Sunday, July 06, 2008

You little beauties!

I wrote about apple trees a few weeks ago, and made comment on the great value the ‘Ballerina’ varieties were for those gardening with constrained space. The column-shaped apple trees are very popular for growing in containers and many of you expressed an interest in growing them, and any other dwarf fruit trees.
Fortunately there is a range of other trees available in dwarf forms, with stone fruit being particularly well represented, peaches in particular.
These trees are naturally dwarf – they are sports from other trees and do not rely on being grafted onto dwarfing rootstock to keep them small. They make very attractive garden trees as they assume a symmetrical shape as they grow, giving an almost topiary like affect.
Probably the best-known of these varieties is ‘Bonanza’, a yellow-fleshed freestone with a red blush. The fruit are not in any sense dwarf – in fact, they are quite large – and have a sweet taste. This is covered in pink flowers before leafing up in spring, and is very attractive, both in blossom and in fruit, and is fully self fertile.
‘Garden Lady’ is similar, but is only semi self-fertile, while the newer ‘Honey Babe, which has large orange-fleshed fruit, probably does best near other peaches and nectarine for pollination.
If you are like me and adore white-fleshed peaches, but have very little space for fruit trees, ‘Rose Chiffon’ is the one for you. It has rose-pink flowers in the spring, doubled like the ornamental peaches, but unlike most double-flowered peaches, it also sets fruit well, a large crop of juicy, white-fleshed peaches following the flowers.
I hate the furry skin on peaches. It is as bad as chalk screech on blackboard for me, so I prefer to eat nectarines. Fortunately there are some dwarf varieties of these too. ‘Garden Delight’ is well named, as it is a very reliably fruiting variety, even succeeding in warmer area where nectarines and peaches can be difficult to fruit. It has large pale pink blossom, and juicy red-skinned, yellow-fleshed fruit. ‘Flavourzee’ and ‘Nectar Babe’ are similar but neither are as self-fertile as ‘Garden Delight’ and will fruit best if near other nectarines or peaches. It would probably be a good idea to plant more than one variety anyway, as it will also give a longer fruiting season.
These trees will probably reach something like two metres tall after twenty years, and will attain less than a metre’s girth. They will do best in a sunny spot with well-drained soil. They will respond very well to lots of food, so make sure you keep the fruit tree fertiliser up to them. Also make sure they are well watered during the growing season as they do not like to dry out, especially in grown in containers.
Bear I mind that these are miniature peaches and nectarines, and they are prone to the same problems that tall trees are, in particular leaf curl. Being smaller they are much easier to spray when they flowers are in bud, but it is important to remember to keep them leaf-curl free as they are not as robust as a tall tree.
If you are feeling like expanding the range of stone fruit you grow you might like to try those cousins, the apricot and the almond.
Dwarf apricots make charming little trees, again growing to about two metres high but bearing full sized fruit. Most apricots are self-fertile and will perform well as long as they get a chilling over winter – these are not trees for Northland or Auckland, or milder districts on the lower North Island. If you do not get frosts it is probably not worth trying to grow these, but if you are in a cold zone (and we are today!) give them a try.
‘Aprigold’ and ‘Golden Glow’ are the only two varieties I have seen offered in New Zealand. ‘Golden Glow is slightly smaller than ‘Aprigold, not growing more than 1.5 metres tall.
They need similar conditions to the peaches and apricots, except they can cope with the cold better.