Think you can’t grow fruit because your homestead is too small? Think again! I’m excited to have Lee from Lady Lee’s Home sharing her expertise on growing dwarf fruit trees today. Wyoming is generally too cold for fruit, but now even I’m wondering if I can’t plant one in a pot and keep it inside!
We purchased our house because of the gravel driveway. I know, it sounds silly…
You see, it gave me a bit of a country feeling even though we are on a small lot in the city. We have to be, for now, because of work.
When I set out to plan my garden, I didn’t even consider fruit trees. First, there isn’t room for them, and second, I assumed that by the time they start bearing fruit we will be living on our dream farm in the country.
Little did I know that there is an alternative. There is a way to grow fruit trees anywhere, even if you don’t have a lot of space, and that you don’t necessarily have to leave them behind.
They are called dwarf fruit trees, and to me, they are magical!
What is a Dwarf Fruit Tree?
A dwarf fruit tree is a tree that will reach a height of maximum ten feet tall. Some of those trees can be as small as two or three feet.
The magical thing about those trees is that no matter how small they are, their fruit is a normal size.
How do Dwarf Fruit Trees Stay Small?
You would think that there must be some genetic engineering or genetic modification involved here to make those trees stay small… This is what I was thinking at the beginning. But, surprisingly, this is not the case.
Dwarf fruit trees are made using an old fashion technic called grafting. A scion, which is a branch (of a fruiting tree in this case), is grafted onto a rootstock.
Rootstocks are chosen carefully for their hardiness, drought tolerance, disease resistance, soil adaptation and size.
The fruit tree will only grow as much as the roots will allow it, for that, combining a branch with a specific rootstock allows us to control the size of the tree.
Our Experience with Dwarf Fruit Trees on the Prairie Homestead
Benefits of Dwarf Fruit Trees
There are so many benefits for dwarf fruit trees, here are a few:
Safety – Most, if not all of the maintenance the tree requires can be performed from the safety of the ground. No need to use ladders to reach the top of the tree for harvest or pruning.
Can be grown in containers – How cool will it be to go out to your balcony on the fifth floor to pick lemons? Dwarf fruit trees do great in containers.
Space – Dwarf fruit trees can stay very short and narrow. They don’t require much space to grow.
Easy care – pruning takes a fraction of the time compared to a full-size tree.
It’s also very easy to protect those trees during the winter. If you end up planting your tree in a container, place the container on wheels and roll it indoors during the winter.
Covering the tree with a net during the fruiting season will be an easy enough job and ensure that you harvest your crop instead of the birds. No need for a huge net and ladders.
Spotting a problem that needs further attention like a worm, for example, is easy enough since you can inspect all the branches easily.
Fast Fruiting – Dwarf fruit trees reach fruit-bearing maturity very fast, usually within a year or two. No more waiting five years until you get to harvest fruit.
Choose your rootstock – Some nurseries will create a ‘custom’ tree just for you! Let’s say you live in an area that has very low rainfall, you can make sure you buy a fruit tree that is grafted onto a rootstock that has high drought tolerance. This will allow you to grow kinds of fruits you didn’t even consider before.
Mixed fruit – since those trees are grafted, sometimes you can find one tree that will give you few different fruits. For example, buy one tree that will give you nectarines, apples and plums.
Take your tree with you – this is my favorite benefit. Plant your dwarf fruit trees in containers, then, when the time comes, load them up, and off you go. It’s that easy!
Disadvantages of Dwarf Fruit Trees
Now, let’s look at a couple of disadvantages you should consider…
Length of life – dwarf fruit trees will live between 15-20 years vs. a full-size tree that lives between 35-45 years.
Supply of fruit – Obviosly a dwarf fruit tree will not supply you with the same amount of fruit a full-size tree will. It will probably be enough for fresh eating for your family, but you might not have extra for canning or freezing. Of course, you can grow more than one tree to solve this problem.
Just so you get a better idea of what to expect, a lemon tree should give you about 50 lemons a year. An apple tree should give you 50-70 apples a year. A nectarine tree should give you 40-50 nectarines a year.
No shade – Dwarf fruit trees will not provide you with almost any shade. If you are looking for a tree to sit under on a hot summer day with your sweetheart, you will have to go for full size.
How to Choose Dwarf Fruit Trees for Your Homestead
Try to find a local nursery that sales a variety of dwarf fruit trees on a regular basis. They most likely are going to have in stock trees that are known to do well in your area. You can also talk to your cooperative extension agent and ask for a list of fruit trees that do good in your growing zone.
Consider a few things…
Chill hours – fruit trees require a certain number of at or bellow 45 F every winter to end their dormancy and flower and bear fruit in the spring. If you live in Texas, for example, you might need to choose a “low-chill” tree.
Heat tolerance – Apples like warm days and cool nights. Peaches and nectarines love long, hot summers, pears and cherries prefer cooler climate. Make sure to choose a tree that can handle the summer heat in your area.
Cross pollination – some trees need a second tree close by to pollinate them. For example, Bing cherries like Black Tartarian cherries close by. In some cases, you will have to purchase two trees at once.
How to Plant Dwarf Fruit Trees in Containers
Use a 15-20 gallon container with holes for drainage at the bottom. Fill the bottom of the container with rocks to help with drainage. Fill half of the container with good potting soil, place your tree in the center and make sure it is straight. Add the rest of the potting soil then tamp the soil down around the roots to get rid of air. Water well after planting.
How to Plant Dwarf Fruit Trees in the Ground
Dig a hole 12-18 inches deep and wide in an area that gets 6-8 hours of sun daily. Place your tree in the hole, but make sure the grafted joint stays about two inches above the soil. You will see the joint clearly at the base of the tree. Cover with soil and compost, then mulch around the tree to help keep the soil moist. Water well.
How Should I Care for my Dwarf Fruit Tree?
Watering – make sure not to over water, especially if your tree is growing in a container. Watring once or twice a week for both in ground and container trees is usually sufficient. You might need to water a bit more during the summer when there is fruit on the tree.
Pruning – usually done during winter when the tree is dormant. Just like full-size fruit tree, prune damaged or diseased branches, or ones that grow toward the center of the tree.
Winterizing – If your tree is growing in a container, consider moving it indoors. If it has to stay outside, or if it’s in the ground, mulch it well.
Staking – some dwarf fruit trees will need support especially during fruiting. Tying them to a stake should do the work.
Feeding – don’t forget to feed your tree. Add compost around it once in a while, water it with compost tea, or add organic supplements to the soil. Especially pay attention to trees that grow in containers.
Full sun – dwarf fruit trees need to be placed in full sun. At least 6 hours, 8 preferably.
So now you see that even if you have a small homestead, or even just a balcony you can still enjoy fresh fruits.
If you prefer to avoid the risk of climbing a ladder, or if you would like to be able to take your trees with you, make sure you check out dwarf fruit trees.
In a couple of summers, you’ll be enjoying a fresh, extra juicy peach from your homegrown tree!
Other Inspiration for Small-Space Homesteaders:
- How to Raise Meat on 1/5 an Acre
- How to be An Urban Homesteader
- An Urban Beekeeping Adventure
- How to Start a Hydroponic Garden
- Dear Homesteader Who Longs to Leave the City
- My favorite online nursery with dwarf fruit trees (affiliate)
Lee is a wife and a mother with a soul of a farmer and a passion for homegrown and homemade everything. She was born in Israel and raised in a small agricultural community where everything was grown, made and shared. She blogs about homesteading at LadyLeesHome.com