Fruit Trees for Small Gardens
© Frances Michaels
If you have been missing out on the taste of luscious, juicy home-grown fruit in the mistaken belief that you
simply don't have the available space, then it may be time to think again. First free yourself from the idea
that fruit trees need to be in a separate part of the garden to ornamentals. This belief in 'appropriateness'
in planting is comparatively recent; once upon a time cottage gardens simply grew whatever was useful or
beautiful together in one area. Whether you have a small, inner-city courtyard or even just a balcony, there
is always room for at least one fruit tree. To make the choice easier I've narrowed it down to a list of
attractive, hardy, relatively pest-free, delicious fruits.
So in return for all your gardening efforts, why not let your garden provide you with not only beauty but
healthy, sun-ripened fruit?
Looking for a bit more space? Then if you have a lawn, its time to assess just how useful it actually is and
consider replacing it with fruiting shrubs and trees. The time you save on mowing the lawn could be spent
Now comes the hard part, narrowing your choices down to fit the space available. The first rule is: only plant
fruit you like to eat! Then select the fruits most suited to your area, as this will give you minimal disease
problems and a better yield. At it's most basic, being suitable means the plant evolved in a climatic zone
similar to your own.
Factors To Improve Your Success Rate
Make the most of your space! Allowing your fruit trees to grow too tall is an easy mistake to make. My personal
motto when it comes to pruning is 'if I can't reach it, I cut it off'. Tall fruit trees are simply a management
nightmare, remember you need to reach the fruit to thin it, protect it from birds and fruit fly and to harvest
it, the reward for the whole exercise. Tall fruit trees necessitate a ladder, changing fruit growing into a
'hazardous to health' activity. Space saving ideas you can try include:
- Dwarf rootstocks, where available, are a must for the home gardener, reducing pruning effort and maximising
- Multi-grafted fruit trees allow pollination requirements to be met and give you a range of flavours to be
enjoyed from the one tree. Remember to order well ahead at your local nursery for multi-grafts and dwarf
- 'Duo' or 'Trio' planting is where 2 or 3 fruit trees are planted in the hole, this has the same advantages
as above but reduces the risk of the stronger cultivar dominating the tree.
The art of 'espalier' is a system for growing fruit trees in a flat plane such as against a wall, thus greatly
reducing the space taken. Before you consider this, take a book out of the library and read up on it. It is a
radical pruning technique but the results can be very worthwhile in terms of yield and appearance. Suitable
subjects include apples, pears, plums, peaches and figs.
Container growing can be a good idea but examples of healthy fruit trees in pots are few and far between. This is
because maintaining a healthy fruit tree requires constant care, plants in pots are not as forgiving as those in
the open ground. Don't even consider container growing if you will be unable to remove the tree, trim the roots
and re-pot every 2 years or so. If you decide to go ahead, invest in containers at least 20 litres in size,
planter bags can be an inexpensive alternative. Install a watering system up through a drainage hole in the pot,
either with a dripper or a micro-spray fitting. The watering system needs to be automatic if you plan on summer
holidays. Buy top quality potting mix and enrich it with added coir peat to improve water and nutrient retention.
For your trees to set fruit properly, their pollination requirements must be met. With limited space, look for
cultivars that are self-fertile i.e. do not need cross-pollination or consider 'Duo' and 'Trio' plantings or a
Understanding The Elusive 'Chill Factor'
Many fruit and nut trees from cooler areas have what is called a 'chilling requirement', this is defined as the
total number of hours needed annually, below 7°C. Without a sufficient chilling period fruit trees may grow well
but will simply not set fruit. Avoid setting yourself up for this disappointment by finding out the average
chilling hours your area receives and only plant trees that will have their chilling needs met. Chilling hours
vary with cultivars of fruit so for example cultivars of apples can be either low, medium or high chill cultivars,
with between 300 - 1200 chilling hours needed. Citrus do not have a chilling requirement.
When selecting your fruit trees, establish a short-list and then let the conditions choose the tree. If a position
is hot and dry, choose the tree that will best cope with this. If you would like to grow fruit trees that are from
a different climate zone, look for ways to modify the microclimate to improve your chances of success. For example,
grapes need dry weather once the fruit is ripening, in an area with summer rainfall, try planting the grape to
climb up veranda posts under the shelter of the eaves, to protect the fruit from too much moisture.
The Dreaded Fruit Fly
Many gardeners in Australia put fruit growing into the 'too hard' basket because of that nasty pest, the
. There are two straightforward
Fruit Trees And Vines For Tropical Areas
- choose only the fruits that are not attacked,
- keep your trees small, so you can cover the fruit, or even the whole tree, thus dealing with the bird
problem as well.
Many tropical fruit trees grow very large making them difficult to fit into small backyards, a common sight in
northern Australia is one large mango tree completely filling a small backyard. Avoid buying or growing trees
from seed as they tend to be much taller than grafted trees. The book
Tropical Food Gardens
by Leonie Norrington is an excellent
reference, as well as a great read.
Abiu are attractive trees that with regular pruning can be kept to 3 or 4 metres. The fruit is bright yellow,
about the size of a large egg and delicious eaten fresh. Try to buy a grafted tree, seedlings can be very slow
Carambola syn. Five Corner Fruit
Most people will recognise the distinctive yellow fruit of the carambolas, sliced it gives a decorative
star-shape. The trees have beautiful pink flowers but can grow to around 8 metres, if you regularly prune you
can keep them to a manageable 3 metres. They can be successfully grown in containers, which helps to restrict
the size. Good cultivars include: 'Fwang Tung', '11.1', 'Thai Knient'.
Ceylon Hill Gooseberry
An attractive shrub to only 1.5 m tall with very ornamental deep rose-pink or mauve flowers followed by small
round purple berries. The bush is frost hardy and will fruit as far south as Melbourne. It is useful as a hedge
or container plant.
Home-grown pawpaw ripened on the tree beats the bought variety hands down. Trees are damaged by frost so need
sheltered positions. Male and female flowers usually appear on separate trees although bisexual trees exist,
these hermaphrodite trees do best in tropical areas. Try planting seed from a pawpaw with a good flavour,
grown in your area. Be prepared to thin heavily to remove the excess males, because only one pollinator is
needed for up to 8 female trees. Male pawpaw flowers (pictured) have longer stems than the female pawpaws,
the female flowers are held close to the tree trunk.
Fruit Trees And Vines For Subtropical Areas
Just like in the tropics, many subtropical trees can grow very large, check the mature size before buying.
An excellent ornamental shrubby tree for warmer areas, that tolerates light frost. The fruit is similar to a
large black grape and as the fruit is hidden on the internal branches there are usually no bird problems. It
is also resistant to fruit fly. Jaboticabas may crop several times a year, depending on water availability
and can be pruned hard to keep as a shrub.
Acerola syn. Barbados Cherry
An attractive fruiting shrub with pretty pink flowers and glossy dark green leaves, the bright red fruit is
extremely high in vitamin C, up to 40 mg in one small fruit. Beats the taste of a vitamin tablet any day of the
week! The fruit is popular with birds so plan to cover the shrub. Good cultivars include: 'Florida Sweet',
'California Honey', 'High C'.
This very attractive tree with shiny leaves and starry white flowers produces fruit similar to a cherry. It has
the added advantage of being resistant to fruit fly. Unfortunately the birds are keen on them too, so prune it
regularly to keep it bushy so a bird net can be thrown over it.
Passionfruit vines are evergreen and can be short-lived due to the woody passionfruit virus affecting the vines
so start a new one every few years. Vines will bear better with cross-pollination, particularly important for
the yellow types. Good cultivars include: 'Golden Casket', 'Lacey', 'Purple Gold', 'Panama Red' and 'Panama Gold'.
For cooler areas try 'Nelly Kelly' or 'Banana Passionfruit'.
Persimmons are remarkably decorative for such a productive tree with colourful autumn foliage and golden globes
of fruit left hanging on the tree after the leaves have fallen. 'Fuyu' is a non-astringent cultivar that
produces without cross-pollination. Persimmons will grow well in temperate areas too.
Strawberry Guava syn. Cherry Guava
A compact, evergreen bushy shrub to 3 - 6 m in height, the white flowers bloom in late spring. The fruit is
wine-red, with a very thin skin and believed to have the finest flavour of any guava. Strawberry guavas will grow
in a wide range of soils. Heavy frost will damage the plants. It is useful as a fruiting hedge and windbreak.
Tamarillos can be grown from seed by buying a good flavoured fruit in the supermarket and then sowing the seeds
in spring. Dark red fruits tend to be more acidic than orange types. A short-lived shrubby tree, tamarillos are
very attractive with large heart-shaped leaves and glossy fruit, with the added advantage of being pretty
resistant to fruit fly.
Fruit Trees And Vines For Temperate Areas
Consider growing your own apples so you can experience some of the excellent cultivars not commonly seen in the
supermarket. Apples are suited to cooler areas, as they need a long period of winter cold with between 1000 -
2000 chilling hours, they also require cross-pollination. Only plant dwarf apples, as standard apples can grow
up to 10 metres or more if left unpruned. Good apple cultivars for the home gardener include: 'Gala', 'Spartan',
'Red Fuji', 'Akane', 'Sturmer Pippin', 'Princess Alexandria'.
The Ballerina range of dwarf apple cultivars 'Waltz', 'Bolero' and 'Polka' are worth considering, they require
no pruning and are suitable for pots, as they only grow 1 - 2 m tall on a single stem. Trees can be grown in
groups as a mini orchard, or as a hedge.
Gardeners in warmer areas can plant low chill apples such as 'Anna' and 'Dorset Gold'. 'Pink Lady', 'Golden
Delicious', 'Sundowner' and 'Granny Smith' are also relatively low chill apples.
A range of great articles on fruit growing and a simply magnificent range of heritage fruit trees for sale
Blueberries are attractive shrubs with small bell-like flowers that can be grown across a wide climate range
by selecting the right cultivar. They are fussy about soil, requiring acid conditions and constant moisture.
Avoid positions close to any cement work. Plant more than one, as cross-pollination is needed for most types.
For warmer areas cultivars 'Gulf Coast' and 'Sunshine Blue' are a good choice.
Hazelnuts make a useful hedge in cool areas, they are very hardy to frost and need 800 - 1600 chilling hours.
Cross-pollination is important to get nuts, keeping in mind that they are wind-pollinated so near to be close to
each other. Suitable cultivars are: 'Red Avelline', 'White American', 'White Avelline', 'Cosford'.
Kiwifruit are deciduous vines and need both a male and female plant. A lot of pruning is required so access is
important, unpruned kiwis are a bit like having a trifid in the garden! Kiwis require a cooler, wind sheltered,
east-facing site with some winter chill. Kiwis will bear as far north as SE Queensland in cooler, elevated
Peach and Nectarine
Peaches and nectarines are well worth growing at home, simply so you can experience the joy of tree-ripened
fruit. Select a cultivar based purely on flavour and suitability to your area. Regular pruning is critical to
keep trees productive but also so the tree can be protected from birds and fruit fly. Peaches and nectarines
vary in chilling requirement from 150 - 1200 hours. Cultivars of peaches with a great flavour include: 'Anzac',
'Halehaven', 'Fragar', 'Millicent', 'Starking Delicious', 'Glenalton'. Good cultivars of nectarines include:
'Gold Mine', 'Independence', 'Flavourtop'.
There are also 'miniature' cultivars available that grow to approximately 1.5 metres, making them very suitable
for containers or small gardens. The peach 'Pixzee' and the nectarine 'Nectazee' produce full-size fruit on
dwarf trees with showy pink blossom, approx. 500 chilling hours is required.
For gardeners in subtropical areas there are low-chill (150 - 350 chilling hours) peaches and nectarines
available: Peach 'Tropic Beauty', 'Tropic Snow', 'Flordaprince', 'Flordagold'; Nectarine 'Sundowner'.
Plums should definitely be a contender if you only plan to have one or two fruit trees in your garden, as they
are very hardy. Plums come as 2 main types; European plums Prunus domestica
(cultivars: 'Angelina', 'Green Gage', 'Grand Duke', 'President') and Japanese blood plums
(cultivars: 'Satsuma', 'Santa Rosa', 'Frontier', 'Mariposa') with
a different chilling requirement for each. European plums need 700 - 1000 hours; Japanese plums need 500 - 900
hours making them more suitable for warmer, coastal areas. All plums need cross-pollination so consider a
multi-grafted tree or a 'Duo' planting. European and Japanese plums will not cross-pollinate each other. A tree
with a dwarf rootstock can be kept to 2.5 m in height, making it easy to protect from birds and fruit fly.
'Green Gage', with greenish-yellow fruit, has the added advantage that it is more likely to be ignored by birds
than the dark red cultivars. 'Satsuma', 'Gulf Ruby' and 'Gulf Gold' all have low chilling requirements of about
400 chilling hours. 'Flavor Supreme' Pluot® is a new plum / apricot cross with a sweet flavour, it requires
cross-pollination by a 'Mariposa' plum.
Fruit Trees And Vines For Mediterranean Areas
Figs will grow over a wide climate range but prefer areas with dry summers, rain on the fruit crop will cause
fruit splitting and fruit rots. Figs can be espaliered on a north or west facing wall. Fig 'Brown Turkey'
Grape vines are useful wherever summer shade and winter sun are needed. Vines can live to a great age so make
sure you provide a strong trellis or pergola for them to grow on. There are many grape cultivars available,
select one to suit your personal preference. For subtropical or coastal areas disease resistance is important,
good choices include: 'Muscat Hamburg', 'Isabella', 'Red Flame', 'Pink Iona', 'Carolina Blackrose'. Grapes can
be grown successfully in containers.
'Shahtoot' is a particularly good mulberry for small gardens as the fruit are cream coloured and won't stain
clothes. If you prefer a black mulberry take a cutting from one with a good flavour while it is dormant or hunt
down one on a dwarf rootstock. By closely planting mulberries and regular hard pruning, you can create a fruiting
hedge. Mulberries grow over one of the widest climate ranges of any fruit.
Pomegranate is very hardy shrub that can tolerate extremes of heat, cold and drought. The vibrant red flowers
and bronze new growth make this a highly ornamental as well as productive choice for the garden. Pick the fruit
when fully ripe but before the skin splits, they will continue to sweeten in storage. Recent research in Israel
on pomegranate juice has demonstrated it has powerful antioxidant effects as well as being helpful in the treatment
and prevention of breast cancer.
Quince are survivors, native to the Middle East and very beautiful trees with lovely pink flowers. This is a perfect
candidate for the single tree in a courtyard planting, needing no cross pollination. The fragrant golden fruit needs
cooking, but you will experience a glow of pride from a shelf full of ruby red quince jelly and gourmet cooks of your
acquaintance will be happy to deal with the surplus. Quince has a low chilling requirement and will still produce in
northern NSW and southern Queensland. Good cultivars include: 'Champion', 'Smyrna'.
Other hardy, drought tolerant fruit trees for Mediterranean or arid area gardens include jelly palm, feijoa
(pictured), almond and olive (best avoided if likely to be weedy in your area). Subtropicals worth giving a go include
strawberry guava, jaboticaba, tamarillo
babaco and custard apple.
We sell some fruit trees, shrubs and vines
Specialist Tree Nurseries
Daleys Fruit Tree Nursery
Citrus require their own special category as there is a cultivar of citrus for every climate zones and they
simply can't be beaten for usefulness and ornamental appearance in the home garden. Every garden should have at
least one citrus tree, for the fragrance of the blossoms alone. In warmer areas Tahitian limes are a better
choice than lemons if there is only room for one tree. They crop over a longer period, are less thorny, and are
smaller trees than lemons and the fruit can be used in a similar way. Of the lemons 'Eureka' is a good choice,
less prone to fruit fly damage than 'Meyer' or 'Lemonade'. More information on
Organic Citrus Care
PO Box 154 Kyogle NSW 2474 Phone: (02) 66321441 Fax:
includes heaps of information, mail-order available Australia wide.
Fruit Salad Tree Company
Gulf Road Emmaville NSW Australia 2371 Phone/fax:
Specialise in multi-grafted trees.
Woodbridge Fruit Trees
Bob Magnus' Fruit Tree Nursery c/- PO Woodbridge TAS 7162
Phone (03) 62674430 Specialising in heritage apple varieties and dwarf trees. Catalogue available April/May, send
3 x 45c stamps
Perry's Fruit and Nut Nursery
McLaren Flat, South Australia 5171 Phone (08)
83830268, Fax (08) 83830503
113 Old Smithfield Road Freshwater, near Cairns QLD 4870
Phone: (07) 40551042