Growing dwarf fruit trees makes it easier to get a fruit harvest in almost any garden. Polytunnel growers can fit small trees within the structure itself, or consider growing one on their patio or elsewhere in their garden. Dwarf fruit trees could also be grown in a fruit cage,which could help protect fruits from birds and other creatures that might eat your crop before you get the chance to.
In this article, we will take a look at why choosing a fruit tree is a good idea. We will examine whether a dwarf fruit tree is the right idea and look at some alternative options. We will delve a little deeper into what restricts the size of dwarf fruit trees, before looking at how to choose a dwarf fruit tree and suggesting some options for UK gardeners.
Why Choose Dwarf Fruit Trees?
Dwarf fruit trees offer one wonderful way for gardeners to make the most of the space they have available. Since such trees are far smaller than regular fruit trees, they can find a space in almost any garden. They can easily be grown in the ground or in containers inside a polytunnel, or brought into one during the winter months. Some might even find a place within your home.
Being able to grow fruit trees in containers could allow you to grow a fruit tree that would not usually thrive in the climate where you live. Making a fruit tree moveable dramatically increases the number of fruiting trees that you might be able to grow.
Is a Dwarf Fruit Tree Really Right for You?
Before you choose a dwarf fruit tree, it is worthwhile taking into account that there are alternative ways to incorporate fruit trees in small spaces. If you have a small garden, or courtyard space, you could still consider a full-sized fruit tree rather than a small, dwarf one.
Fruit trees do not need to take up a huge amount of space. They can be trained into a fence-like structure or a fan shape, or espaliered and trained to spread out flat against a fence or wall. A full-size espaliered tree could be something to consider.
What Makes A Fruit Tree Dwarfing?
The size of many dwarf fruit trees is determined by the rootstock on which it is grown. Many people are surprised to learn that most fruit trees that we buy have a lot in common with Frankenstein’s monster. Like that famous creation, they are not entirely natural plants, but rather are made up of various different elements. Most fruit trees today are created by grafting the roots of one type onto the top section of another.
Rootstocks are the root sections that are used. These determine the size and vigour of the plant. By grafting different varieties of fruit tree onto these rootstocks, we can get plants that perform ideally in terms of size, resistance and fruit production.
Not all small, patio trees, however, are true dwarfing varieties. Some may be naturally rather small in stature, while others can simply be restricted in size by the size of the container in which they are grown.
Understanding these things can help us determine which varieties to choose, as well as helping us to make decisions about where and how to grow them in our gardens.
How to Choose a Dwarf Fruit Tree
So, you have decided that you would like one or more dwarf fruit trees for your garden. It is now time, therefore, to decide which ones to buy. Before you decide, it is important to consider:
- The general climate and local microclimate where you live.
- The sectors, or patterns of sunlight, water and wind in your garden.
- Whether you will be growing in containers or in the ground. (And soil conditions if in-ground growing is planned.)
- Whether you will be growing your trees inside, under cover in a polytunnel, or outdoors.
- The fruits that you, your family and friends will actually want to eat.
- When fruits can be harvested, and whether that will fit in with your yearly growing and eating plan.
- Whether the fruit trees are self fertile and can go it alone, or need to be purchased with another tree with which they can pollinate.
Which Dwarf Fruit Trees Could I Choose in the UK?
There are a range of different dwarf fruit trees that can be considered by gardeners in the UK. Some of the options which you might like to consider include:
Apples are one of the quintessential British fruit trees, common across the UK. There are apple trees suited to almost any UK garden, and plenty of delicious varieties to choose from. A lack of space where you live should not put you off growing apples in your garden. There are plenty of dwarf apple trees to choose from on the market.
Dwarf apple trees are usually grafted onto extreme dwarfing or dwarfing rootstocks, which will determine their eventual size. M27 is the rootstock used for extreme dwarfing, which M9 and M26 are commonly used for dwarfing. It is worthwhile looking at which rootstock has been used for your dwarf apple. This will help you determine whether its eventual size will suit you and your needs.
Pears are another great,popular choice for UK gardens. Again, there are numerous varieties to choose from, including the two popular options of ‘Conference’ and ‘Concord’ as well as less well known varieties.
Interestingly, in Europe dwarfing pears are often grafted onto quince rootstock and not a pear one – sometimes with an ‘interstem’ of a pear variety that works well with the rootstock from the quince. The most common rootstock used for dwarfing is ‘Quince C’.
Of course, if you are considering a dwarf pear tree grown on a Quince C rootstock, you could also consider growing quinces themselves in a dwarf form. You can buy dwarf quince trees that can also be grown in containers and which will reach a height of only 1.5-2m.
Quinces are a somewhat more unusual choice and yet can be a good one for UK gardeners. Quinces can be used to make a wide range of preserves, and can do well in a sunny spot, though they have a relatively long growing season.
While there are no extreme dwarfing rootstocks for plum trees, there are a number of semi dwarfing rootstock options which help to limit the size of these trees for smaller gardens. These include Pixy, Plumina, and VVA-1.
Dwarf plums in a range of varieties can be grown in pots and will reach an eventual height of no more than 2m, often considerably less, depending on the size of the container. You can also find fruits in the same family, such as gages,damsons and Mirabelles grafted onto the same rootstocks to create small-tree options.
Wavit, a plum rootstock, is sometimes used for apricots and peaches and will create a tree up to 3m tall if grown in the ground. Container apricot trees will always be grown on a suitable rootstock. When restricted in size by a large container, and through careful pruning, they can be an ideal choice for smaller spaces.
What is more, apricots and peaches grown in containers can more easily be protected when they blossom early in the year. So choosing dwarf fruit tree options will make it easier for UK gardeners to grow these delicious fruits.
Cherries can be made less vigorous through the use of the Gisela 5 rootstock. If grown in the ground, cherries on this rootstock will tend to grow to around 2.4-3m tall. However, their size can be limited through growing in a container, and through judicious pruning.
Of course, there are both sweet and sour cherry varieties to choose from. You can grow dwarf cherry trees for sour cherries for jams and preserves, or for sweet cherries that you could enjoy fresh from the tree.
Mulberries can be a grown against walls if space is limited. But since these trees are more bush-like in shape,size and habit, their growth can also be curtailed by growing them in containers. You can prune the trees for size after the fruits are harvested in the fall. ‘Naturally’ dwarf fruit trees like this are an excellent alternative to larger trees grown on dwarfing rootstocks.
The size of fig trees will often be determined by the variety rather than by a particular rootstock. Fig trees grow large if planted in the ground in optimal conditions,however, they can be kept much smaller and in check when grown in small spaces in containers. In fact,figs will fruit better if grown in containers to curtail non-fruiting growth.
Citrus trees such as oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit all lend themselves well to container growing. These trees can all easily be grafted onto a dwarfing rootstock and grown in containers. Nearly every worthwhile variety of edible citrus is now available to home gardeners on a dwarfing rootstock. This means they can be brought indoors or undercover to protect them from the cold and wet during the winter months.
These are just some of the dwarf fruit trees suitable for UK gardens. If you have any suggestions, tips or comments to share, please do so below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.