Small is beautiful

Article originally published by: Kiwi Gardener

Kate Marshall says dwarf fruit trees are perfect for gardens or containers.

Anyone can have fruit trees in their garden with dwarf varieties – perfect for planting the gardens and for container growing.

Dwarf fruit trees grow just 1.5m to 2m tall and produce full-sized fruit that are within arm’s reach for easy picking – no dangerous ladder climbing to beat the birds. Even kids can pick their own fruit from the lower branches.

Dwarf varieties produce fruit early in the age of the tree, sometimes in the first year after planting, so are ideal for the impatient gardener. For stonefruit lovers, choose from the apricot ‘Aprigold’, which is self fertile, producing tasty sweet fruit in December/January, or peaches ‘Bonanza’ or ‘Pixzee’ and nectarines ‘Flavourzee’ or ‘Garden Delight’ for their yellow-fleshed fruits.

These trees are a delight in spring with masses of pretty pink blossoms, followed by large crops of full-sized fruit. The dwarf apple ‘Blush Babe’ is perfect for container growing with its mop head habit, or can be grown in gardens as a small feature tree.

‘Blush Babe’ is easy to grow, being naturally disease-resistant, and is very productive with tasty fruit that has a sweet/sharp balance. Nut lovers aren’t forgotten, either, with the delightful dwarf almond ‘Garden Prince’, which is both attractive and very productive.

Generally, dwarf fruit trees need very little care. The dwarf peaches and nectarines grow best with an organic spray programme: simply a copper spray in autumn at leaf fall, followed by copper sprays in spring both before and after flowering. This basic programme will get on top of leaf curl and brown rot, which are more difficult to cure than prevent – so it’s best to get in first before the infection gets in.

Pruning needs are limited to thinning out crowded branches and the “Three D’s” (dead, diseased and damaged). Pruning is best done during dry weather in late summer after fruiting. For dwarf fruit trees being grown in the ground, regular summer applications of a fruit tree fertiliser is recommended to ensure the best results. Regular, deep watering is also essential in the summer when the fruit is developing. Erratic watering can lead to stress and cause fruit to drop prematurely. Using a mulch around the base of the tree is helpful to retain moisture – just make sure to keep the mulch well clear of the trunk to avoid rotting.

Container growing of dwarf fruit trees is perfect for small gardens and patios. It is essential to use very good quality container mix that has high levels of fertiliser and moisture retention agents (cheap stuff has little or none of these goodies). Choose a large pot – wine barrel size is ideal as it means there is enough room for the roots to grow – and enough potting mix with fertiliser and moisture to sustain the tree and its fruit. Use a mulch of straw around the base of the tree to retain moisture.

Apply fertiliser regularly through summer (choose one that is suitable for pots, such as Novatech) to keep it growing well. It’s important to repot dwarf fruit trees every two or three years: do this in winter when the tree is dormant, shaking off the crusty, dry potting mix from the roots and replacing it with good quality potting mix. You may be able to use the same pot, or go up a size.

It’s not too late to plant dwarf fruit trees during spring – there is a great range still available in garden centres. Just make sure to keep the trees well watered during dry spring spells, continuing through the summer – and you might be lucky to get the first taste of your home-grown fruit some time in January.