By Bec Wenzel
Many people think that growing your own fruit is best left for those with a massive yard, with lots of space for multiple trees and vines. However there are now so many alternatives on the market for smaller gardens so there is simply no reason you can’t grow a variety of your favourite fruit for you and your family and with plenty left over for neighbours!
I like to go by the theory that almost anything can be grown in a pot with the right care, so if you are especially lacking in space fruit will grow in containers too.
One of the best types of fruit to always have in the garden is citrus, and I have a lemon tree along with a potted orange. It’s always good to have lemons on hand when someone in the household gets a cold. An orange tree also has a gorgeous scent and attracts the bees.
Growing citrus: A warm sunny position is best, protected from frost and strong winds. If planting in a container, make sure the container is deep as the root system will need the space. Citrus trees are heavy feeders and drinkers, so make sure they get sufficient fertiliser and water every day through summer. If planting in the ground, water while young and in dry periods.
Most trees will not grow higher than 2.5 metres but you can prune after fruiting to get a desired shape and size. It might seem wrong, but pick off the fruit in the first year will mean the tree can put more energy into developing into a strong plant. I always like to leave a few sneaky fruit to develop because having a small harvest can be rewarding but not too many or it will hurt the development of the tree later on, and you want to be able to enjoy for many years!
Dwarf varieties of citrus are available in store now and there is an amazing range of varieties coming through. Lemon Meyer is particularly useful in the garden as it fruits for about 9 months of the year, so it’s also the most popular! The Mexican Key Lime is a summer ripening lime, which makes it great to add to summer drinks and cocktails as well as drizzling over chicken, fish and salads for extra zing.
You can’t go wrong with strawberries in the spring and summer time, these are particularly good for beginners and kids; you just need to keep the birds from getting to them first!
Growing strawberries: The best time to plant strawberries, believe it or not, is in winter as it will allow the plant to develop and become well established in time for the fruiting season in late spring – summer. You can however, still plant them through spring and early summer if you missed the boat.
Being low to the ground strawberries make a great container plant, are great in hanging baskets and are also good in a vertical planter. To save space I like to plant my strawberries around the base of potted trees like citrus or tamarillo, just be sure they get enough light as strawberries love full sun. When I feed my bigger fruit trees I am also feeding my strawberries as well. Don’t forget to put up bird netting or you will be at war with the birds over your ripening berries.
My favourite variety of strawberry is the camarosa as it is an early variety with large fruit and it produces quite heavily. Children’s faces seem to light up when they see fresh strawberries so it is definitely a must for the family garden.
Try growing blueberries in containers, they make a great summer treat. Blueberries are so expensive at the supermarket so I make sure to grow my own.
Growing blueberries: Blueberries are mostly self-pollinating (meaning they contain both male and female parts, allowing them to reproduce without pollen from another plant) but if you plant two different varieties they tend to cross-pollinate resulting in a bigger crop of fruit. They are a highly ornamental plant and can look great in containers or the garden, be sure to let the plants and root system develop so you may want to pick off some of those delicious blueberries in the first year.
Blueberries are best planted in full sun and good drainage is a must. Do not let the soil dry out through summer. Blueberries have a shallow root system and prefer an all round consistency in watering.
When you think of the fruit bowl the first thought to come to mind is apples. I love apples for juicing but I don’t have room for an apple tree so I prefer to grow columnar apples which are a great way to grow apples in a limited space.
Growing apples: Columnar apples are a compact variety bred especially for home gardeners. They do not grow more than 4 metres tall and are very narrow producing a good amount of fruit on a single column. You can’t get a more compact apple tree than the Ballerina which take up no space at all. Another bonus is limited pruning is required which is why I absolutely love this low maintenance apple. Plant a few different varieties for pollination, and they look simply amazing as a border. It is a highly ornamental little tree and people will be fascinated by it when they come to visit.
The Ballerina Polka is a red, crisp and juicy flavoured apple which I really enjoy. If you prefer green apples try Ballerina Bolero, which are a tasty, crisp variety.
Dwarf nectarines and peaches are another way of getting that much loved stone fruit into the household.
Growing nectarines and peaches: The dwarf nectarines and peaches look stunning when they come out in flower in early spring, I love it when they come out in bloom on bare branches. Some varieties may require pollination but many are self-pollinating so make sure to check the varieties in store. Growing no larger than 2 metres, plant in full sun in rich soil with good drainage. The best time to plant is in winter or early spring to get that burst of growth. Thinning may be required if the branches are too full with fruit. Thinning is the process of picking off fruit to give room to the fruit left on the branches. Take the fruit off when they are just developing, around the size of a cherry. It is best to leave 10cm between fruits left on the branch. It may be horrible to pick off developing fruit, but by doing so you are ensuring the remaining fruit left on the branches have more room to grow and will grow into bigger, better fruit.
Peach Garden Lady is quite a popular dwarf variety in store. It has large yellow blushed red fruit, which is sweet and juicy. Also being self-pollinating you can’t really go wrong. Nectarine Nectar Babe is one of my favourites, with a lovely sweet flavour and is yellow fleshed.