Given the challenges of true dwarfing rootstocks (toppling and high moisture needs), many gardeners may choose a variety with a semi-dwarfing rootstock instead. That can be a good move. Semi-dwarfing rootstocks seldom control fruit tree size as much as you’d expect, though, and pruning is the only way to ensure a tree stays under 12 feet tall.
Following the pruning steps below during the first year will give your tree an easily maintained structure for the future. In subsequent years, follow regular winter pruning techniques for your fruit tree, removing broken, diseased, crossed, or damaged branches. Each summer, keep your tree compact and manageable with summer pruning (cutting new growth back by half). If your tree is particularly vigorous, do a late spring pruning (cutting new growth back by half) as well.
1. At the initial planting time, your tree should be topped between 2 and 4 feet above the ground using a heading cut. This will force low scaffold limbs to form.
2. After its first spring flush, new, leafy branches should be cut back by half.
3. In late summer, your young tree should get its first summer pruning, with the newest growth (promoted by the early spring pruning) again cut back by half.
Fionuala Campion is the owner and manager of Cottage Gardens of Petaluma in Petaluma, California.
Illustrations: Lyn Alice
To learn more about growing dwarf fruit trees, check out How to Grow Dwarf Fruit Trees.
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