February 24, 2011 in Washington Voices

Dwarf fruit trees offer options for small yard

Pat Munts
 
How to grow fruit trees

• “The Backyard Orchardist – A Complete Guide to Growing Fruit Trees in the Home Garden,” by Stella Otto

• “Growing and Caring for Dwarf Fruit Trees,” Cornell University Cooperative Extension Schenectady County Fact Sheet on the Web at www.cceschenectady.org

Let’s face it; having a small yard isn’t very amenable to growing your own fruit trees. Or so some people think and then miss out on growing their own tree ripened apples, peaches, pears or cherries. But think again; you can grow a reasonable orchard of fruit in a few pots on a deck or in your backyard. You just need the right type of trees.

Dwarf fruit trees are smaller versions of the much larger fruit trees of our parents and grandparents’ era. Today’s dwarfs can be grown in large pots on a patio or deck and can fit nicely into an 8-foot square in a small landscape.

Dwarf fruit trees are created by grafting the top of a tree with a particular variety to a rootstock with a propensity to grow small. The roots impart their genetic tendency to stay small to the top of the tree creating a smaller version of the original tree. Other genetics introduced to the grafting process (no GMO stuff here) can create very straight, narrow upright trees that hold their branches close. Growers may also graft branches of several varieties to a single stem creating a small tree with several different varieties of say, apples on it. This can also be done with cherries, peaches and pears so you don’t need a bunch of trees.

Most dwarf trees stay about 6 to 7 feet in height and 8 feet in width. This means you could plant as many as six or eight trees in a 20-foot square. That will produce a lot of fruit for a family and give the kids the thrill of picking a tree ripened peach or apple.

As with all fruit trees, dwarf trees need as much full sun as they can get and a consistent water supply that gets water deep where their roots are. They will grow in most soils except heavy clay and do not require much fertilizer. While they can be grown in a lawn area, it may be even more practical to replace some of your small ornamental trees with fruit trees. In lawn areas, they will need their own deep watering system as lawn watering usually doesn’t get water down deep enough. Check to see if you will need a pollinator variety to help set fruit properly.

Growing trees in pots requires fairly large pots about 2 feet in diameter at a minimum. Because the top of the trees will catch the wind, the pot needs to be heavy to keep them upright. Peaches in pots in our area are iffy over the winter if left outside. They can be rolled into a garage or shed for the winter and watered periodically.

As with any fruit tree, dwarf trees will be prone to the usual assortment of bugs and diseases found on fruit trees. A pest management program will need to be developed and followed to ensure blemish free fruit and protect other trees in the neighborhood from infestations.

Pat Munts is a Master Gardener who has gardened the same acre in Spokane for 30 years. She can be reached at patmunts@yahoo.com.


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