Have you thought about growing your own apples, pears, and Asian pears?
They’re easy, and super-dwarfing rootstock allows you to grow a tree in the smallest space. I mention pears and Asian pears, because they’re similar in culture to apples and also store well for long periods.
I have seven apple, two Asian pear and one pear tree in a 4-by-30-foot strip. My mini-orchard produces enough fruit to stow for eating fresh throughout the winter, some to dry and plenty to make into applesauce and pear jam.
The trick for a large bounty of luscious fruit in a small area is picking trees on the right rootstock. All fruit trees are grafted on to dwarfing or nematode-resistant or extra hardy roots from another cultivar, developed for their specific qualities.
I'm picking Pixie Crunch apples last September in my tiny orchard. Ten trees take up little space.
The grafting process can be complicated. The desired variety or cultivar is attached to the rootstock (cambium, xylem and phloem layers are matched) and the union is sealed with wax and tape and then planted in bed or large container to grow. I readily admit that I am all thumbs and cannot graft. Luckily, there are plenty of mail order nurseries that specialize in fruit trees on various rootstocks.
Le Nain Vert is a gentically dwarf pear tree that is barely five feet tall and tidy in spread. Fruit is firm and delicious!
After you pick your trees, they will arrive bare root, meaning the roots are not in dirt. They'll be shipped to you at the right time to plant, when the ground has thawed and warmed a bit. Soak the roots in a bucket of water overnight, at least, or up to three days, before planting. Dig a large hole so that roots can be spread. Position the tree so that the graft union (the bumpy spot on the trunk) is at least three inches above the soil line. Otherwise, the rootstock will grow and over take the grafted cultivar.
Organic care is easy. Look at my previous blog about how to do it.
This Wealthy apple tree, grafted on to M27 rootstock, is only four feet tall. It fits easily in a flower bed.
The right dwarf rootstock
Here is a rundown of the best rootstocks to seek when purchasing trees. There’s one for every climate, just as there are apple cultivars for everywhere. Even in the hottest climate a tasty apple like Anna will grow on the right rootstock.
Bud 9: 8 feet; very cold hardy; use in USDA Climate Zones 3 to 5.
M9: 8 to 10 feet; tolerant of wet soils; Zones 5 to 8; protect roots with snow cover in colder areas.
M27: 6 to 8 feet; requires extra moisture so irrigate often; Zones 5 to 8.
MM106: 10 to 12 feet; excellent for hot climates; Zone 8 to 10.
Pears, including Asian Pears
OHXF33: 10 to 16 feet; easily kept smaller with summer pruning; cold-hardy; precocious, bearing fruit after a year or two in the ground; Zones 4 to 8.
OHXF51: 8 to 12 feet; the best rootstock for hot, humid climates; Zones 6 to 9.
Quince: 4 to 10 feet; significantly dwarfs pear trees. Compatible only with Comic, Anjou and Seckel pears; best for hot, humid climates with clay soils; not cold-hardy; Zones 7 to 9.
Doreen Howard has written for The Old Farmer's Almanac All-Seasons Garden Guide for 15 years and is the former garden editor at Woman’s Day as well as a photographer. She has grown more than 300 varieties of heirloom edibles and flowers in the last two decades.
In stores now!
Look for Doreen's newest book, Heirloom Flavor: Yesterday's Best-Tasting Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs for Today's Cook. Find in stores everywhere including Walmart and on the Web including amazon.com.