Growing Dwarf Fruit Trees and Nut Trees

How to grow dwarf fruit trees and dwarf nut trees, including a history of miniature trees and a chart with suggestions for the best tree varieties.

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    LEFT TO RIGHT: This greenish dwarf fruit tree twig has twice as many flower buds as its reddish standard cousin. Dwarf trees are ornamental as well as food-bearing additions to your home. Just look at all the fruit on this miniature Heavenly White peach tree!
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    Chart of dwarf tree varieties.

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Now you can actually stoop down to harvest 17 pounds of fruit ... from just one tree! 

If you want a fruit or nut tree that's both short and sweet, plant a genetic dwarf. A recent addition to the realm of tree crops, the genetic dwarf (or miniature) tree became available to home gardeners only 20 years ago. The more familiar semidwarf tree, by contrast, goes back to the early 1800s. However new, genetic dwarf trees are available in wide variety — almond, apple, apricot, cherry, nectarine, and peach. And while there is only one miniature almond, there are over a dozen cultivars, or varieties, of genetic dwarf fruit trees such as peaches and nectarines. (See the miniature fruit and nut tree chart in the image gallery for suggested varieties).

Growing Dwarf Fruit Trees and Dwarf Nut Trees

I'll use the genetic dwarf peach and nectarine as examples, because these trees are the most readily purchased and the most productive, and offer the largest selection of cultivars, I'll also, from here on, use the term preferred by the tree crops industry — miniature.

Distinctive Dwarf  Fruit Trees

Miniature peaches and nectarines are short, shrubby trees, rarely growing more than six feet tall and six to ten feet wide. Their dense canopy reminds me of the "schmoos" in Al Capp's comic strip of the mid-'60s. Some call the trees mop-tops. The fancy phrase for this is brachytic dwarfism (quite a horticultural mouthful), which refers to the distance between buds — the internode. The drastically shortened internodes account for the small size of the tree. As to the aesthetic appeal, you can decide for yourself; personally, I find the form attractive.

The buds are so close together that three to five fit in the length of a thumbnail. Compared to a standard peach, there are two or more times as many buds occurring over the same distance. At least one leaf grows below each bud — thus the thicket of foliage.

The History of Miniature Trees

Miniature fruit trees were discovered as natural mutations of seedling trees. In pursuit of a "naturally" dwarfed peach, millions of trees were grown in test plots to find the tiny fraction of seedlings with compact character. Then, breeders like Floyd Zaiger and Fred Anderson (who recently died — his work is now continued by Norman Bradford of LeGrand, California) hand-pollinated the seedlings with the pollen of top-quality varieties. It took years of breeding to blend the genes for good taste and color with the genes for miniature size. The best trees went to trial plots all over the country for observation. The best from those trials were then propagated for retail sales. In all, it took 20 years to complete the first full cycle of breeding from a natural seedling mutation to a reliable miniature tree for sale at your local nursery.

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