Fruit trees for the smaller garden (and balcony!)
With the tinyfication of backyards, sections and driveways there is often no room for a grand-old apple tree, or grapefruit tree, let alone a majestic pear tree or Plum.
Which is why many growers designed the dwarf varieties in apples, plums/nectarines/peaches and other types of fruit trees. These trees are grafted on normal rootstock, giving the tree a good spread of roots underground; but it is the dwarf varieties that limit their own growth. It keeps them small and dense/compact in growth habit, saving heaps of space.
Another way to achieve this is by growing “normal” varieties on dwarfing rootstock. Yes, that rootstock inhibits the normally expansive growth of the fruit tree. Some of these dwarfing rootstocks really limit heights to a few meters only, making it easy to pick the fruit at harvest. Oh, by the way: the fruit is normal size! We often had “Flying Dragon” rootstock under our lemons and mandarins – that’s been around for ages!
The two methods described allow you to have a dwarf tree on your balcony too! The grafted trees can easily sustain themselves in large pots (think half wine-barrel size) as long as they are planted in good quality container mixes. I think it pays to add some mineral soil (loam) in there, amongst all the good, dark organic matter (compost). The mineral soil gives the mix a better structure. One thing to look out for is regular watering, as potted or containerised plants/trees are much more prone to drying out.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could have a “normal” tree that you can restrict in growth when you plant it in the garden, without having to prune the living daylights out of it twice a year? Well you can! “Bonsai it” If you can restrict the roots of a tree, it will become dwarfed – think of how Chinese and Japanese garden masters have been doing “bonsai” for thousands of years! (they prune the roots every year or so and re-plant their babies back into the mix).
We now have bags that restrict root growth (“root control bags”). Plant your fruit tree in such a bag and dig the whole lot (Bag, mix, and tree) in your garden. You basically treat it like a normal tree in terms of watering, fertilisers etc. It’ll grow and produce fruits, but it will stay a lot smaller! Remember to utterly prepare your soil before planting any tree. Make sure the planting hole doesn’t run full of water that gets stagnant – it will rot your roots. Make it therefore well-draining, perhaps raise it slightly above the ground level. Good soil mix with some loam and lots of organic matter will support your tree for a long time.
NEXT WEEK we carry on with these space saving ideas. We might even achieve a three-apple-varieties-in-one-pot system for the 16th floor.