Dwarf Fruit Trees in the Home Orchard
Why Grow Your Own Fruit
When planning your kitchen garden consider adding a couple of dwarf fruit trees. These small trees grow very well in small, urban areas, and can produce quite a bit of full size, delicious, organic fruit for free.
As more people become concerned with the food supply, its effect on the environment, and buying locally, it seems natural that there would be more interest in having a personal supply of fruit. After all, there are regularly recalls of fruit that has been grown commercially, whether in the United States or other countries. Growing your own is another way to control what you are eating, and it is great for the earth. Transporting an apple 2,000 miles not only affects freshness, nutrition, and taste, it also affects the environment with all of the fossil fuels used in the transportation process.
Should I Choose Dwarf or Semi-Dwarf Trees?
With dwarf and semi-dwarf types, you can plant several in your urban back yard and be harvesting pounds of organic fruit within 3-5 years.
- Dwarf Trees: These are the best for small spaces. They can grow very well in only an eight foot diameter area. Most dwarf types only reach five to ten feet tall. The fruit is normal sized, but the yield is significantly less than a full sized tree.
- Semi-Dwarf Trees: These are the most popular for home gardens. The semi dwarf types need about fifteen feet diameter of space to grow properly. They range in height from ten to fifteen feet tall and will need to be pruned every year to keep their shape, as well as their height. These are very productive, rivaling the production levels of standard trees.
Which size you get should depend on how much fruit you need per season as well as how much room you have. Keep in mind that many types require a pollinator and so you will need two trees for fruit production.
If you are living in a suburban neighborhood, you may want to consider planting them in the back yard. Fruit has a way of disappearing when it grows in the more easily-accessed front yard. Or plant it in a large container. The mini sizes and true dwarfs work well in container gardens.
Location, Location, Location
There are other things to keep in mind besides keeping your fruit safe from marauding neighbors. Whether your home orchard is made up of two trees or ten, you need to plan your location carefully. Some things you'll need are:
- Well-drained soil
- Full sunlight
- Easy access
- A spot that won't interfere with daily activities, for example, mulberries stain things badly. You would not want to locate a mulberry tree by a walkway.
- Access to water source. Can you get a hose out there?
How to Decide Which Fruit Variety to Plant
Now that you have a location, you'll need to decide on which varieties of fruit trees you want to plant. In order to do this, you will need to know what hardiness zone you live in. A fantastic hardiness map for the United States is available at HGTV. You just type in your zip code and it will tell you what zone you are in and the specific conditions of that zone.
There are other things besides temperature that will affect the production of fruit. You must plant a variety that will grow well in your location and will be able to thrive on the type of soil that you have.
The best way to find out what fruit trees grow best in your locality is to call your Agricultural Extension office and talk to them. Here is a list of links to apple varieties by state and location: You will find this very helpful in choosing the variety that will be just right for your area. For other types of fruit, check with your Ag extension or local nursery. Don't ask the local Wal-Mart or Home Depot because those people are not specialists in gardens and plants. Go to a small, local nursery that has been around for a long time and strike up a conversation with the owner. That is absolutely the best way to find out more than you ever wanted to know!
Planting the Trees
For best results, plant fruit trees the recommended distance apart but no further than twenty feet apart to insure proper pollination.
- Test the area you have chosen for drainage.
- Dig a hole 1' deep and 18" wide and fill it with water.
- Time how long it takes to drain the water out. It should not take more than three hours total.
- Loosen the soil on the sides and bottom with the shovel or a pitchfork.
- Put a 1"-2" layer of compost in the bottom of the hole. Mound it up in the center of the hole to support the tree.
- Set the tree in the hole with the root ball on top of the mound and the graft line no more than 3" above the ground.
- Gently spread the roots.
- Shovel the dirt back until the hole is full.
- Water thoroughly and allow the dirt to settle in around the roots.
- Add more dirt if necessary.
- Water again.
- Mulch with several inches of organic mulch but not so much that the graft line is covered.
- Keep the tree well-watered for the first year so that the roots have a chance to become well established.
It is better to water deeply a couple of times a week than shallowly on a daily basis. Water once a week with a manure tea made by soaking well rotted manure and water in a 1:3 ratio.
Varieties to Consider
Always try to find heirloom plants and trees. Overall, they will be tastier, easier to grow, and hardier than other plants that may be modern hybrids, and/or have genetically altered DNA. Not all heirlooms are available on dwarf rootstock, however many are. Trees of Antiquity offers heirloom varieties.
Some types that are generally good for most areas are:
- Violette de Bordeaux
- Black Mission Brown Turkey
- Pippin Anna (good for southwest)
- Duchess of Oldenburg
- Northern Spy
- Blue Damson
- Bavay's Green Gage
Others to consider
- Chocolate persimmon
- Whitney Crabapple
Your trees will need to be pruned regularly. All pruning should be done in late winter or very early in the spring when the trees are fully dormant. For the first few years, you will be pruning to create the tree's ultimate shape. Make sure that you leave good support branches. Each type of tree is pruned in a different way. You can get a chart at your local nursery.
The economy continues to worsen. At this writing, the cost of gasoline is projected to hit all time highs. Food costs are skyrocketing. By growing your own, you can be sure that your family will have a source of healthy fruit for years to come. Taking the time to prepare and plant now is just smart planning for the future!