Urban Homesteading with Plants – Part II Raising Fruits in a Container

lemon_treeMany gardeners feel that growing fruit is out of the question if you do not have land.  This is not true.  Countless fruits can be grown successfully in a container.  The only thing that limits the gardener is the container size and the outdoor space.

Some of the more common fruits that can be found growing in containers include strawberries, and blueberries.  Other fruits that are common to many areas but are not thought of as container plants include grapes, and dwarf fruit trees.


When considering growing strawberries, one must decide when they want to harvest their berry crop.  Strawberries come in three different types.  Ever bearing strawberries produce two crops, one in the spring and one in the late summer to early fall.  June bearing strawberries produce one large crop in June.  The last variety is day neutral and produces fruit continuously form June to September.

The next decision that needs to be made is the type of container one would like to use.  Strawberries do well growing in a vertical space and can find home in hanging baskets, grow bags or flower pouches.  Another approach is to use an old fashioned container called a strawberry pot.  This type of container is shaped like an urn that has pockets going up the sides.  These pots come in terra cotta and plastic.

Strawberries need a sandy loam soil that has 3% organic matter, which includes compost, leaf mold, manure or peat moss.  Also bone meal and blood meal will need to be added to the soil to supply strawberries with extra nutrition.

If using a grow bag or flower pouch, simply fill the container with soil until the first “X” or pocket is reached.  Then push the roots through the “X” or place in the pocket.  Once that is done, add additional soil until the next “X” or pocket is reached.  Repeat the process until the bag or pouch is filled.

A hanging basket with strawberries is simply planted in the same fashion as for flowers.

If using a strawberry pot, a few extra steps are required.  First, you need to presoak the strawberry pot in water if it is made of terra cotta.  This material, if not soaked, will rob moisture from the soil.

After the pot has soaked, place drainage material in the bottom.  Take a piece of PVC pipe the height of the strawberry pot and drill holes into it.  This pipe will then be placed into the strawberry pot and will create a way of watering the container without loosing soil out the pockets.

Once the pipe has been put in place, fill the container until the first row of pockets are reached.  Place one strawberry plant per pocket and fill until you reach the next level of pockets.  Continue with this process until the top is reached.  Plant three to four strawberry plants in the top but make sure not to fill the PVC pipe in with soil.

When it comes time to water, simply pour water down the PVC pipe until moisture is seen coming out of the bottom of the container.

Place the container of choice in an area that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight.

Dwarf Blueberries and Fruit Trees

When growing blueberries and fruit trees in containers, one should only use dwarf varieties but this does not limit the gardener’s choices.  There are dwarf blueberries, Meyer lemons, bananas, Venous oranges, pears, cherries, apples, apricots, plums, nectarines, and peach varieties that do well in containers.

Before planning on growing dwarf fruit on a balcony make sure that the area can support the weight.  Container grown fruits require a large container, which can create problems with not only weight but also moving.  Prior to planting the container, make sure to have a clear vision of where you want the planting and perform the planting as close to this area as possible.

To begin this process, pick a large container that will not freeze.  A terracotta planter is not a good choice instead consider a wooden planter that is at least 2 by 2 by 2 feet.  Next make sure there is a drainage hole in the container.  Dwarf fruits require good drainage to prevent the soil from water logging.

After the container has been selected, next the soil mix will need to be made.  All-purpose soil can be used but 1/3 of the soil mix will need to be perlite or vermiculite.

Once the soil has been mixed, the next step is to acquire the plant material.  Most dwarf fruit trees are sold as bare root specimens.  If you purchase bare root, keep in mind that it is very important to get them into the soil as soon as possible.

To plant the dwarf fruit, place drainage material in the bottom of the container and fill ¾ of the way with soil.  Take the dwarf fruit specimen and cut away any dead or damaged roots.  Loosen the roots a little bit and place in the soil.  Do not plant the dwarf fruit any deeper than what is required to cover the roots with soil.  Remove or add soil as needed to get to this level.  Once the roots are at the correct level, continue to fill the container with soil until the soil level is ½ inch from the rim of the pot.

Pruning is very important when it comes to dwarf fruit.  Prune branches every year.  Transplant every two years and prune the roots back during this time.  When transplanting, only add up to 20 percent new soil and do not increase pot size.  The purpose of transplanting is to create an opportunity to prune the roots and add some new soil.

In some areas, container grown dwarf fruits will need some winter protection.  Bubble wrap or quilt batting can be wrapped around the base of the plant to protect the roots from the cold.


Container grown grapes have a long history in Victorian England.  To compensate from not having fruit year round, many estates grew grapes in containers in greenhouses.  Another well-known approach was to train a living grape cane from an older vine to grow in a container.  This was done by forcing a living grape cane through the drainage hole of container filled with soil.  The living grape cane rooted in the soil and would produce fruit since it was still attached to the mother vine.  Once the fruit was ripe, the cane had rooted and was ready to be separated from the mother vine.

The potted grape vine would then be used as a banquet table centerpiece from which guests could pick their own fruit.  This became so popular that furniture was even created with a hole in the center to hold these potted vines.

To grow your own grape vines at home, start off with the vinifera variety, which is the classical English container grape.  The type of container is not as crucial as other fruits but it needs to be large enough to hold a trellis.  Also, grape roots do not like intense heat so if you plan to use a dark colored container make sure that the base can be placed in the shade while the plant is in the bright sun.

Grapes like a silt loam soil that drains well.  They also require very little fertilizer.

Once you have your soil, container, trellis, and grape variety, it is time to plant.  Fill the container ¾ the way up with soil.  Grape vines are typically sold as bare root specimens and will need to be placed in the soil as soon as possible.  Before planting, inspect the roots and remove any damaged or dead roots.  Place in the soil and continue to fill in the container.  After the container has been filled, place the trellis into the container.

Three times a year during the growing season, apply a low nitrogen fertilizer such as fish emulsion to the container.

Training and pruning is very important when it comes to grapes.  Classic English vines are typically trained to grow on a fan trellis.  This style requires a central trunk that is about three feet tall with short spurs every six inches.  These spurs will produce the fruit.  Once the plant blooms, thin the clusters of fruit so that the plant is not overloaded.  Start off with one to two clusters on the vine when it is about one year old.  Permit additional clusters to form as the vine ages until one pound of fruit is reached per gallon of container.

With these techniques, anyone can grow hyperlocal fruit on their very own urban homestead.

Mindy McIntosh-Shetter has been an Agricultural Science educator, and is a horticulture and/or environmental blogger who earned a degree from Purdue University in Agriculture Education with a minor in biology, and natural resources. Presently she is finishing up her Masters in Environmental Education and Urban Planning for the University of Louisville while working on her own agriculture/environmental blog.

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