How to Set up a Potted Orchard in One Weekend
By Emma Swan
As the population increases, the space that we have as individuals is gradually decreasing. Balconies, patios, and shared backyards are becoming increasingly normal for Australians, especially those of us living in larger cities. With such small spaces with which we can experience nature, it’s understandable that people have been focusing on indoor foliage. However, there is the possibility for all of us to extend our greenery back into our outdoor spaces, with the extra bonus of making it edible.
A journey I have been experimenting on is creating a functional potted orchard in my backyard. Although I have experience growing edibles and ornamentals in a nursery setting, it’s a different set of challenges to grow fruit trees in tight spaces, with occasionally limited light, and the constant possibility of relocation as a renter.
On this page I will compile my suggestions specific to each fruit tree group (ie. what fruit should you invest in for your space?), as well as the essential tools you’ll need, and considerations for balconies. I will also try to identify associated costs, so you can save up for your big weekend!
What fruit should you invest in for your space?
All climates, all backyards:
Blueberries, Lemon Heaven™, Maestro Mandarin®, Midnight/Red Velvet Pomegranates, and Sweet Temptation™ Fig. These are ESSENTIALS for a potted orchard, and are available online (except our citrus, which are available in retail stores). The only factor you may have to be cautious of is frost. Regular frosts don’t agree with these varieties, however, there are ways around this – using greenhouses over winter, or simply pulling your potted plants under trees or undercover will significantly help! Thanks to the smaller size of all varieties (particularly when you purchase dwarf citrus!), and the potential to prune them back even further (which is how you can maintain the pomegranates in a smaller space), it’s quite easy to erect a structure to protect them.
Subtropical and Tropical, small backyards:
In the PlantNet® range, the above suggestions are the most suitable for smaller subtropical spaces. Other suitable varieties are our Sunset Super Dwarf™ Nectarine and Peach! These will only ever grow to 1.5m high and 1.0m wide – but they take a while to get there. For stone fruit lovers, these are the perfect introduction to stone fruit in a potted orchard. I have a Sunset Super Dwarf™ Nectarine, which I have in a 300mm pot, which I’ve raised off the tiles of my courtyard with pot feet. I find it super easy to maintain, and the deep pink flowers in spring followed by deep red leaves in summer is addictive!
While you can experiment with the other members of our Tropical Sensations™ range, they are full size fruit trees. You can keep them pruned back, but at a certain point they may become too large. One option is to espalier them if you have a permanent small space. However, I would suggest you start with the earlier mentioned fruit varieties, which are easier to maintain in small backyards in pots. Once you’ve mastered the dwarf varieties, then you should absolutely experiment with full sized varieties!
Cool temperate, small backyards:
Virtually anything in our Backyard Beauties® range will be suitable for your situation. From all the previously mentioned varieties to our super dwarf apples, pears, and stone fruit, they will work for you!
For areas with severe frosts, avoid stone fruit unless you have a protected area or greenhouse where you can keep your trees over winter. Areas with occasional frosts are suited to all these varieties. Cherries may still be suited to your area provided you don’t receive regular late frosts.
And here are some more specific considerations:
Apple, pear, and plum varieties will almost all require a pollination partner. For those of us who adore apples, this should be no problem. Replace the stone fruit that aren’t suitable for you with another apple, or a set of pears.
In a 2m square space, you can easily fit 2 pears and a blueberry! In a 4m square, you could increase it to 2 super dwarf apples, 2 blueberries, and a Sweet Temptation™ Fig. This would give you fruit for much of the year with the right conditions!
Warm temperate, small backyards:
Again, virtually anything in our Backyard Beauties® range will be suitable for your situation. Without severe and regular frosts, stone fruit will thrive in your area! Expect fruit to mature later than their lower chill peers. Apples and pears will also do very well in your climate. You can save space by selecting self-pollinating varieties, for example have one dwarf peach, a dwarf apricot, a dwarf plumcot (tastes like a plum but can be pollinated by apricots!), and dwarf citrus!
Essentials for a potted orchard
1. Pots! You will need pots with a minimum size of 50cm in diameter. You can invest in thick plastic pots, fiberglass pots, or terracotta pots for approximately $50-$200, depending on how much you want to spend. If you want to stay on the cheaper side, buy a 50cm black plastic pot for $10 and paint it a lighter colour for another $10 (using spray paint!).
2. Premium potting mix. For apples, pears, stone fruit, figs, and pomegranates, a normal premium potting mix is all you need. For citrus, choose a premium fruit and citrus blend. For blueberries, you need to use a 50/50 blend of Premium Azalea and Gardenia Potting Mix and pine bark. All these potting mixes will be sitting around the $12 mark for a 30L bag; a bag of pine bark sits at around $10.
3. Mulch! In warmer climates, mulch can be used all year round, but is most important over spring and summer when temperatures are rising. The main function is to keep moisture in, regulate temperature, and keep weeds at bay. In colder climates with wet winters, you should only mulch in summer – never in winter. If you mulch in winter, it will take longer for your potting mix to dry out. This can quickly cause root rot! For a straw-based mulch (suitable for all trees, pomegranates, citrus, and figs) you can mulch all your pots for about $20 and have some left over for next time. For bark or chip mulches (pine bark for blueberries, and any bark except hard wood for trees, pomegranates, citrus, and figs) you can mulch all your pots for $10 and have some left for next time. Store in a sealed bag in a sheltered area!
4. Many fruit trees are hungry, especially citrus! You need a controlled release fertiliser as your bread and butter. A tub of controlled release fertiliser costs about $5-$15 depending on size and can last you a couple of seasons. Liquid fertilisers are also beneficial, and for a concentrated mix you can spend about $10 on this. Seaweed is great in liquid form – aim for a concentrate which normally sits around the $20 mark to use throughout the year. Urea, around $25, and granular potash, around $20, are also great to use and last for a long time. Check out our Fertiliser Trials in our Plant Care page for more inspiration. The great thing about fertiliser is that you don’t need any specific one, so you can use it on your potted fruit trees, indoor plants, or garden!
5. Pest and disease control. If you want stone fruit that’s not leaf curl resistant, you should be prepared to control leaf curl in winter. You need a bottle of copper-based fungicide – one that’s registered to control leaf curl in stone fruit – on hand to treat it while the tree is dormant. If you want citrus, you should have white oil on hand, or an eco-insecticide, to prevent citrus leaf miner and citrus gall wasp (it deters them from laying eggs on your plant). It is always good to have some eco-fungicide on hand, so that you can address any suspected fungal infections should they arise. Depending on the chemical you buy it could be between $15 and $100 – they usually last a long time.
6. Stakes and ties. Hardwood is best for fruit trees. Buy a pack of stakes with any kind of ties you prefer! This will be around $20 for 6 trees.
7. The right fruit trees! While I’ve mentioned what might be suitable previously, here’s some prices you can expect from our online store: Blueberries, figs, and pomegranates are all one for $48.00 or two for $62.00. Fruit trees are $40.00ea plus postage. In store prices are determined by store owners and usually increase based on the size of the tree. You can expect anywhere from $35 – $80 for a smaller fruit tree, and upwards of $100 for a larger tree. Our dwarf trees finish growing in their first year – therefore it’s a great idea to buy them bare-rooted.
Considerations for Balconies
After you’ve potted your fruit trees, you’ll probably notice there’s a lot of soil around. Be prepared and grab yourself a tub to mix soil in and discard old soil – you can get tubs suited to this for virtually any price but aim for better quality at around $10ea. You can also lay down an old bed sheet or settle for sweeping up after yourself!
You may also notice that when you water them, water goes everywhere! Unfortunately, the best solution is not a drip tray. You should avoid using drip trays as they can cause root rot in fruit trees when they sit in water for too long. If you are insistent on preventing water covering your balcony, purchase large drip trays (approximately $5) and lift your pot out of it using pot feet (approximately $4ea).
One of the biggest problems you may face is lighting. Having a balcony with a north orientation is ideal for all varieties, and east or south for blueberries and deciduous fruit trees. West facing balconies can be ok unless they only get hot afternoon sun! Try not to overcrowd your space with fruit trees that shade others – this can cause stunted growth on lower growing plants, like blueberries and figs.
Your big weekend – Step by Step
- After you’ve acquired all your essentials, you’re at the fun part: potting up your plants! Follow the videos below for instructions on potting your blueberries and fruit trees.
- Move them to a sunny spot to mulch and water them in with some seasol. Watch the video below on mulching and keeping your pots cool in summer.
- Write on your calendar when you need to fertilise next – follow fertiliser packet instructions and our Fruit Tree and Blueberry fertiliser trials if desired.
- Watering depends on your climate – generally every 2-3 days in summer is normal. Once a week in winter is normal. Mature trees may need even less watering!
Here’s the price breakdown for the raw essentials if you buy all your products new:
Fruit Trees (For 2 trees and 2 blueberries)
Plastic Pots and Paint
Potting mix and mulch
Fertiliser (excluding urea and potash)
Stakes and ties
If you’re already a green thumb or a gardening hopeful, you may already have some of these essentials! For myself, I only ever need to buy the tree and the potting mix – I’ve already got everything else. You can save money on many of these items by getting them second hand – such as your pots and stakes – or by getting crafty with what you already have!
The beauty of a potted orchard is that it’s really not a lot of work; you might get your secateurs out once a year! Your most regular activity will be watering, which is a great reason to take a break from the indoors and reset with your fruit trees. So, consider the investment – it will feel like you didn’t spend anything at all when you’re eating juicy fruit from your tree!