If you’re thinking about adding a fruit tree to your yard but don’t have much space for it, consider planting a dwarf fruit tree. There are plenty of different kinds of fruit that flourish in the climate in and around Portland, Oregon, so you have many to choose from. If you do your research before planting, you could have a source of fresh fruit right in your backyard every year.
One thing to note, though, is that sometimes plant nurseries do not provide the rootstock information on dwarf fruit trees. If the tag only says “dwarf,” it could be any for any size tree since many rootstocks are dwarf to start out with, so ask for specifics. There are vast ranges when it comes to size, soil tolerance, and drought tolerance. Also, while there are dwarf varieties available to buy from local nurseries, it might be necessary to graft your own if you want something specific. Be certain of what you plant, otherwise, you might have to go through the heartbreak of digging up your dwarf tree just when it is starting to produce.
The advantage to having a dwarf fruit tree instead of a full-size tree is that a dwarf tree is easier to maintain when it comes to pruning and harvesting (especially when you want to reach all the fruit on the top of the branches). Depending on the size of your tree, you could even try growing it in a container so you can control the soil, water, and sun it gets, and bring it inside in the winter. And don’t worry—the fruit will be the same size (or about the same size) as those from a full-size tree. You will simply have fewer fruits in your harvest.
Here are five ideas for dwarf fruit trees for the Portland, Oregon, area.
While the full-sized trees can grow to be 40 feet tall, a dwarf variety of the pear tree may be 18 to 20 feet, depending on what rootstock you graft it to. Dwarf Bartlett pears grow well in the Willamette Valley climate. Pears and apples enjoy similar climates, so if you know of an apple tree that does well in your neighborhood, chances are a pear tree will flourish as well.
Pears are considered easier to grow than apples since they’re are more tolerant to clay soils than apples are and are more insect-tolerant too. If you want to have fruit on your dwarf pear tree, you will have to plant two trees in your yard, within 50 to 20 feet of each other, so they can cross-pollinate.
Unlike pears, there are several varieties of dwarf cherry trees that are self-pollinating, so depending on which variety you choose, you’ll only need to plant one cherry tree. One of these self-fertile types is the genetic dwarf sweet cherry Starkrimson. There are also tart varieties of cherries, including the Montmorency, Meteor, and North Star.
Usually, a dwarf cherry tree will grow 6 to 8 feet tall, and a semi-dwarf will grow to 12 feet. One dwarf cherry tree produces about 10 to 15 quarts of fruit each season. Each spring and after each harvest, a cherry tree appreciates a layer of fertilizer and mulch. The best time to plant a cherry tree is in the spring so it can be established before the winter.
The dwarf red delicious apple grows to a height of about 10 feet and prefers full sun, so you should be sure to plant it in a place where it will get at least six hours of direct sunlight every day. It’s the most famous apple, with a mild and sweet flavor and a long storage life. Autumn is apple season, so once your tree is established and starts producing fruit—usually within three to four years for dwarf varieties—your harvest will be from mid- to late September to mid-October.
Apple trees will also need a compatible tree nearby for cross-pollination, growing within 50 to 20 feet. You don’t have to have two of the same kinds of apple trees, though. Your other apple tree can be a yellow delicious, Granny Smith, red Jonathan, or early harvest apple tree, or a variety of one of these.
Be warned—apple trees tend to be what are called biennial bearers: the tree will produce a heavy harvest one year and sparsely the next. There are many factors that go into how much fruit a tree produces, including the age of the tree, the use of nitrogen fertilizers, and a lack of pollinators.
These are a little less common in the Pacific Northwest but can be very easy to grow. All they require is a little specialized pruning called an “open center.” Sometimes this is called a “vase shape.” This means all the branches of the tree will get an equal amount of sun and air, and your tree will have strong lateral branches—the fruit will be easier to grab, too, since you don’t have to fight to get into the middle of the tree branches. This tree shape is recommended for peach trees and any other stone fruit trees, such as nectarines, apricots, and plums.
If you decide on a dwarf peach tree, you can expect fruit starting at the beginning of May and continuing through September. The peak of the peach season is in July and August. Peach varieties can be both self-pollinating, or they might require two trees for cross-pollinating, so be sure you know which you have before you plant.
To ensure large, high-quality fruit, you’ll need to thin the fruit. When the fruits are about the size of your thumbnail, remove some of the developing peaches so that there’s one every five inches or so.
Bet you didn’t see this one coming! Dwarf almond trees, such as the garden prince dwarf almond tree, are for those who would like fresh, home-grown almonds that are exceptionally sweet. This tree will grow six to nine feet tall. This variety is also a self-pollinator, so you’ll only need one, and it has large pink blossoms for an extra pop of color in the spring. They do bloom very early in the spring, so be sure that you aren’t planting it in a frost pocket where it’ll freeze.
If you have more questions about your fruit trees—such as pruning, placement, or variety—don’t hesitate to contact Mr. Tree today. Our certified arborists would love to help.