Fruit Trees for Small Gardens
Fruit trees for small gardens
Dwarf Self-Fruitful Fruit Trees
Three innovations in fruit tree development make it possible for you to grow a small orchard in the space where only one standard apple tree could formerly thrive.
Grafting desirable varieties onto rootstock that limits the ultimate height of the tree gives you the choice of how high and wide you want your fruit trees. Some miniature dwarfs grow as short as three feet tall. Even with the larger dwarfs, think how many trees you can grow in a small garden – and their fruit is just as large as on standard-size trees. Most miniatures reach six to eight feet tall, regular dwarfs, eight to 10 feet, and semi-dwarf trees, 12 to 15 feet, but they can all be pruned to stay shorter than that, or you can always employ a basketball player to help care for them. Breeders have also developed genetic dwarf fruit trees that do not even have to be grafted onto other rootstock.
Small size makes it possible to grow the trees in containers such as half barrels. (Think what fun it could be to empty barrels to get these containers.) Perched on small wheeled platforms these trees become portable. A variety that may not be hardy in your area which could be sent to the orchard in the sky by a hard freeze can be schlepped into your garage – travel that could save its life or at least its blossoms and fruit year when bad weather strikes.
This portability could save your fruit trees in another way. Fruit trees require full sun to thrive and bear abundantly. On wheels, the trees can be moved in season to where they will get enough sunlight to ensure bountiful fruit development.
Another bonus with dwarf trees is that they bear fruit much earlier than their larger cousins do. My peach tree blossomed beautifully the first year I planted it, and even bore a couple of peaches I left on. The second year it had about twenty beautiful full size flavorsome tree-ripened peaches, and after that I stopped counting. My full size apple trees took forever to bear, but my dwarf tree gave me apples in three years.
The size of the dwarf trees makes it easy to care for them. Most fruit trees require at least dormant spraying to prevent the diseases and critters that produce less than perfect fruit. You don’t need a ladder to spray or pick fruit on a tree that’s less than eight feet high or pruned down to a height you can reach.
Disease resistance is a second innovation on which fruit tree breeders have worked hard. When you’re devouring nursery catalog descriptions, look for this characteristic as avidly as for taste and time of bearing. The nurseries are happy to brag about it.
A third innovation that makes growing an orchard in a small garden possible is the development of self-fertile cultivars with blossoms that pollinate themselves. Some catalogs list this characteristic for a variety and others don’t, but I suspect that some tree vendors just want to sell more trees so they keep self-fruitfulness a secret. They all state that growing more than one variety gives you better pollination and more fruit, which is true. However, if you have a very small garden, not having to plant two apple, pear, or peach trees is a decided bonus. Here are some self-fertile varieties: (You can also search the web for “Self fertile (fruit)”.
Apples: Fuji, Braeburn, Self-Fertile Cox, Spartan, and Liberty.
Pears: Bosc, Comice, and many Asian pears.
Peaches: Elberta, Golden Jubilee, Hale Haven, Reliance, and Pix-Zee.
Plums: Santa Rosa, Green Gage, Victoria, and Yellow Egg.
Nurseries also offer “orchard on a tree” possibilities. These are trees grafted with two or more varieties of the same fruit that flower at the same time to ensure pollination. I haven’t had good luck with these and was stuck with having to buy pollinators when grafts died.
Supermarket fruit costs a lot and the taste suffers because it is usually picked too early to develop its best flavor, so the thought of providing your family with high quality tree-ripened fruit is most appealing. If you decide to grow fruit trees, enjoy your treasure hunt for varieties that grow to the size you prefer, have disease resistance, and are self-fertile. Besides, if you grow dwarf trees in containers you can take them along if you move. This is certainly a win-win situation!
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