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When you start planning your home orchard, one thing to consider is fruit tree sizes. When you start looking through nursery catalogs, websites, and garden centers, you will see trees identified as patio, dwarf, semi-dwarf, standard, and more recently Columnar or "colonnade". Each type grows to a certain size range and stops growing after that.
Dwarf - Most Dwarf fruit trees grow to a height of 8 to 10 feet.
Semi-Dwarf - Semi Dwarf trees grow to a height of 10-16 feet. This is the most common size grown today.
Standard - Standard fruit trees grow 25-30 feet or more.
Columnar - have little to no branches, and bear fruit on
spurs that grow off of the main trunk of the tree. They grow 6 to 8
"Patio" trees are super dwarfed varieties that can be grown in large pots or half barrels on your patio or porch.
Regardless of the size tree you plant, they will all produce the same size of fruit for a given cultivar, since they were all grafted from the same parent tree.
The smaller the tree, the shorter the lifespan:
-Dwarf fruit trees generally live 10-15 years.
-Semi dwarf trees usually live about 15-20 years.
-Columnar and Patio varieties are shorter lived than that - about 5-10 years.
-Standard sized trees can live and produce for decades.
The larger the tree the bigger the potential crop. Consider what you
plan to do with all of those apples when choosing what size you will
buy and plant.
-Will you can or freeze them?
-Eat them fresh and share with family and friends?
-Make apple butter or applesauce?
-Set up a roadside stand and sell them for a profit?
You might be surprised at how much fruit a semi dwarf tree can produce. For example, we regularly get 20 quarts of cherries from our single tart cherry tree, and have canned as many as 24 quarts of peaches from one of our peach trees, even though it is still growing.
The more trees you plant the wider the variety you can have, but larger trees will bear more fruit, and take up more space. If you want a wider selection of trees and don't have lots of space that you can dedicate to your orchard, but want to be able to harvest a wide variety of fruit, smaller trees are your answer. You can pretty easily find most common varieties and many not-so-common ones grafted onto dwarf and semi-dwarf root stock.
Smaller trees are much easier to maintain than standard sized trees. You will be able to maintain your trees without expensive and specialized equipment. Pruning can be accomplished either from the ground or using a small household ladder. Netting to prevent bird damage is easier to raise and cover smaller trees. Spraying can be accomplished with a hand held sprayer from the ground. Finally thinning and harvesting is considerably easier on dwarf and semi dwarf trees.
Choose carefully the fruit tree sizes that you want grow in your home orchard based on how much space you have available, how many varieties you want to grow, how big a crop you want of a particular type of fruit, and how much time and effort you are willing to put into maintenance and care. A home fruit orchard is a multiple year commitment, so take your time up front in deciding what size of trees you want to plant and grow.
Sources for Fruit Trees:
What determines the mature size of a Fruit Tree?
The interesting thing about fruit trees, is that the size at which a tree stops growing is determined by the root stock that it is grafted onto.
A specific root stock is grafted to cuttings from the variety (cultivar) of tree that is wanted. The root stock is selected from certain trees that are known to restrict growth to a specific size range.
Root stock and parent plant only need to be in the same family. For example, apple, crab apple and quince varieties can used for grafting stock for dwarf apple trees.