Dwarf Fruit Trees

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016 by Jenny Watts
    • Bare root fruit trees, grape and berry vines, and ornamental trees and shrubs are available for planting during this nice break from the storms.
    • Clematis that bloomed last summer can be pruned now. Wait on spring-blooming varieties until after they bloom.
    • Plant peas in well-drained soil for a spring crop. Protect from birds with bird netting or lightweight row cover.
    • Last chance to spray peach and nectarine trees for peach leaf curl before the buds break open. Use copper spray for the best results.
    • Roses should be pruned if you haven’t done so already. Remove all old leaves on and around the bushes and spray with Neem oil to prevent early pest and disease problems.

Dwarf Fruit Trees

There are many reasons to choose dwarf fruit trees: they are easier to prune, easier to harvest, they begin bearing at a younger age and they can be grown in smaller spaces. In many planting locations, rootstock is the most important part of a fruit tree. If a tree’s rootstock is poorly suited to the conditions it must grow in, nothing else is likely to matter – a sensational variety or a “semi-dwarf” rootstock is of no value if the tree dies.

When choosing fruit tree rootstocks, the most important considerations are soil adaptation, disease resistance and anchorage. If your soil tends to remain wet for extended periods due to slow drainage and/or a rainy climate, you must plant trees with rootstocks tolerant of wet soil.

Rootstocks are one of the unique aspects of fruit trees. Fruit varieties are propagated by taking vegetative buds from a young shoot (scion) of the desired variety (i.e. McIntosh, Jonagold or other named cultivar) and grafting those buds onto another tree branch or small sapling. This is necessary because the seeds of each fruit are the result of pollination by a different variety. This makes each seedling a genetically unique individual with unpredictable traits. For example, seedlings sprouted from a Granny Smith apple might produce tiny red crabapples!

Most fruit trees today are grafted onto rootstocks that are genetically identical offshoots or clones of a mother rootstock that has certain desirable characteristics such as disease resistance, tolerance of winter cold, seasonal flooding and summer droughts, or size reduction.

When a known variety is grafted onto a dwarfing rootstock, the fruit will be true to name, but the tree will just be smaller. Trees on dwarfing rootstocks may have poor anchorage and need to be staked, or they may not tolerate wet soils. So it is important to know your soil conditions and choose a rootstock that is well suited to your soil.

New rootstocks are being developed all the time. Geneva® 935 is a new dwarfing rootstock for apple trees. It dwarfs trees to an unpruned height that is 40%-50% of standard (8′-10′ tall). It is very cold hardy and fireblight resistant. A early bearer of large fruit, this rootstock resists crown rot and root rot while suckering very little.

Newroot is a dwarfing rootstock for cherries, dwarfing them to 8-12 ft. tall unpruned. It promotes early bearing and makes a tree that is ideal for container growing. It is better adapted to clay soils than Mazzard, the standard rootstock for cherry trees.

Peach trees can be grown on St. Julian or Citation rootstocks. Citation dwarfs peach and nectarine trees to 8-14 feet. Apricots and plums are dwarfed to 3/4 of standard. Trees are very tolerant of wet soil, and very winter hardy. They will bear at a young age.

St. Julian dwarfs trees to 10 feet tall. It provides good anchorage and makes a tree with excellent vigor that will bear in 3-4 years. It tolerates wet soil as well as drought conditions.

You can also choose miniature peach and nectarine trees. These are short, shrubby trees, rarely growing more than six feet tall and six to ten feet wide. A mature tree will produce about 15 pounds of fruit. These trees are grown on a standard rootstock, but are naturally dwarf. Varieties include Garden Gold and Honey Babe peach and Garden Delight and Necta Zee nectarine.

The new columnar apple trees grow to only 10 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide. Northpole™ and Scarlet Sentinel produce large, crisp and juicy fruit and they can be grown in containers.

Find the best rootstock for your situation and choose trees that will thrive in your orchard and bear fruit for many years to come.