“The sky is the limit with fruit trees in Southwest Florida,” says Brian Galligan. As vice president of horticulture at the Naples Botanical Garden, his passion for fruit-bearing trees runs deep—and he often takes his work home with him. In fact, several hundred fruit trees populate his 5-acre property. For those lacking that type of space, however, potted fruit trees positioned on a patio pose an attractive option. Here, Galligan shares his top potted picks for the patio and how to care for them.
Selecting a Tree
Not all fruit trees flourish when contained. Some, such as lychee and jackfruit, aren’t suitable for potting because they want to grow large; others, like mango and avocado, can grow in a container depending on the cultivar or variety, explains Galligan. Research carefully and consult with your local garden center, which may be able to order a tree not already in stock. His favorites for potting include:
The red berries of this tree, which originated in West Africa, actually trick the taste buds. Sour foods like lemons and limes, when eaten immediately after consuming Miracle Fruit, will taste sweet. “This is one of the most fun plants someone in Naples could put in a container,” says Galligan. “People actually grow them and then do tastings with their friends.”
Dwarf Everbearing Mulberry
This tree produces tiny mulberries that taste delicious as snacks or toppings on cereal, oatmeal, or yogurt. “It produces multiple crops per year,” notes Galligan. “That, to me, is a winner.”
Also known as caviar limes, this tree yields small pods of citrus containing tiny spheres that burst with flavor. “Many people have written off citrus because there are so many diseases out there, especially citrus greening,” Galligan explains. “Finger limes are from Australia and are completely immune to greening.”
Galligan believes this plant bears the biggest reward. “It’s going to produce the most fruit of anything you put in a container, and it’s a pretty attractive plant,” he says.
While this plant may not grow a cup of joe, its novelty provides plenty of fodder for conversation. “It’s easy to grow, and it has very fragrant flowers followed by attractive red or yellow fruit,” Galligan says.
Potting Your Plant
A robust patio tree starts with the container and “bigger is always better,” Galligan says. Aim to pot the tree in at least a 5-to-7-gallon container after teasing the root ball apart. He recommends lining the bottom of the pot with gravel and a screen to keep the gravel from filling with soil after each watering. “You can always give it more water, but if it’s not draining, you’re going to get a root rot situation,” he says. A mid-grade potting mix “not all peat, not all sand” with a high-quality, slow-release fertilizer will give the plant more resilience to the elements and protect against overwatering and underwatering. For optimal drainage, elevate the container off the patio surface, even just slightly. “The best scenario, however, is to put it on coasters to roll it around when needed.”’
Ensure a successful bounty from your fruit tree with proper sun exposure and watering.
“Deep waterings are better than light, frequent waterings,” says Galligan. “You want to reach the bottom of the container, and you also want the water to leave. With more drainage, you’ll have to water more often, but it’s better for the plant.” Leaf drops usually signify too much water, though it could also mean the tree isn’t getting enough sun, a vital element for producing fruit. Fruit-bearing trees may also attract unwanted critters. Prevent an animal from stealing your bounty by learning when fruit is ripe and picking just before their prime.
The Naples area boasts a large community of passionate fruit tree growers. Nonprofit organizations such as the Collier Fruit Growers Council offer educational resources and support from other gardeners. Membership costs $15 per family, and the council meets every third Tuesday of the month for informative lectures and fruit tastings. Galligan’s final word of advice before diving into this sweet world: “Beware. It’s very addictive.”