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Petite fruit trees fit into any size garden

| Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Jessica Walliser
A genetic dwarf peach tree, growing in a large pot with some herbs and flowers, will produce fruit in three to four years.

If you've always wanted to grow fruit trees but have been reluctant to take the plunge because you think you don't have enough room, I'd like to try to change your mind.

While some fruit trees can grow fairly large, others stay quite petite. Many gardeners plant fruit trees that have been grafted onto dwarfing root stocks which keeps their stature a bit smaller. But, even dwarf trees can grow too large for the smallest of backyards. Plus, if you grow apples, pears, or plums, you'll need to grow more than one variety so the trees can cross-pollinate each other.

For those looking to dip their toes into fruit tree growing without having to grow multiple trees or take up a lot of room in the garden, I suggest starting with genetic dwarf peaches (Prunus persica).

Though regular grafted dwarf peach trees are certainly smaller statured than full-sized peach trees, genetic dwarfs are even more diminutive. These varieties top out at a mere 5 feet in height, and they can be pruned to stay even smaller. They produce full-size fruit, despite the petite nature of the tree.

Peaches are self-fertile, meaning each tree does not need a pollination partner of another variety in order to set fruit. A single genetic dwarf peach tree will produce plenty of fruit on its own, starting when it's just 3 or 4 years old.

Because peach trees need to be exposed to a certain number of hours of cold weather in the winter (called chill hours), they're a great crop to grow here in Pennsylvania.

If you'd like to grow genetic dwarf peach trees in your garden, good varieties to look for include, “El Dorado,” “Pix Zee,” “Honey Babe,” and “Empress.”

There are also several varieties of genetic dwarf nectarines on the market, too, including “Necta Zee” and “Nectar Babe.” These smooth-skinned peach relatives also do not need a pollination partner in order to set fruit.

And, if you want to try something even more unique, look for dwarf 2-on-1 combination trees that have both nectarine-bearing and peach-bearing branches grafted onto the same tree. Because these two fruits are so closely related, the grafting process allows you to have a single tree that produces both fruits.

Genetic dwarf peach and nectarine trees are perfect for small and large gardens alike. You can also grow them in containers, provided the pot holds a minimum of about 40 gallons of potting soil. If you grow these trees in containers, you'll need to sink the pots into the ground or a compost pile for the winter. This provides a good layer of insulation to protect the roots.

If you grow the containerized trees on a balcony and don't have anywhere to sink the pot for the winter, surround the pot up to its rim with a large cage of chicken wire filled with shredded leaves or straw to insulate the roots for the winter.

Genetic dwarf peach and nectarine trees are available from the following sources: Raintree Nursery (raintreenursery.com), Nature Hills Nursery (naturehills.com) and Dave Wilson Nursery (davewilson.com). You may also be able to find them at your favorite local nursery.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is jessicawalliser.com.

Send your gardening or landscaping questions to tribliving@tribweb.com or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.

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