Backyard Fruit Trees… Think Your Space is Too Small?
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Backyard fruit production is another step in providing abundant healthy foods right at our fingertips. You’d be surprised at the many ways to maximize fruits on a small growing space!
Apples, Peaches, Pears, Cherries and Citrus are the most familiar fruiting trees although many folks shun them based on stories about difficulties of seasonal maintenance. They see only a long chore list from spraying for pest control, trying to pick from a ladder high in a tree, allotting a large space per tree, rotting fruit all over the ground, and finding ways of preventing birds and squirrels from getting all the harvest. Those things do not have to be a deterrent, as many alternatives are now available.
There are small-sized fruiting trees which have 3 or 4 varieties grafted onto a single rootstock; usually these varieties mature in sequence rather than all at once. There are also small fruit trees called miniature(6-8'), dwarf(8-10') and semi-dwarf (12-15') by size; if they bear multiple varieties, they are often called fruit cocktail trees, or fruit salad trees named for the Australian company that grafted and now imports many into the U.S. There are multiple grafts (imported and domestic) available in citrus, apples, stone fruits (fruits with pits like cherries and peaches) and pears (both Asian and regular).
A citrus version may grow combinations of oranges, mandarins, lemons, limes, tangelos, and grapefruit. Apple versions will grow 2- 4 varieties of apples compatible for cross-pollination. A single stone fruit tree may grow peaches, apricots, plums, nectarines, plumcots (plum-apricot cross), peachcots (peach-apricot cross) or peacherines (peach-nectarine cross) in various combinations. Asian pears may grow 2-4 varieties. Cherries are also available in multiple fruiting trees. The 4-in-1 plum tree (left) is a graft of Methley, Shiro, Beauty and Hollywood (the red one).
Advantages of multiple fruit on a single tree begin with the grower’s choice of rootstock for grafting. Rootstocks, along with pruning, determine the tree size. Another goal of rootstock choice is resistance, whether to pests, moisture or other climatic conditions. Most multiple-fruit trees are grafted onto pest-resistant rootstocks with the secondary choice of either temperate, warm, or cold climate rootstocks. Another benefit of multiple-fruit trees is not having an over-abundance of fruit at any one time, avoiding being like the zucchini grower in summer who cannot give away all of the excess. We all know some fruits like apples store well for long periods, and all fruits are excellent for processing by canning or drying. Everyone loves fruit butters, applesauce and fruit preserves, jams and jellies! Raintree Nursery sells a four-in-one apple tree that produces Honeycrisp,Chehali,Williams Pride and Fiesta varieties. On the four-in-one apple tree, Williams Pride will start to ripen in mid-August, while the Chehalis will ripen in September. Honeycrisp and Fiesta apples will cross-pollinate and appear about the same time in October.
Espaliered Pear Tree on Lattice
Espaliered Apple Tree
Potted Orange Tree
To economize on space, multiple-fruit trees or single fruit trees grafted on dwarf rootstock may be grown in containers, or espaliered either in a formal shape or free-form against a wall or fence. There are also genetic dwarfs available, growing usually under 6’ tall. Peaches and Nectarines can be found on dwarfing rootstocks producing trees 10-15’ tall, and Asian pears and European pears available on semi-dwarf rootstocks can be pruned to maintain 15’.
Some fruit trees are naturally small enough for a limited-space backyard orchard: crabapple, quince, loquat (often called a Japanese plum, found in FL and CA), Paw Paw, Medlar and edible dogwood berries, Cornus mas (known as Cornelian Cherries) and Cornus kousa.
Cornelian Cherries (edible Dogwood, Cornus Mas)
Edible Dogwood Berries, Cornus Kousa
If you are adept at grafting you can graft onto an existing mature rootstock, keeping in mind that similar fruits graft well… but oranges won’t graft onto apples. If you have an old crabapple, you can graft strains of more desirable apples onto the trunk thus keeping the tree size while adding apples you enjoy into your ‘orchard’.
I hope this article will encourage you to grow some fruit trees in YOUR backyard even if just in pots that can be brought inside for winter!
I have a 'growing my own food' obsession that comes from my overlapping interests in cooking, nutrition and gardening. I am also a "teacher", a writer, a builder… and a craftsperson and... and… and many other things, LOL. In fact, I guess I am a generalist, and a Seeker.
I live in the southern Appalachian Mountains on a hillside with a creek in front, and drive a 15 year old truck I lovingly call “My Farmer’s Ferrari.”