Fruit trees are changing. Most are becoming smaller in stature and more compact overall. This downsizing is in line with a move to apartment living and smaller gardens. Today there’s a dwarf form of just about every popular fruit tree including the apple. Some are grafted on dwarfing rootstock while others are naturally compact or narrow (such as the Ballerina apple series). Despite being smaller in stature, fruit is usually normal-sized.
While small-growing varieties are likely to suffer the same pest and disease problems as their larger relatives and may also require cross-pollination for fruiting, smaller trees are easier to manage than large, particularly for pruning, crop protection and harvesting.
DWARF AND COLUMNAR APPLES
The trend to small wasn’t driven by the home garden. Apples have long been grown on dwarfing rootstock to make these naturally tall trees more accessible for harvesting and management in commercial orchards. Wild apples grow into huge trees (around 6–8m high and 4–5m wide).
As well as being more manageable, many of the dwarf or compact varieties also bear early, producing fruit in their first two years of growth, which is an advantage for commercial orchardists who can respond quickly to changing demands from consumers as well as the availability of new varieties.
The potential of narrow-growing fruit trees for Australian gardens was highlighted more than 20 years ago when Fleming’s Nurseries, a Victorian-based wholesale nursery, launched the Ballerina series, a selection of narrow apple trees.
These became very popular and led the charge to smaller backyard apples such as Trixzie ‘Gala’, a red early-to midseason apple that grows to around 2.5m high and wide. Plant this variety with its pollinator, ‘Pink Lady’, which is also available on dwarfing rootstock.
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Good Organic Gardening #10.5