Small Space, Big Fruit Flavor

Many gardeners with small garden spaces, or no garden spaces at all, endeavor to grow food in small plots or containers. These gardeners usually stick with tried and true vegetables they can easily grow in one season.

But what if we look beyond the vegetable garden and find tasty fruits that can be grown either in containers or small spaces in the garden? Or better yet, what if we incorporate these plants, potted or not, into the landscape?

Here are some ideas for fruits that can find room in even the smallest yards or containers.

Not only are they productive, but often times they are attractive to boot. Consider adding these fruits to your landscape or your patios or porches. Just remember that in most cases, plants that produce fruit need at least six, and preferably eight or more, hours of sunlight to produce the largest number of tasty, sweet fruits.

Strawberries are perhaps the most common fruit grown in small spaces and containers. Their small size makes it easy for them to fit into any space or find a home in a hanging basket or pot. The classic strawberry container is an urnlike pot with openings on the side to grow the compact plants on both the top and sides of the pot.

June-bearing strawberries are considered to be superior in flavor by many, but harvests are limited to once per season. For best use of the space, consider using a day-neutral variety (some older varieties are called “everbearing,” which are not as productive).

Good day-neutral varieties include Tribute, Tristar and Seascape.

Cranberries are small plants at just a few inches tall and a foot or so wide. They will spread to fill in an area, so you can even double them up as a groundcover in your landscape or use them as a base plant in large containers. They don’t require wet conditions but do like lots of organic soil that stays well-watered.

Dwarf fruit trees can be used in an area as small as 8 to 10 feet, though they can be trained via pruning to inhabit a smaller area. I have seen large containers housing small fruit trees.

You can also sometimes find patio versions of fruit trees that grow narrowly to fit on porches that have been grafted onto mini dwarf rootstocks. Good candidates are dwarf apple, peach, pear and cherry trees. Most of these will be grafted onto a rootstock that makes them dwarf in stature, though there are a small number of naturally occurring genetic dwarf trees.

At a mature size, you can expect a fruit tree to need a 10- to 15-gallon container, though you can usually start them out in a 5- to 8-gallon container and work your way up.

Fruit trees can also be pruned to lay flat in a method called espalier. You can train a fruit tree to lay flat against a wall or fence that would stick out no more than a foot from the surface. I’ll also point out that there are some species related to cherries that grow in a bush form and produce cherrylike fruit. These bushes can be pruned to between 3 and 4 feet in diameter.

Raspberries, especially red raspberries, are the smallest of the bramble bunch. They will still spread from the roots, but you can keep them trimmed back to fit most spaces. Their cousin, the blackberry, is a huge plant by comparison, so you’ll want to shop wisely. There are summer-bearing varieties (fruiting in July) and everbearing ones that fruit multiple times during the season.

Be forewarned, though: An emerging pest called spotted wing drosophila, a fruit fly, is wreaking havoc on fall crops of soft berries. It lays its eggs on berries, then the larvae hatch out and eat the fruit. You probably know what the larva of a fly is without me saying it, so I’ll let you just imagine the consequences.

Figs are one of my favorite fruits. In warmer places, they can grow to be fairly big shrubs, but winter will keep them smaller here. They are easily pruned to fit the size you need and can also be espaliered. Our recent rough winters have made it tough to keep these guys alive. You’ll either need to mulch heavily during the winter to protect the crown or grow them in a pot that can be placed in a sheltered area (but not indoors — they need to go dormant).

Gooseberries and currants are perfectly legal to grow in the western half of the state, if you can find a company willing to take the time to sell them to you. They are relatively small plants with relatively big return on investment with flavor.

Blueberries can also be grown in small spaces and in containers. Different varieties can grow to different sizes, with some being quite large. Select a smaller variety to reduce pruning needs. Keep in mind that you will need two varieties for good pollination. I’ve even seen one variety sold specifically for containers called Top Hat.

Tropical fruits such as lemons, limes and oranges can be grown as houseplants and put outside in the summer. While you typically won’t get a large harvest, it can be a fun novelty to get a few fruits. Just imagine a friend’s reaction if you hand them a drink with a wedge of home-grown lemon or lime for garnish! You can find these tropical fruits in a variety of garden catalogs these days.

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