If you reckon your backyard is too small for fruit trees – think again! There’s an incredible variety of dwarf and mini fruit trees available that are perfect for pots or today’s shrinking backyards.
You don’t have to wait to win Lotto before you can live out your gardening fantasies and plant your own orchard filled with organically-grown fruit. Mini fruit trees are set to become the next big thing in backyard kitchen gardens because the selection available is growing all the time, and it’s already enormous.
As well as the apples, citrus, nectarines and peaches that you might already know about, you can now get mini versions of everything from avocados to Aussie finger limes, feijoas to figs, mulberries to mangoes, pomegranates to persimmons, and lots, lots more.
Some people imagine that a ‘mini’ fruit tree produces mini-sized fruit. Wrong. The new generation of mini fruit trees produce crops of delicious, full-sized fruit. It’s just the plants themselves which have been down-sized into more backyard-friendly proportions.
Some plants are naturally small trees (such as a kaffir lime tree, which reaches only 1.5m in most gardens, and is readily available at good garden centres and nurseries); others are true dwarf varieties, such as the Lotsa Lemons, which is a dwarf form of Meyer lemon which reaches only 1.5m tall; but many others are grafted onto dwarf rootstocks, such as the ‘Flying Dragon’ rootstock used by several growers, which reduces fruit trees such as citrus to about half their normal size, and ‘Trifoliata’ rootstock, which reduces trees to about two-thirds of their normal size.
This varies with each tree, but to give you some examples of the sizes to expect, try these little ones for size. The Nectazee miniature nectarine and the Pixzee peach, both from Flemings Nurseries, reach just 1.5m high and wide (compared with 5-7m for unpruned non-dwarf peaches and nectarines). A dwarf Irwin mango tree from Daley’s Fruit Tree Nursery will reach around 2-4m (compared with an unpruned normal mango’s 8-12m). And a dwarf Wurtz avocado grated onto dwarf rootstock by Kendall Farms will reach 2.5m, compared with the usual 5-8m for avocados.
As a general guide, expect the minis to be at least half the size of the normal ones, but occasionally they will be even smaller than that.
- The good news with the mini and dwarf fruit trees is that you treat them much the same as their bigger siblings. These little dynamos are not small, delicate plants that need molly-coddling. They’re just normal fruit trees, only smaller.
- If you’re growing them in garden beds, give them the same conditions as their siblings. In most cases this means plenty of sunshine and well-drained soil, plus generous servings of fertiliser, and a well-mulched soil along with good supplies of water.
- Dwarf citrus, like full-sized citrus, don’t like competition around their root zone, so don’t let lawn grow there, or for that matter any other plants. Let these plants have their spot to themselves and they will have fewer problems. Give them plenty of water, plus a generous feed in both late winter and late summer.
- You’d be mad not to talk to the specialist grower about each plant’s individual needs. For example, when we spoke to Daley’s Fruit Tree Nursery about their dwarf black mulberry, we were told that these small deciduous trees (reaching 2-4m tall) will crop much better if regularly pruned after each harvest. This regular pruning would effectively keep the plants closer to the 2m size most of the time.
Lots of gardeners will choose to grow their mini fruit trees in pots, and they should get good results if they stick to the basics. Choose the biggest pot you can fit into the space. When you talk to the expert grower about the particular tree you’re after, ask about the ideal shape of the pot. Daley’s Nursery, for example, recommends a pot that is wider than it is tall for its dwarf citrus, as these plants have extensive shallow root systems that will enjoy a wide pot. As their roots don’t go so deep, a deep pot isn’t that important.
A straight-sided or vase-shaped pot is essential, as you will need to repot these little beauties every two to three years, and it’s much easier to remove a plant from a straight-sided or vase-shaped pot than one with incurving sides.
Plant your mini fruit tree into the best quality potting mix you can find, and make it a rule to repot each plant as a matter of routine every two to three years. Tip: some expert growers say they get better results if they blend in one-quarter part of good quality garden loam with the potting mix, to give it body and improved longevity. Raise the pot onto pot feet to ensure good drainage. As watering dissolves nutrients out of potting mix, fertilise potted fruit trees once a fortnight from spring to autumn with soluble fertiliser at the rate directed on the pack. Alternatively, use controlled-release fertiliser formulated for citrus and fruit trees. Apply it once in early spring, once in early summer and once in early autumn and then cover it with 2cm of compost. If you’d prefer the ‘all-organic’ approach to growing fruit, mulch the top of the potted tree with aged cow manure or pelletised chicken manure, and give plants regular liquid feeds of organic plant foods such as Nitrosol or fish-based fertilisers.
Some popular small fruit trees (eg, Lotsa Lemons, kaffir limes, and ‘Ballerina’ apples, Flemings’ Nectazee nectarines and Pixzee peaches) are probably being sold at your local garden centre already. The more unusual dwarfs and minis can be ordered by your local garden centre from these specialists. These trees are not cheap, but prices do vary. Expect to pay around $25 to $50 for a small plant, depending on what you’re after.
Daley’s Fruit Tree Nursery
(Geneva via Kyogle, NSW). The mini and dwarf range includes gooseberries, Irwin mangoes, mulberries, peach, orange, mandarin, cumquat, lemonade, tangelo, miracle fruit.
Flemings sells to the wholesale trade. Your local nursery can order in Fleming’s trees for you. Their website has a “where to buy” section.
Range includes: Trixzie miniature fruiting trees: Nectazee (nectarine); Pixzee (peach); Pink Lady apple; Cherree (white or black cherry); plus a two-way multi-graft of Nectazee and Pixzee.
(07) 4779 1189. The extensive range includes dwarf apples, avocados, babao, black sapote, blueberry, Brazilian custard apple, calamondin, canistel, cape gooseberry, carambola (star fruit), dragonfruit, feijoa, figs, grapefruit, grumichama, jaboticaba, jackfruit, japanese raisin, cumquats, lemons, lemonade, loquats, macadamias, madronos, Malabar chestnut, mandarin, mango, mulberries, native finger lime, nectarine, olive, orange, peach, pecans, soursops, sweetsops, Tahitian lime, wampi, white sapote.
Clyde Wholesale Plant Nurseries
(03) 5998 5546
Breeder of ‘Lotsa Lemons’, a dwarf Meyer lemon which produces very heavy crops. Available in all states.
(03) 5984 7900
Range includes apples and various citrus.
Woodbridge Fruit Trees
(03) 6267 4430
Large range of apples (around 70) grown on dwarf rootstock.
Trees are sent out in July and August each year. Nursery and new catalogue opens in February next year.