Trees planted in half tubs will help beat budget blues, writes Meg Liptrot.
As the cost of living increases more families are struggling to afford the basic necessities. Fruit and veges are not spared from the price rises but luckily there is a solution to this - although it is a longer-term solution. Even if you're in a rental property, you can do it.
Plant a fruit tree. The tree doesn't need to be in the ground, it can be in a half barrel if need be. Just get it planted, and in a couple of years - and in some cases sooner - you'll be reaping the rewards and reclaiming the right you and your family have to fresh affordable fruit.
Deciduous fruit trees such as pipfruit and stonefruit are best planted while they're dormant to get the tree established in the ground in time for spring blossom and, ultimately, summer fruit. They are available at garden centres now.
Thin most of the fruit in the first year to prevent heavy fruit breaking branches and overtaxing the tree. The initial focus is more about getting the shape and structure of the tree right.
Some deciduous fruit trees come bare-rooted without potting mix. They should be planted as soon as possible after purchase. Many heritage fruit tree nurseries will courier bare-rooted stock. They often sell out of popular varieties so it pays to plan ahead.
Look for pipfruit and stonefruit trees grafted on dwarfing rootstock for tubs and small gardens. Dwarf deciduous fruit trees such as the 'Ballerina' apple are suitable for a large tub and can produce fruit in the first year, but they do tend to be an expensive tree to buy. If you're after a cheaper option for growing in a half barrel or tub go for clementine mandarin and berryfruit. You could even try the hardy feijoa and guava if they are kept pruned to a small size. Feijoas suit being pruned as a "standard" - a lollipop shape - to keep them compact. Smaller fig varieties will also be okay in a half barrel.
Trees in tubs require extra care over summer to prevent them from drying out, and they'll need regular feeding to keep them productive and healthy. Keep tubs raised off the ground, with drainage holes to prevent the rain waterlogging and killing the tree.
Ensure the tub will be accessible if you plan to move and that it can be shifted with a trolley - or a friendly local rugby team.
If you are in a situation where you can plant fruit trees in the ground, trees which give great rewards for little effort include plums, apples, pears, figs and disease-resistant peaches. For maximum fruit production, certain fruit trees will need a pollinator tree planted nearby.
If you don't have room, choose trees which are self-fertile, or double-grafted with two cultivars on the one tree.
If you have space, or amenable neighbours to share with, plant a few different varieties which range from early- to late-season ripening to ensure fruit supply for your family over a longer period to beat those budget blues.
Planting fruit trees
* Choose a sunny, sheltered spot. Where necessary, choose a tree grafted on to appropriate root stock for your soil type (ie, heavy clay or light, sandy).
* Dig your planting hole twice as wide and slightly deeper than the potting bag. Loosen and aerate the soil either side with a fork to allow for good drainage.
* Mix a couple of small spades of compost into the loose soil at the base of the hole. Then pile outside the hole to back-fill later.
* Gently remove the potting bag. Inspect the roots to ensure the tree isn't root bound. Spread out, or cut off, any roots that are growing in a circle as they will strangle the tree and reduce its lifespan.
* To plant a bare-rooted tree, create a mound inside the base of the planting hole to spread the roots over.
* Place tree in the hole with the base of the trunk at ground level. Back-fill the hole.
* Heel in the tree. Hold the trunk steady, to avoid it being planted on a lean.
* Stake on both sides and secure with soft ties. Remove stake after a year.
* Mulch your tree every year, before summer, to retain soil moisture. Avoid letting mulch pile up against the trunk.