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The new dwarf fruit trees.

The new dwarf fruit trees What's new about genetic dwarf fruit trees? Their fruit tastes better than ever. If you've always wanted to harvest tree-ripened fruit in your garden but didn't think you had room, it's time to reconsider; improved genetic dwarf trees take little space, and their fruit is delicious.

Genetic dwarf fruit trees are compact and short; few exceed 7 feet in height, with an equal spread. You can fit one neatly into the smallest garden, or plant four in the same space it takes to grow one standard tree. They bear normal-size fruit, with most producing about a fifth as much as a regular fruit tree.

They grow well in containers, so are easy to move when you want to protect them against cold or take advantage of sun and shelter. All of these trees are handsome plants and can be used effectively in the landscape.

In the past, genetic dwarf fruit trees were often disappointing: if they produced any fruit at all, it didn't taste very good. Though most still can't match the flavor of the best standard varieties, newer genetic dwarfs--particularly peaches and nectarines--now bear tasty fruit.

What exactly is a dwarf fruit tree?

The drawing shows the two types of trees.

Regular dwarfs are created by grafting or budding a regular-size variety on a dwarfing rootstock; this is most effectively done with apples, since truly dwarfing rootstocks are not yet available for other deciduous fruit.

Genetic dwarfs, on the other hand, are created by propagating a naturally very compact variety on a standard-size rootstock. In general, genetic dwarfs look almost muscular, with closely spaced leaves and growth buds.

Widely adapted, easy to care for

Almonds, apples, apricots, cherries, nectarines, and peaches have genetic dwarf varieties. They are usually adapted to the same areas as their standard counterparts; check the Sunset Western Garden Book for details.

Genetic dwarf nectarines and peaches, while adaptable to the same areas as standards, tend to have lower chilling requirements--400 to 500 hours as compared to 600 to 900 hours for most standard varieties. They are adapted to most inland areas of Southern California and, although not completely tested, are worth trying in California and Arizona deserts.

In containers, genetic dwarfs are especially adaptable. They can be moved to protected locations if winters are severe or spring frosts threaten blooms. Their small size also makes it simple to protect them with plastic-covered frames. To prevent peach leaf curl, some gardeners cover their dwarf peaches and nectarines from December to February.

General care. Because genetic dwarf fruit trees are so small, they are easy to care for. They need very little pruning other than shaping and removing criss-crossing branches and suckers. Opening up the center of the tree increases air circulation and helps prevent some insects and diseases. Controlling pests is simplified because there's no need for a powerful sprayer.

Fruit thinning. This aspect of growing the trees needs special attention. Like the leaves, the flowers and fruit of genetic dwarfs are very closely spaced. If the fruit are not thinned when they reach about thumbnail size, you'll end up with a lot of very small, poor-quality fruit.

Leave 5 to 6 inches between fruit on apricots, peaches, and nectarines. Thin apples to one per cluster. This may mean removing more than two-thirds of the immature fruit, but it absolutely must be done. Almonds and cherries do not need thinning.

How to grow genetic dwarfs in pots

Genetic dwarf fruit trees are ideal container plants. Select a pot at least 18 inches in diameter; half-barrels work well. Fill the container with sterile potting soil and keep the tree moist. Fertilize monthly until midsummer; use liquid fertilizer containing chelated micronutrients at rates recommended on the label.

As the trees get larger and more root-bound, pay close attention to watering. If the trees are allowed to wilt, the quality of the fruit is bound to suffer. Older genetic dwarf fruit trees respond well to root pruning during the dormant season; remove the tree from the container, shave off an inch or two of the outer rootball, replant with fresh soil, and lightly prune the top.

Where to buy genetic dwarf fruit trees

Bare-root genetic dwarf fruit trees are widely available in nurseries, garden centers, most mail-order fruit catalogs, and some seed catalogs.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related article on choosing a genetic dwarf fruit tree
Date:Jan 1, 1990
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