Sing with me: "Hi Ho! Hi Ho! It's off to work we go!" (You're whistling now, aren't you?) I'd like to introduce you to the seven dwarfs that are not Doc, Happy, Sleepy, and their four other friends. The dwarfs I'd like you to meet are seven dwarf fruit trees that you can grow in your small space. Yes, you can have your own mini orchard that will yield a surprising amount of fruit.
What are dwarf fruit trees?
A dwarf fruit tree is a tree that is artificiallykept to a smallersizethan is normalfor members of its species. Each tree will only grow to about 8-10 feet high.
How did they get so small?
Don't worry--no genetically modified nastiness was used to make the tree smaller (phew!). Usually what happens is a scion of a desirable fruit tree is manually grafted onto healthy root stock. (If you want to learn more about fruit tree grafting, check out this article.)
Advantages of going small
There are many advantages to growing dwarf fruit trees versus larger varieties; here my top 7:
1. They're great for gardeners who only have a small space. Yes, an apartment balcony is big enough.
2. Uh oh! You've packed all of your available growing space with other luscious things. But, thankfully, you have just enough space to squeeze in one more pot.
3. Dwarf fruit trees can be grown in containers, which means that they're movable and you can control their growing environment. If you start out with the tree in once place, but it isn't thriving, you can easily relocate it.
4. They're a "gateway tree" for future orchardists. Have you been dreaming of your own orchard but been nervous to take the plunge? Start small with 1-2 dwarf fruit trees to test the waters.
5. Kids love having a tree that's just their size. And we all know the importance of getting kids excited about learning where their food comes from.
6. Prune and care for the tree from the safety of the ground. This also saves on having to purchase ladders and long-reaching pruning tools.
7. Get fruit sooner! Because of its small size, you'll be harvesting your own homegrown fruit sooner from a dwarf tree than a full sized tree. Not only will you get fruit sooner, but you'll get a lot of it. It's not uncommon to hear reports of a backyard dwarf lemon tree yielding 40-50 lemons per growing season.
Meet the 7 dwarfs
Apples, pears, peaches, citrus fruit (oranges, lemon, lime), cherries, plums, and apricots all come in dwarf varieties that will grow well in containers and small spaces.
Here are some specific dwarf varieties to look for at your nursery:
- Apple: Cortland, Empire, Fuiji, and Honeycrisp
- Pear: Asian, Ayres, and Bartlett
- Peach: Belle of Georgia, Bonanza, and Elberta
- Citrus fruit: Meyer lemon, Valencia and blood oranges
- Cherry: Bing, Black Tartarian, and Danube
- Plum: Alderman, Burbank, and Damson
- Apricot: Autumn Royal and Early Golden.
3 tips for dwarf tree growing success
1. Protect from the sun
According to Mother Earth News, "Sunburned bark at the base of the trunk is the first place of entry for peach borers. Paint any white latex paint (interior or exterior) from just below the soil line up to the first several branches. Then be sure to get down on your knees occasionally to peek under the leaves to check for borer damage."
2. Pruning is key
In the first season, remove all tiny, immature fruits to allow the roots to more easily get established. From the second year on, thin the young fruits to leave one every three to four inches along the branch. Wait until the tiny fruit is as big as a jelly bean to make sure there is no fruit drop after thinning. This will insure the largest fruit possible.
Trim all growth that is less than 18 inches from the ground. Also trim any branches that are more than half the diameter of the trunk.
Prune when the tree is not actively bearing fruit--before the growing season begins and after it is over.
It's important to fertilize any fruit tree, but especially those grown in containers. Choose only organic fertilizers such as compost or manure. Each type of fruit tree has its own nutritional needs; check out this guide for more detailed information on organic fertilizer. Most growers recommend fertilizing only when the tree is actively producing fruit--not when it is dormant.
The 7 dwarfs have even smaller friends...
Now that you've met the 7 dwarfs, you should know that berries also come in dwarf varieties. Examples include dwarf self-pollinating blueberries, thorn-less raspberries, and strawberries.
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