Fruit trees for Limited Spaces

Fruit trees for limited spaces.

By Richard Flowers, ACCNP-Green Thumb Nursery-Ventura

Today, most homes are situated on a smaller parcel of land with limited area for planting but there is still a demand for edibles in the garden. Many people believe they do not have enough space in their landscape to put several fruit trees or are afraid the Apricot, Peach or Plum will get too big. In a typical home garden you do not need 15 or 20 feet spacing between each fruit tree. This type of spacing is ideal for commercial orchards where they need heavy equipment, trucks, and tractors. The only space you need is for you and a few pieces of simple gardening tools. Most home gardeners are not looking for commercial orchard expectations, instead they are looking for enough fruit for themselves, family, friends and neighbors. Due to limited space, gardeners need to realize how to maximize their area so they can get the most out of it. If you live on a smaller parcel of land and want to grow your favorite fruit tree and think you just have room for one, you need to think twice because by size managing your fruit trees, you discover that in reality you can plant multiple trees. Did you know that it is possible to have a fruit tree that is over 15 years old and be only 5 or 6 feet tall and as wide and be loaded with fruit. How does one accomplish this? The answer is by summer pruning. I will also provide other strategies and techniques you can apply so you can make the most of your outdoor spacer for fruit trees.

Let’s say you go into a nursery and you want to buy a semi dwarf Nectarine. A semi dwarf fruit tree can get close to 15 to 20 feet tall and as wide with some exceptions. While a standard size fruit tree may get over 30 feet high and equally as wide. Do not think of a semi dwarf Peach, Apricot, Cherry, Nectarine, and etc in terms of size management. The semi dwarf rootstock is only important for soil / climate adaptability, disease resistance, and vigor. Most times a “ semi dwarf” fruit tree gets too large for an ordinary backyard. Why not keep it smaller to a size that fits your needs that is manageable to you. The only way to keep them small is by pruning. Pruning is critical in developing a smaller size. As intimidating as it may be, do not let the ultimate size of the tree discourage you from not keeping it small to suit your needs. Prune them to a size that is best for you. Keeping your trees small has many advantages: It is easier to harvest the fruit because it is at a lower picking height. A big tree will oftentimes be wasteful because you can’t access the fruit with ease and therefore the birds or other wildlife may get it provided it does not rot on the tree. Keeping trees small offer ease of care, spraying, pruning, and thinning.

When planning on having a fruit tree, stand in the area where you may intend to have it, extend out your arms and fingers all the way up and out.This can be a good indication of the size of the area for a fruit tree to be kept that small if you choose. Think of a height you want to keep it at and don’t let it go beyond that goal, if it does, you prune it off. You can keep fruit trees to any desired height whether it is a semi dwarf or standard size tree by size management. If you want it low, prune more, if you want it really high, prune less. Whenever there are vigorous shoots above the chosen height, cut back or remove them.The growth you prune off will never become fruiting wood, that wood already formed earlier.

For new bareroot fruit trees or dormant trees in containers at planting time, if you choose, they can be topped as low as 15 inches (or what ever height you elect) above the ground to force low branching. Remember never prune below the graft line. Trees may also be topped higher than 15 inches (up to four feet) depending on the presence of well-spaced side limbs or desired tree form. If you want the tree with higher branches where you could walk under it that is an option as well. After the spring flush of growth you haver the option to cut the new growth back by as much as half. In late summer, you have another option to cut the subsequent growth back by as much as half. Essentially you are cutting away sucker and water sprouts. This summer pruning can be beneficial in keeping the tree to a size that is manageable to you.

During the second and subsequent years, you might want to cut back new growth by as much as half in spring and late summer, same as the first year. Pruning 2-3 times: spring, early summer, and late summer is the easiest way to manage height, this is known as summer pruning. When pruning, be careful not to cut too much at one time, as this might cause excess sun exposure and sunburn to the unprotected interior limbs. You may consider pruning conservatively perhaps 1/3 each time.

While pruning is the obvious way to maximize space, did you know that you can also have multiple fruit trees planted in the space that a large fruit trees grows. Instead of having a large Apricot tree that takes up a space of 10 or 15 feet for example and provides you fruit for 2- 3 weeks in April or May. Instead you can have 2 or 3 fruit trees in that same space which are spaced 5 feet apart thus having fruit over 2 to 3 month period with the right combinations. Consider using Flavor Delight Aprium®, Arctic Glo Nectarine, and Spice Zee Nectaplum® with this combination you have the ability to have sweet, delicious, and healthy fruit from early June to August, (which is is an example of consecutive harvest.) You can even throw in a Fig in the mix and have fruit all the way to first frost. You are not limited to those fruits only, there are other winning combinations you can try. When you plant multiple fruit trees in the space of one not only does it provide an extended harvest time, you will be rewarded with more trees in flower so you have more of an opportunity for cross- pollination which leads to more fruit set. Let’s say you have a sunny area in your landscape that is 20 feet by 20 feet you can potentially have as many as four or five fruit trees planted 4 to 5 feet apart and kept them at a manageable size by pruning.

Another technique with parcels of land with limited space is to plant 3 trees in one hole with each one spaced as close as two to three feet apart . Remember to keep them trimmed smaller and keep the branches in check so they do not grow in the way of each other. Some important considerations to be aware of when electing to do this type of high density planting of fruit trees is that you need to match the rootstocks. Either use a standard (full size) or a semi dwarf, it is not advised to mix them because it is more challenging to maintain. It is highly advised at planting time to cut back all trees to the same height so you can have maximum air and light flow through each plant. Do not allow any variety to dominate and shade out the others, keep the fruit tree in check.

Other examples fruit trees you may want to consider is provided by this harvest chart. Remember these are just examples (and not a complete list) to consider, we may or may not have all the fruit trees at a give time.

Variety Approx. Harvest
Earlitreat Peach from early May to mid May
Flavorosa Pluot® Interspecific Plum  from mid to late May to June
Flavor Delight Aprium® Interspecific Apricot from early June to mid June
Arctic Glo White Necterine from Late June to early July
Figs (many varieties) such as Black Mission,
Janice Seedless Kadota, and Panache
from July to first frost
Babcock ( White)Peach from early to mid July
Spice Zee NectaPlum® Interspecific Nectarine  from mid July to early August
Gala Apple from early to late August
Pomegranate: Eversweet, Red Silk, and
Sharp Velvet
from September to November
Persimmon: Fuyu, Haichya, Chocolate,
and Coffeecake

from September to December

Variety Approx. Harvest
Minnie Royal Cherry from early May to mid late May
Royal Lee Cherry from mid May to late May
Katy Apricot  from end May to June
Cot-N-Candy White Aprium® Interspecific Apricot from early to mid July
Dorset Golden Apple from July to August
Fuji Apple from August to October
Granny Smith from October to January

Planting multi budded fruit trees is another way to go. These trees have several varieties of Peaches, Plums, Apricots or Plutos all grafted on to one tree. Some trees may have all Peaches, other may have all Pluots, while others may have a combination of Plum, Apricot, Peach, and Nectarine. These fruit combinations are carefully selected so you have consecutive harvest and sufficient cross pollination among themselves. Remember to always prune each individual graft (tree) independently from one another and never allow any fruit tree to take over and crowd out the others competing with one another. Multi grafts are several different trees all in one an they need to be pruned as such, each one separately. Remember multi grafted fruit trees special pruning, careful harvesting and ofttimes times one or more graft may be weaker than the others, always face the weaker grafts closes to the sun (south side) and stronger growing part on the north side and prune all other grafts to the same size as the smaller grafts. Sometimes the weaker grafts break off.

Don’t forget you have the option of planting varieties that are dwarf within themselves. We carry few varieties of fruit trees that are dwarf for you to use inside your landscape If space is of concern. These genetic dwarf fruit trees are gaining in popularity, the rare cute looking, short, have beautiful flowers and attractive fruit but some have higher chilling requirements and may have problems bearing fruit properly in our mild winter area and availability of them is limited and sometimes scarce. Their is also not a large selection of varieties of dwarf trees as compared to the traditional semi dwarf or standard fruit trees. These dwarf trees grow more bushy, short and doesn’t have the look of a normal tree.

Lets say you have a narrow area with not much clearance width wise. With this challenging area you can always train fruit trees along a fence or wall and espalier them. This style is effective if you have an area that is between two buildings and a walkway that runs through it. You can even grow fruit trees as a hedge row or as privacy.

Lastly, you can always grow fruit trees in the appropriate size containers if in ground planting is not an option. Planting in containers forces the fruit tree to grow slower and not as large because it is in a limited space. In most cases, a container to start out with would be a half wine barrel or something near to its equivalent. I recommend to use ether a semi dwarf of dwarf fruit tree because they are more suitable for that application. Remember to keep the fruit tree pruned to keep them under control. Every couple of years you may need to root prune to help keep the tree from getting too large and root bound.

The possibilities are almost endless, just use your imagination and creativity to create your own edible garden even if your sunny space is limited. Feel free to visit your favorite Green Thumb Nursery, we have an extensive dormant fruit tree selection.

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