Would you love to grow fruit, but only have a small area available? It’s quite possible to grow a variety of fruit in small raised garden beds, such as 4′ x 4′ or 3′ x 16′. This includes apples, pears, blueberries, grapes, strawberries, gooseberries, and more – with all plants kept less than 6 feet high.
A single semi-dwarf fruit tree can grow 10-15 feet high (as tall as your house!), and take up 300-400 square feet in your yard. In that same size area, you can instead grow a variety of fruit that’s harvested over several months.
There are several advantages to using mini fruit gardens:
- You can grow fruit in areas too small for a single semi-dwarf fruit tree
- Mini fruit gardens are easier to protect from pests
- You can produce a very wide variety of fruit in a small area
- Miniature fruit trees often start producing earlier than larger trees – usually just 3 years instead of 5-10 years!
- You can extend the harvest season by planting early, mid-season, and late varieties
- Growing a wider variety of trees allows for better cross-pollination
- You can work on the plants while standing on the ground – no ladders!
- You won’t be overwhelmed by a huge harvest from a large semi-dwarf or standard tree
- It is more expensive to buy larger numbers of plants to start a mini fruit garden
- You usually need to do more frequent pruning to keep the plants smaller
- Miniature fruit trees and berry plants need more watering than large fruit trees
- Mini fruit gardens often need more protection from animals (e.g. the entire trees are within reach of deer, instead of only the lowest branches)
One of the best videos I’ve found that describes the advantages of planting a mini fruit garden and discusses the different issues you need to consider is this fantastic 16-minute one from Dave Wilson Nursery in California:
For an article on growing very dwarf fruit trees, see: Backyard Orchard Culture
Growing fruit is very different from vegetable gardens.
1. You usually have a larger investment of money and time. I can plant a 3′ x 16′ raised bed with vegetable seeds for less than $1, and start harvesting crops in 2-6 months. It would cost over $50 (in 2011) to plant two quality fruit trees in the same bed, and usually takes at least 3 years to start harvesting any fruit from them.
2. If you make a mistake (such as choosing a wrong variety for your area), you can lose several years worth of effort by the time you discover the error. I’ve learned the hard way that it is extremely important to do as much research as possible before I buy and plant my fruit garden.
I once planted English walnut trees, not realizing that they bloomed as early as peaches – and would never produce in my site with my frequent late spring frosts. It was years before I realized my mistake! I finally identified and planted a very late-blooming variety (Alleghany), that is better suited for my climate.
3. You will harvest a lot less fruit per square foot of bed space per year than you can with vegetables. I can easily harvest 150-200 pounds of vegetables (worth at least $200-$300) in a 50 square foot bed in one year. If I planted four blueberry bushes in that same bed, I would only expect to harvest a total of about 16-24 quarts (about 24-36 lbs, worth at least $48-$72) of berries each year – once the bushes have reached full size after several years. Raspberries produce far less than that – often only 1.5 quarts per plant, or a total of 7-8 quarts from a 50 square foot bed!
4. There is a much longer learning curve involved. From planting to harvesting vegetables, it only takes weeks to months. It usually takes several years to start harvesting fruit, and I might only replant trees or bushes every 10-20 years, if that. So it has been much faster for me to build up experience and learn from my mistakes with quick-growing vegetables than with fruit.
It’s definitely easier to grow most berries and grapes than fruit trees, so you might want to start with those. I only started growing fruit a few years ago, so I’m still in a learning curve myself. I’m making my share of mistakes, despite my best effort to learn everything I can ahead of time. But I’m thrilled with the results I’ve had so far, so I urge you to give it a try, too!
Next Page: Designing a Mini Fruit Garden