pots from cracking and breaking, but will also help protect your plant roots from extremes in temperature.
Care and Feeding of Blueberries in Containers
Blueberries are heavy feeders. Start early in the spring and use a fertilizer with a heavy acid formula (such as a fertilizer for azaleas and rododendrons). Feed them around once a month until fruit production is finished. They become dormant in winter, so do not feed them again until the spring.
If you live in the North, the plants should be protected in the winter. Yes, they are hardy and plants planted in the ground don’t need much protection. Remember however, when plants are planted in containers, their roots are exposed to the cold air. If the roots die, your plant is no longer viable and you will have to start from scratch. Protect you plants with insulation such as foam, bubble wrap, or household insulation to insure your plants will winter over and survive the harsh winter conditions.
Now that you’re familiar with the 2 easiest and most popular fruits to grow in containers, try planting some of them and enjoying the real taste of fruit as it was meant to be eaten. Serve some at your next picnic or summer get-together and enjoy the compliments and oohs and ahhs you receive when friends and family learn you are growing fruits in containers. After all your work, you deserve them.
There are many fruits that will perform well within the confines of a container. I’ve created a listing of the most popular and readily available fruit and fruit trees suitable for growing in containers. You can find this at Choosing Fruits for Container Gardens I’ve just begun this listing so check back often for new additions.