Easy Guide to Dwarf Fruit Trees
More Trees for Small Spaces
Sometimes, the best things come in small packages. These under-20-foot trees are perfect for parking strips, narrow side yards, and other tight spaces.
Grow Dwarf Fruit Trees
Whether you call them dwarf, miniature, or patio-size, dwarf fruit trees are the perfect size for many planting locations. Easy-to-grow and bountiful producers of juicy apples, cherries, peaches, apricots, plums, and all kinds of citrus, dwarf fruit trees thrive in small urban landscapes, suburban planting places, and even pots.
Small but Mighty
Dwarf fruit trees are a generally defined by the horticulture industry as trees that grow 8-10 feet tall. These miniature trees produce full-size fruits that are the same quality as standard-size trees. An added benefit to growing small fruit trees is that they often begin fruiting two to three years earlier than their lofty cousins. For example, dwarf apple trees usually produce their first fruits three years after planting, while a standard-size apple tree bears apples seven years or more after it is planted.
Semidwarf and Standard-Size Trees
Many fruit trees are available in three sizes—dwarf, semidwarf, and standard. Here are the quick facts.
Dwarf fruit trees: Mature to about 8-10 feet tall and wide. Produce an abundance of fruit in a minimal amount of space.
Semidwarf fruit trees: Mature to about 12-15 feet tall and wide. Produce maximum fruit yield per square foot. Most fruit can be harvested while standing on the ground.
Standard fruit trees: Mature to at least 18 feet tall and wide (some fruit types are smaller). Standard-size fruit trees function as both shade trees and fruit producers in the landscape.
The Science of Small
Most dwarf fruit trees are created through grafting. A rootstock (or root system) is united with a scion (the above-ground part of the tree). The rootstock is selected for its dwarfing characteristics, and the scion is chosen for its fruit quality and hardiness. The rootstock and scion are united in the nursery when the trees are very young. By the time the new dwarf tree reaches you, it is often three to four years old. Apple trees are commonly grafted as well as small other fruit trees.
Choose Your Dwarf Fruit Tree
Choosing the right dwarf fruit tree for your space begins with knowing your hardiness Zone. Choose a tree that is reliably hardy in your Zone and you'll enjoy years of juicy backyard fruit. Scientists are continually developing new dwarf fruit tree cultivars. If your initial search at your local garden center doesn't turn up the type of dwarf fruit tree you are looking for, search online. Several reputable tree specialists ship trees across the country.
Full Sun Is Essential
Dwarf fruit trees, like their standard-size counterparts, need at least eight hours of direct, bright sunlight to produce fruit. Planting miniature trees in shade cast by nearby buildings or trees will limit or eliminate a harvest.
Soil quality is also important. Plant dwarf fruit trees in soil that drains freely. Avoid clay or boggy soil and exceptionally sandy soil. Dwarf fruit trees will grow in containers. Be sure to plant trees in massive 15- to 20-gallon containers, filling the pot with quality potting soil.
Dwarf fruit trees, especially dwarf apple and peach trees, become so heavily laden with fruit in midsummer that they will lose branches or the trunk may even snap under the weight of the fruit. The dwarf fruit trees' bountiful production combined with their small size makes staking essential. Stake plants at planting time using a sturdy metal, fiberglass, or wood rod and flexible cotton or synthetic ties. Adjust the ties as the tree grows.
Best Apple Cultivars
The best dwarf apple cultivars for your landscape are trees that are adapted to your region, hardy to where you live, and mature to a size that is right for your space.
Plant at least two different apple cultivars. Most apple trees cannot pollinate their own blossoms. Two different cultivars planted near each other will ensure a bountiful crop of fruit.
Our Favorite Dwarf Apple Trees
Here are a few of our favorite dwarf apple cultivars. These varieties have great disease resistance. Be sure to select dwarf cultivars—these cultivars are also available as large, standard-size trees.
'Williams Pride' has medium to large fruit that is slightly striped with dark red and purple.
'Redtree' produces medium-size fruit with bright red color.
'Jonafree' has medium-size fruit that is firm, crisp, and moderately rich in flavor.
'Liberty' has medium-size fruit that is mostly red-striped over a greenish-yellow background.
'Enterprise' produces large fruit that is bright red.
Our Favorite Dwarf Cherry Trees
Two types of cherries are commonly grown in home gardens—sour or tart cherries and sweet cherries.
Sour cherries are self-fruitful—you only need to plant one of these trees to have a good fruit set. Most sweet cherry cultivars will not pollinate themselves, so two different cultivars must be planted for fruiting.
'Northstar' grows 8-10 feet tall and wide and produces fruit with red skin and flesh.
'Romeo' grows just 5-6 feet tall and wide.
'Starkrimson' is a unique self-pollinating cultivar—you can plant just one and get fruit.