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The #1 Key to Growing Full-Size Fruit Trees in Small Spaces

Think your yard is too small for fruit trees? Never say never! Here’s the trick to growing healthy, full-size fruit trees in small spaces!

Aggressive pruning is the key growing full-size fruit trees in small spaces. (The Grow Network)

The #1 Key to Growing Full-Size Fruit Trees in Small Spaces

Did you ever wish you could harvest fruit in your backyard, but think you just don’t have the space to grow fruit trees?

You might want to rethink that assumption!

I realized years ago that the supposed maximum size of trees isn’t a set thing. If you stay on top of pruning, you can do some amazing things with your fruit treesincluding grow multiple fruit trees in a small space.

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While visiting the farm of a man who had formerly worked for the University of Florida, I saw peach trees that were kept at an easily pickable 8-foot height via aggressive pruning when they were young.

More recently, I saw a fruit-laden tamarind tree that had been repeatedly cut by a local electric companyat only about 6-foot in height! The branches stuck out sideways low to the ground and bore pods after the center was cut down. Instead of harvesting fruit with a long pole from branches 40 feet in the air, the owners could just pick by hand.

A full-size tamarind tree can easily shade most or all of a typical backyard. A full-size apple can almost do the same. Yet the answer we are often given to this issue is to “plant dwarf trees.”

Dwarf trees are deliberately grafted onto rootstocks that restrict the growth of the tree. Unfortunately, this also leads to weaker trees that die much younger than standard fruit trees.

Aggressive Pruning Makes Full-Size Fruit Trees Work in Small Spaces

Aggressive pruning makes it possible to grow multiple fruit trees in small spaces (The Grow Network)

Image by Christian Riedl from Pixabay

What if you could just plant a full-size tree and keep it under control?

It’s more possible than you might think. After all, isn’t that what Bonsai growers do?

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You may actually be able to fit a dozen or more fruit trees in a little backyard with less work than you would expect. What about planting a hedge of plums or lemons? Or a three-trunked apple tree that your children can pick without a ladder?

Grow Multiple Fruit Trees in Small Spaces

Hand-picking oranges in a small-space orchard (The Grow Network)

Image by waros from Pixabay

A couple of years ago, I discovered a marvelous book by Ann Ralph titled Grow a Little Fruit Tree, which really put together a lot of the thoughts I’d been having about growing fruit trees in small spaces, and provided simple instructions for making it happen.

As Ralph writes:

“You don’t need to buy dwarfs or ultra-dwarfs if you want small trees. Europeans have used pruning to keep ordinary fruit trees small for centuries. Take a visit to a historic garden in the United States, and you will discover that our own Founding Fathers often kept their fruit trees small.

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Once you understand the simple logic of pruning, keeping a fruit tree appropriately scaled is easy enough to do. In fact, regular pruning is the best way to control the size of a fruit tree. (…) Any type of deciduous fruit tree responds to the keep-it-small pruning treatment—the oldest heirloom or the most recent introduction.

Choose whatever variety of apricot, apple, cherry, fig, quince, persimmon, plum, or pluot—a plum-apricot cross—is most ideal for your palate and your climate. Keep it small. Put away the ladder. You can plant more trees than you planned to, either singly around the garden, or in a hedgerow along a sunny fence, or even three little trees closely spaced and pruned to grow apart from one another (three fruit trees together where you thought you only had room for one).

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You can work fruit trees into an existing landscape. You can accommodate favorite fruits that need another tree for pollination. Within attention to ripening times, you can harvest fresh fruit in reasonable quantities from your garden from late spring well into winter.

Factor in citrus if you live in a citrus-friendly climate, and you can harvest fresh fruit from your garden year-round.”

Grow a Little Fruit Tree, Ann Ralph, pg. 24–25

I’m sold.

Imagine Being Able to Reach and Harvest All the Fruit!

Child harvesting cherries near to the ground. (The Grow Network)

Image by anialaurman from Pixabay

In the book, Ralph shares simple techniques for keeping fruit trees small, including when to prune and how to prune.

If you’ve ever seen piles of smashed fruit wasted beneath a towering tree, the idea of a small, pickable tree that bears you perfect fruit you can harvest by hand becomes quite appealing.

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I’ve had to pick a poorly maintained orchard before and it’s a ton of work to deal with knocking down fruit and trying to gather them from the ground. Thanks to the inspiration in Grow a Little Fruit Tree, I’m not going to let that happen to the trees I’m currently planting in my food forest and edible hedges.

I highly recommend the book for anyone interested in growing fruit trees in small spaces. You can grow a whole lot more than you think.

What Do You Think?

Do you grow fruit trees in small spaces? What are your best tips for small-space fruit-tree cultivation? Let us know in the comments below!

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This post was written by David The Good

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