Almost anyone who’s interested in edible gardening would love to have their own fruit trees, but very few of us have the acreage necessary to grow full sized fruiting trees. All is not lost however, as some fruit trees are grafted on dwarfing or semi-dwarf rootstock that keeps the tree size down to a more manageable level. There’s a wide array of small fruit trees for the garden.
In fact a fruit tree for the home garden has actually become quite popular and, due to the shrinking size of many backyards, some can even be container-grown. Interested in a small fruit tree for your garden? Keep reading to learn about the best fruit trees for small spaces.
Best Fruit Trees for Home Gardens
There’s a lot that goes into producing fruit on trees. There is pruning, fertilizing, spraying and harvesting. Plus you need space, especially if you want more than one fruiting tree.
This is where smaller fruit trees have some benefits. Yes, they still need to be maintained but their care is on a smaller more manageable scale. Even harvesting is easier on a smaller sized tree.
As to the best fruit trees for the home garden, the variety is vast. Apple, cherry, peach, nectarine, fig, plum, pear, lemon, apricot, pomegranate, mulberry, persimmon, orange, quince, papaya, loquat, and olive are some of the fruit trees available to the home gardener.
Dwarf apples have many benefits. They bear earlier, require less pruning, less space, less pesticide use, have better cold hardiness and pest resistance and can be harvested without a ladder.
Some cultivars are available in different strains; a mutation of a type of apple that has been selected purposefully. There are both spur strains and non-spur strains. Spurs are slow growing and compact and can expect to be fruitful for 7-10 years or longer. Spur strains are found in apple, pear and cherry trees and are excellent choices for a yard with limited space.
Semi-dwarf apple trees grow to around 10-15 feet (3-4.5 m) while dwarf apples are more like 6-10 feet (1.8-3 m) in height. Examples of semi-dwarf apples include Ambrosia, Aztec Fuji, Ben Davis, Braeburn, Buckeye Gala, CandyCrisp, Chenango Strawberry, Corland, Cox’s Orange Pippin, CrimsonCrisp, Empire, Enterprise, Franklin Cider, Ginger Gold, Goldrush, Granny Smith, Gravenstein, Honeycrisp, Jonagold, Liberty, Lodi, Macoun, Mutsu, Myra Red, Northern Spy, Pink Lady, Royal Empire, RubyMac, Stark Scarlet Crush, September Wonder Fuji, Starkrimson, and Winecrisp.
Dwarf apples available to the home gardener include Cameron Select, Stayman Winesap, Blondee, Iared, Gravenstein, Anna, Dorsett Golden, Ein Shemer, Lodi, Liberty, Mcintosh, Arkansas Black, Cox’s Orange Pippin, Fuji, Granny Smith, Jazz, Macoun, Pink Lady Sweet Sixteen, Braeburn, Empire, Gala, Golden Delicious, Honeycrisp, and Jonafree.
Pears may be either European or Asian cultivars. They begin bearing fruit in 4-5 years and attain heights of about 15-18 feet (4.5-5 m). Sharing similar traits with apples, including pest issues, pears are referred to as “pome fruits.”
Some of the available semi-dwarf and/or dwarf pear varieties include 20th century Asian, Anjou, Bartlett, Chojuro Asian, Colette, Golden Russet Bosc, Hosui Asian, Moonglow, New Century Asian, Russeted Bartlett, Seckel, Starking Delicious and Sunrise.
Cherries, peaches, nectarines, plums, and apricots are all related in the Prunus genus and referred to as stone fruits. They are native to warmer regions and are thus susceptible to winter injury. They also bloom and produce earlier than pome fruits.
Cherries may be either sweet or tart. Sweet cherries need another pollinator nearby, while tart cherries bear both male and female blooms and are self-pollinating.
While some cherry trees are indeed grafted onto dwarf stock; the good news is that all cherry trees can be pruned to minimize their size, making nearly every cultivar suitable as a fruit tree for a small garden. Plus, you have the option of dwarf cherry shrubs which are extremely cold hardy and an excellent choice for frigid climates. Shrub options include Carmine Jewel, Romeo, Juliet, Crimson, Passion, Valentine, and Cupid.
Weeping cherry trees such as Hiromi or Snow Fountain are a diminutive size that makes them look more like a shrub.
Dwarf cultivars include Bing, Sweetheart, Zuzu, North Star, Wowza, Black Tartarian,
Montmorency, Summit Sweet, Fuji, Nanking, and Royal Ann.
Stone fruits are named thus in reference to their hard, stony pits (endocarps). Apricots, cherries, nectarines, peaches and plums are all stone fruits.
Stone fruits are quite susceptible to insects and diseases. Each type of stone fruit has its own particular challenges when growing. All should be protected from wind and have excellent drainage and air circulation. All in all, growing stone fruit is a challenge and as such, the expectation of a bumper harvest each year is unrealistic.
The dwarf apricots Fireball, Moorpark, and Trevatt are excellent smaller sized trees that can be container grown. All three are self-pollinating, but will benefit from having another apricot tree nearby.
Dwarf nectarines are self-fertile and also do well in containers. Options for dwarf nectarines include Madame Blanchett, Nectarella, Snow Queen, Southern Belle, Nectar Babe Miniature, and Panamint (semi-dwarf).
A few peach trees are genetic dwarves but most are grafted onto dwarf rootstock. These smaller trees are not winter hardy. Dwarf peach cultivars include Bonanza, Bonanza II, Donut, Elberta, El Dorado, Frost, Golden Gem, Intrepid, OHenry, Orange Cling, Red Wing, Reliance, and Southern Sweet.
Plum trees, like other stone fruit trees can be kept to a smaller size by pruning them back. That said, there are some smaller sized dwarf plum trees available to the home gardener. Bullaces, Cherry, Damson, Johnson, and dwarf Santa Rosa are examples of dwarf plum trees, while the Natal and Beach plum are examples of bush plums that work well in smaller sized landscapes.