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Organic Gardening

Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.


Grow Your Own Miniature Fruit Trees

miniature lemon tree

When I wrote of choosing fruit trees for you home here, I didn’t mention the miniature fruit trees because they can’t survive temperatures below freezing. However, being able to harvest lemons, oranges, limes or even bananas is so much fun that you’ll be pleased to know it’s possible to grow citrus trees of your own, no matter where you live.

Although Ohio is hardiness zone six, I have had the pleasure and health benefits of having full-sized lemons for the past decade. It’s true that our potted lemon tree has to be drug into the sunroom to protect it from frost, but the annual harvest of two to three dozen organic lemons makes it worth the bother.

What makes a tree “miniature?” The “extreme dwarf” size of miniature fruit trees is mainly obtained from their rootstock. Even with this rootstock, most miniature fruit trees could reach eight to ten feet tall, but are kept at a more manageable height of about three feet. This is easily done with our miniature lemon tree because it’s kept in a container and is occasionally pruned. Therefore, the factors determining a miniature fruit tree’s size is its rootstock, pruning and being contained.

How to keep miniature citrus trees safe in colder climates: Most miniature citrus trees thrive in hardiness zones of nine to ten. In Ohio, bringing these trees indoors before reaching freezing temperatures is essential. We joke that it’s easy to prune a miniature tree—just make sure it can fit in the door! Look here for more on “how to prune.” Fortunately, very little pruning is needed when the tree’s roots are contained.

How to keep a miniature fruit tree productive: Having great harvests from miniature fruit trees requires both healthy soil and good pollination.

Healthy soil for potted plants is difficult to maintain with commercial fertilizers. Instead, use compost tea. (See here for how to make your own). Its natural microbes and sugars can never be over-done. I believe our ten year-old lemon tree is thriving and productive because it has been nurtured with compost tea.

This same miniature lemon tree has never been repotted from its original 14” container. If it seemed not be thriving in the future, I would probably prune back the roots and replant it in the same pot rather than a larger container. In this way, I can keep this miniature fruit tree small enough to come into the sunroom in winter.

It would be most convenient to have a self-pollinating miniature fruit tree (and most are), but I’m afraid our little lemon tree needs help with pollination. It usually begins blooming in cold February so I do my best to pollinate each flower’s pistil with a little paint brush. My efforts are far inferior to the bees, however, so we carry the tree back outside on warm days when it’s in bloom. With the bees and my pollinating efforts, we have always had as many lemons as the little tree can support before harvest time in November.

How to preserve citrus fruit: If I had orange, tangerine, lime or banana miniature fruit trees, I would probably savor each fruit as it became ripe. The lemons all become ripe within a couple weeks’ span, however, and I really want to enjoy them year-round. To do this, I use the Moroccan method of preserving lemons.

 Preserving Lemons

In Morocco, lemons aren’t refrigerated or dried, but instead preserved with salt. I find this method easy to do and that it results in favorable and nutritious lemons for cooked meals.

Preserved/Salted Lemons

Equipment:

Containers (I use two-quart canning jars, but any container not eroded by salt will work)
Lemons (picked when fully-ripe)
Sea-salt (use instead of table salt for improved nutrition and taste)

Preparing Moroccan-style Preserved Lemons

1. Cut each lemon into quadrants, almost all the way through. Hold the lemon sections open while sprinkling a generous amount of sea-salt onto all on cut sides of lemon. It’s better to error on the side of “too much” sea-salt because too little salt can result in spoilage.

2. Close each salted lemon and squeeze it into the container tightly with other lemons. No need to refrigerate.

3. I begin to use these lemons almost immediately and continue to use them throughout the year. They gradually become softer and produce more of the wonderful lemony-salty juice—perfect for how I cook with them!

Recipes with Moroccan-Preserved Lemons

Our winter meals are made from garden produce that is preserved in the root-cellar or by canning or freezing. One of my favorite meals is slowly roasted vegetables. After coating the cut-up vegetables with olive oil and sea-salt, I simply put them in the cast-iron pot and let them cook slowly on the wood-burner. Their taste is amazing, but what makes them greater still is adding chopped up preserved lemons with some of its juice. The lemon’s peel is included—it has no chemicals and is packed with vitamins. For this purpose, the “Meyer Lemon,” sold by StarkBros, is noted for its “thin-skinned lemons.” Delicious!

Another winter favorite is chicken-vegetable soup—the usual third meal from one of our small Dorking chickens. It was always flavor filled, but adding the lemon texture and lemony-salt flavor makes it outstanding.

Because miniature fruit trees only require some patio space in summer and a sunny indoor corner in winter, I hope you’ll also be able to have a miniature fruit tree. It’s a new adventure that can add both healthy food and fun to life!

Mary Lou Shaw and her husband grow most of their own food on their homestead with a large garden, orchard, bees, and rare-breed animals. These animals include Dutch Belted cows, Dorking chickens and Narragansett turkeys. Learn how to grow your own food with Mary Lou’s book, Growing Local Food, through Carlisle Press at 800-852-4482. Read all of Mary Lou’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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