By Deryn Thorpe
The trend is of course to support our move to bigger houses on smaller blocks which leaves little space for a home orchard and while they can be grown in the ground they make attractive and productive pot specimens.
These small trees are becoming increasingly popular, even in bigger gardens, because their crop is easy to pick, sprays can be more easily applied and fruit fly netting, or fruit bags are easily applied to compact trees.
What makes them really special is that it is only the trees that are small as they all have full sized fruits and the same flowers and foliage as the original trees.
Multi grafted trees (different varieties of the same fruit) are also available but need careful pruning to stop one variety taking over.
Dwarf citrus are grafted onto dwarfing understock and grow to about half the normal size of normal citrus. They still have sweet scented flowers and full sized fruits and are perfect for pots.
Fruiting dwarf prunus include plums, nectarines, peaches and apricots and pome fruits include apples and pears available in sizes ranging from 80cm to 3.5m tall.
Check with the nursery for the best ones as only low or medium chill varieties grow well in Perth and warm coastal areas. The heat tolerance of varieties is determined by how many hours of cool weather they need which is measured in chill units. Apples need between 300 to 1200 chill units, depending on the variety. One hour of 6 degree Celsius is counted as one chill unit. However, too much time above this temperature can negate the cooling effects of low temperatures.
In my Perth garden I grow both ‘Sunset Peach’ and ‘Sunset Nectarine’ which reach just 80cm tall. They have delicious, white fleshed fruit and attractive red tinged foliage that turns yellow in autumn. Dwarf peach ‘Valley Red’ is a compact tree to 2m and bears yellow-fleshed fruit in cool climates.
These nectarines and peaches are self fertile – so you just need one to get fruit but most deciduous fruit trees are more prolific bearers with a second tree. Trees need to flower at the same time for cross pollination to occur so ask your nursery to recommend those that go together as it is usual to plant two different varieties.
While there are many miniature apples, my favourite is ‘Pinkabelle’ which is a dwarf ‘Pink Lady’ apple. The tree is so prolific it can produce between 40 and 50 kilos per tree and is grown commercially. The best cross pollinators are crab apples, ‘Granny Smith’, ‘Gala’ and ‘Red Delicious’ apple varieties.
The ‘Trixzee’ miniature fruit range includes apples, a pear, a peach and nectarine which grow to 1.5m high and wide. However if you have a really narrow space consider ‘Ballerina’ apples which grow 2m to 3.5m high but only 0.6m wide.
Don’t forget that all deciduous fruit trees need yearly sprays of copper oxychloride to control fungal and bacterial diseases including leaf curl, shot-hole, freckle, black spot, bacterial canker and sooty mould.
The best time is after 90% of the leaves have fallen and again before bud burst.
Deryn Thorpe is an award winning Perth writer. She occupies herself as a journalist, a garden consultant, PR person and marketer. She now lends her considerable talent to producing regular pieces for the Habitat section on the West Australian newspaper.