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An orchard of young dwarf fruit trees
A dwarf fruit tree is perfect for pots and small gardens. Grafted onto dwarf rootstock to reduce its overall size, but not its harvest, a dwarf fruit tree is just as productive as its full-size counterpart, but crops in half the time, making it the ideal fruit tree.

What you need to know about dwarf fruit trees

Name: dwarf apple tree, dwarf peach tree, dwarf nectarine tree, dwarf cherry tree, dwarf pear tree, dwarf fruit tree.

Height: typically 2–3m, at least half the size of full-sized trees.

Plant type: deciduous.

Climate: prefer cold and warm temperate climates, but will also grow well inland and in areas with frost.

Soil: free-draining soil improved with organic matter such as compost or well-aged manure.

Position: full sun, protected from strong winds.

Flowering and fruiting: depends on the variety, but most flower in spring and crop in summer and early autumn.

Feeding: apply a balanced, controlled release fertiliser specifically developed for fruiting trees throughout the growing season. Apply blood and bone in spring and dolomite in autumn.

Watering: water regularly during establishment and while trees are flowering and fruiting.

Appearance and characteristics of dwarf fruit trees

Contrary to popular belief, a dwarf fruit tree does not produce miniature fruit; it is simply a smaller, or rather a dwarf version of regular fruit tree varieties. Grafted onto dwarf rootstock, this changes the overall height and width of the tree, allowing you to grow a greater variety of trees in a smaller space. With all the same attributes as a regular fruit tree, including fruit size and harvest, a dwarf fruit tree offers the added benefits of easier harvest (because you don’t need a ladder) and a faster time to maturity (because it takes less time to grow to full height), which also means a quicker harvest—dwarf fruit trees start to produce fruit in only two years instead of four or five.

Red apples growing on a dwarf tree

Uses for a dwarf fruit tree

A dwarf fruit tree is primarily grown for its harvest, but they can make useful landscaping trees, too. Plant as a deciduous hedge, windbreak or privacy screen, or use a shade tree near northerly windows to create shade in summer while allowing light through in winter.

How to plant and grow a dwarf fruit tree

Your dwarf fruit tree can be grown in a large pot or half wine barrel, but for maximum harvest, plant directly into a well-prepared soil enriched with compost and aged manure.

Growing a dwarf fruit tree in a pot

  1. Dig a hole twice the size of the pot and backfill so that the potting mix inside the pot is positioned at the same height as the surrounding soil. Select a premium organic potting mix.
  2. Gently remove the pot and place the tree in the centre of the hole.
  3. Backfill with soil and firm down to remove any air holes around the roots.
  4. Apply a handful of blood and bone or dynamic lifter and water in well.

Growing a dwarf fruit tree in the garden

  1. Unwrap the tree roots and soak in a bucket of diluted seaweed solution while you prepare the hole.
  2. Dig a hole at least 40cm wide and 30cm deep. Backfill a mound in the centre of the hole. Check the trees level in the hole. The mark on the trunk where the previous soil level was should be level with the surrounding soil.
  3. Fan the roots out around the hole, down the mound.
  4. Backfill with soil and firm down to remove any air holes around the roots.
  5. Apply a handful of blood and bone or dynamic lifter and water in well.
  6. Insert at least two stakes to support the tree as the roots develop. These should be about 1m apart, either side of the tree. Using some hessian tie or organic twine, hold the tree firmly by weaving a figure-8 pattern from the tree to the stakes. This will allow it to move a little in the wind, but will still support the tree as it establishes.
  7. Apply an organic mulch like pea straw or sugarcane mulch to prevent weeds.

Most dwarf apple, pear and stone fruit trees require a pollinating partner to fruit. Always plant more than one tree for maximum harvest. 

Caring for a dwarf fruit tree

Water your dwarf fruit tree regularly during spring and summer. The tree will become dormant in autumn, and will not require supplementary water until awakening in spring. You will need to water more regularly for the first year, until the roots establish and spread. In warmer areas, trees may not become fully dormant. Water when dry.

Fertilise in spring and again in summer using a controlled-release fertiliser for fruiting plants. Apply blood and bone or dynamic lifer in autumn to give your tree an added boost before winter dormancy.

How to prune a dwarf fruit tree

Dwarf fruit trees do not require the same level of pruning as large fruit trees—just prune lightly at the end of summer to remove dead or over-crowded branches. Always wipe secateurs or loppers with methylated spirits between plants to reduce the likelihood of spreading infections from one tree to another.

Diseases and pests affecting dwarf fruit trees

Dwarf fruit trees suffer the same pests and diseases as full-sized trees. Click on these links for specific advice on apples and cherries.

If you like this then try

Avocado: also available as dwarf trees for small gardens.

Lime: an attractive feature tree in a pot or garden bed bearing tangy fruit for drinks and curries.

Feijoa: a wonderful fruiting plant that makes a great evergreen hedge.

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Health & Safety

Please make sure you use all equipment appropriately and safely when following the advice in these D.I.Y. videos. You need to be familiar with how to use equipment safely and follow the instructions that came with the equipment. If you are unsure, you may feel it is safest to consult an expert, such as the manufacturer or an expert Bunnings Team Member.

Grave health hazards are linked to asbestos, which may be in homes built up to 1990. Health hazards may result from exposure to lead-based paints in older materials and copper chromium arsenic (CCA) treated timber. For information on the dangers of asbestos, lead-based paint and CCA treated timber and tips for dealing with these materials contact your local council's Environmental Health Officer. You can also use a simple test kit from Bunnings to indicate the presence of lead-based paint.