Part 2: How to Design Your Own Miniature Fruit Garden
Are you wondering if you can really fit fruit trees or berry bushes in your tiny yard? You might be surprised! Miniature fruit gardens can fit within a variety of spaces.
What type of areas do you have to work with?
Do you have a 2-3-foot wide strip along a house, driveway, or fence? You can espalier fruit trees (prune in a flat plane on a trellis) and produce a lot of fruit within that narrow area. I’m estimating you could harvest 60-100 apples or pears or more from an 8-foot long section, 4-6 feet high. I’ve harvested a total of 60 apples from three young 4-year-old miniature apple trees growing together within that size area. A good-size espalier tree should produce much more. You can also grow vines on trellises along narrow strips – including grapes and kiwis.
Do you have one or more small 4-foot wide spots? You can fit blueberry bushes or miniature apple trees in that small area, and harvest 4-6 quarts of berries or 20-25 apples. You could even grow a grapevine on a 4-foot wide trellis and harvest about 8-16 bunches of grapes, or grow espalier fruit trees.
It’s possible to prune some plants, such as gooseberries, to fit within a tiny 2′ x 2′ area.
If you have a circle about 8 feet across, you can plant a cluster of 2-4 fruit trees close together in the middle. By crowding the trees and pruning them 2-3 times during each growing season, you can keep this group of trees less than 6 feet high and 8 feet wide. Multiple trees can also help cross-pollinate each other, and extend the harvest season for weeks or months.
Odds and Ends, Containers, and Patios
You can tuck strawberries almost anywhere. I have planted them in a row underneath the south side of my espalier apple trees, in small raised beds of their own, or in containers.
You can grow vines for grapes or kiwis on an arbor over a patio. Some people, especially those in milder climates, can grow fruit trees, grapevines, and blueberry bushes in containers. Except for strawberries, I feel that the harvest from most container-grown fruit is too small to be worth all the extra effort involved in taking care of them.
These containerized plants will need regular watering (often daily), frequent fertilizing (sometimes weekly), and protection from severe cold. Fruit trees will also need to be removed from their containers every few years to either have their roots pruned or to be repotted into a slightly larger container with fresh soil. Even with all this effort, many fruit trees grown in containers may need to be replaced with new trees every 10 years or so.
However, growing fruit in containers may still be an option worth exploring for some of you – especially for those of you with mild winters. A good book with a large chapter on growing fruit in containers is McGee & Stuckey’s Bountiful Container: Create Container Gardens of Vegetables, Herbs, Fruits, and Edible Flowers
If you want to grow fig trees and your climate is a little too cool for them, you could tuck one up against the south side of your house, protected from the winter winds. The micro-climate in that spot may be up to one zone warmer, especially if you have a brick wall.
But if you have late spring freezes like I do, I don’t recommend planting most fruit trees in that warm sheltered spot, as it would cause them to bloom earlier than normal and you risk losing your crop to late frost damage. However, fig trees bloom later than most other fruit trees, and will benefit from a sheltered location.
You can also design an attractive mini fruit garden for your front yard – if you don’t have serious deer issues. However, it’s pretty easy to protect your plants from rabbits in an attractive way. Here is a short video of one edible landscape:
What Does Your Fruit Garden Need?
Provide It With Plenty Of Sunshine
Most fruiting plants need at least 6-8 hours of direct mid-day sunshine (roughly 9 am – 3 pm) for best production. Gooseberries can produce with just a half-day worth, and blueberries do well with just 6 hours of sunshine. Given my disabilities and site limitations, I took a chance and planted my fruit garden in an area with 5.5 hours of direct sunshine, from 11:30 am – 5 pm. My plants seem to be doing just fine so far. But I put my grapevines where they will get 8-10 hours of sunshine, as they are less forgiving about being in partial shade.
Tip: How do you know where the sun will shine during the growing season if it is winter when you are planning your garden? Easy – the full moon in mid-winter matches where the sun will shine 6 months later during the day. Go out at night to observe the moonlight. Just be careful to see where bare branches are showing shadows in your garden, as those branches will be covered with leaves in the summer and shading that spot.
Supply It With Adequate Water
Put your mini fruit garden close to a water spigot and garden hose. Although you can use a 100-foot garden hose, I still wouldn’t recommend having your garden that far away, if you have any choice. You will be less likely to visit it regularly, and dragging that large of a hose around is a pain. The more difficult it is to water your garden, the less often it will be watered when needed.
Give It Regular Attention
Put your gardens near where you regularly walk or relax outside (house entrances, driveway, patio, favorite backyard area, etc.). Miniature fruit trees need more frequent care than the larger trees in commercial fruit orchards. I used to say “plant close to your house,” but it won’t help to put it next to your house if it is on the side that you rarely visit.
This is definitely a case where “out of sight” means “out of mind.” Because of my space limitations and their sunshine requirements, I had no choice but to put my grape vines on the other side of my shed. I rarely see them unless I intentionally go there, so I am constantly forgetting about them! As a result, they aren’t getting the quality of care that they deserve.
Protect It From Animal Pests
I tend to keep my gardens close together and compact, so that I can put a fence or netting around them to keep out animal pests. Rabbits and deer can both cause serious damage year-round to a small fruit garden. Be sure to install the fencing or other control methods for these pests before you put your plants in the ground.
An animal eating your vegetable garden can destroy a few months’ worth of work, but damage to fruit trees can destroy several years’ worth of growth, if not kill a young tree or bush outright! Also, if you have ever tried putting bird netting over an 8-10-foot tall cherry tree, you will understand the joy of covering a small 5-6-foot tall tree instead.
My sister and I decided to use a combination of deer fencing and rabbit fencing in our backyard to protect our miniature fruit garden.
Avoid Frost Pockets
Cold air flows downhill just like water, and can collect in small valleys or just uphill of buildings, hedgerows, or solid fences. These are areas that you will notice pockets of frost forming, when the rest of your landscape may be frost-free.
If at all possible, avoid planting in frost pockets. Late frosts are a very common cause of crop failure for tree fruits.
Put a chair or bench where you can relax and enjoy a close-up view of your garden! Don’t create a garden that is all work and no play. Adding a bird bath, bird feeders, and small flower beds will add to your enjoyment and encourage you to visit often.
Sources For More Ideas
Pruning and Training
The book American Horticultural Society Pruning and Training, by Christopher Brickell and David Joyce, provides detailed information on many different ways that you can train and prune your fruit garden – anywhere from small and round, tall and narrow, flat on trellises, and more. It offers a lot of photos and drawings to help you decide what options may be best suited for your own garden.
It also gives you step-by-step directions on how to prune and train your plants from the time they are planted to when they become mature. I am in love with this book!
A California wholesale nursery – Dave Wilson Nursery – has a great website that explains in more detail how to plan, plant, prune, and care for dwarf fruit trees in your yard. It includes photos of compact orchards, multi-planting, hedgerows, containers, espalier, raised beds, and other special solutions. Photos of Backyard Orchard Culture
They also have many videos that I found very helpful: Dave Wilson Nursery Fruit Tube videos. You can find an index for many of their videos here: Fruit Tube Video Index. Just be aware that some of their information (such as variety recommendations and pruning schedules) is best suited for the West Coast climate.
Are You Afraid To Prune Your Plants?
Until a few years ago, I had very little experience growing or pruning shrubs or trees. I was scared to prune my plants. What if I did it wrong and butchered them? But by reading Christopher Brickell’s book, viewing the videos at Dave Wilson Nursery – and just going into the garden and DOING it – I have become more comfortable with the process and feel more confident with what I’m doing. So, don’t let your fear of pruning hold you back!
I also learned more about growing miniature dwarf apple trees from a Midwest Fruit Explorers website that includes a virtual tour of a member’s backyard orchard. I found it very inspiring: Gene’s Backyard Orchard
There are a number of books on edible landscaping that could give you suggestions on how to attractively include fruiting plants in your landscaping, though they often don’t go into much detail on how to grow miniature fruit trees. Two of the more popular books include:
Edible Landscaping, by Rosalind Creasy (2010 edition)
Raintree Nursery offers a list of edible landscaping plants, and where to use them in your yard
Step Outside And Look Around!
You can fit a miniature fruit garden in a wide variety of places. Just select the type of fruit and training method appropriate for each location. Then make sure your plants will get enough sunshine, water, and attention. Go ahead – wander around your yard and select a few places to start your own fruit garden!
Part 1: Eight Reasons Why You Should Grow a Miniature Fruit Garden
Part 2: How To Design Your Own Miniature Fruit Garden
Part 3: How to Select Fruit Varieties That Will Thrive in Your Garden
Part 4: Six Steps to Planting a Successful Fruit Garden
Part 5: Growing Berries and Grapes in Your Mini Fruit Garden
Part 6: Growing Dwarf Fruit Trees in Your Mini Fruit Garden