Issue: January 2003

Dwarf Fruit Trees Add Variety to Landscapes

Gardeners who like to try new things in the New Year might consider planting dwarf fruit trees, which add colors and shapes to the home landscape and greater variety to the family diet.

Most dwarf fruit tree varieties come from grafting one fruit variety or scion onto another that serves as the root system. Dwarfing occurs because of restricted nutrient supply to the scion. Different root systems result in different sizes.

For truly small trees, consider genetic dwarfs, sometimes called miniatures. The tightly spaced fruit buds often give the tree a compact, husky look. Genetic dwarfs generally require limited pruning. Fruit can be thinned when small to improve size and quality. Genetic dwarfs may also need protection from cold weather.

Save garden space by growing up instead of out. Columnar apple trees form a single trunk shaped like a spire. Trees will grow eight feet tall but only two feet wide. Fruit develops on short branches or spurs on the trunk. Plant at least 18 inches apart.

Both genetic dwarfs and columnar varieties can also be grown in patio planter boxes. Plant two or more compactable varieties for good cross-pollination.

Apart from using less garden space, dwarf trees generally produce fruit at an earlier age. They're easier to prune, train, spray, thin, pick and protect from frost and birds.

There are disadvantages. Rootstock is often not labeled, making size predictions difficult. Few genetic dwarf and columnar apple tree varieties are available.

Truncated root systems can weaken roots. Some dwarf apple trees may need support from stakes or wire trellises. Some can be pruned and trained to form an espalier shape on wires or along walls.

For more space conservation, graft two or more varieties on the same tree. This is particularly good for apples, which often need another variety for pollination.

Growing fruit trees in containers with limited space can also cause dwarfing, but such trees require more attention. Use well-drained soils with good air space, and water frequently because soil tends to dry quickly, especially in hot weather. Add nutrients frequently in small amounts for proper growth and development.

For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension publications World Wide Web site at

Also, please join us for Southwest Yard & Garden, a weekly program for gardeners in the Southwest. It airs on KRWG in Las Cruces Saturdays at 11:30 a.m., repeating Fridays at 1 p.m. with special repeated segments every weeknight at 6:30; on KENW in Portales on Saturdays at 10 a.m.; and on KNME in Albuquerque on Saturdays at 9:30 a.m.

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For more gardening information, visit New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service publications world wide web site at

George W. Dickerson, Ph.D., is is a horticulturist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.

Also Please join us on Southwest Yard & Garden, a weekly garden program made for gardeners in the Southwest on: KNME-TV Albuquerque at 9:30 p.m. Saturdays, KENW-TV Portales at 10 a.m. Saturdays, and KRWG-TV Las Cruces at 11:30 a.m. Saturdays (repeated at 1 p.m. Thursdays.)