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Dwarf, Semi-Dwarf and Standard

 
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Hi all, what are the differences, the good and the bad, with dwarf, semi-dwarf, and standard apple trees?

I have heard but do not know what is true.

Dwarf and semi-dwarf do not live as long as standard. Is this true? How much shorter?
Standard has a longer productive life than other varieties. Is this true? How much longer?
I have heard that dwarf and semi-dwarf trees are not as healthy, and more susceptible to disease. Is this true?
Do apples only grow on new growth from the previous year? If so, how do you keep up with pruning on a standard tree, to encourage new growth? Do you climb it? Pole saws? Or just let it do its thing?

Any knowledge or experience in this is welcome

Thank you
 
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T S Rodriguez wrote:Hi all, what are the differences, the good and the bad, with dwarf, semi-dwarf, and standard apple trees?

I have heard but do not know what is true.

Dwarf and semi-dwarf do not live as long as standard. Is this true? How much shorter?
Standard has a longer productive life than other varieties. Is this true? How much longer?
I have heard that dwarf and semi-dwarf trees are not as healthy, and more susceptible to disease. Is this true?




As with many things plant and permaculture related, it depends on the conditions. Generally, yes, standard live and produce longer than the other two, and semi dwarf more than dwarf.

Where I live, dwarves live 15-20 years (depending), and semi dwarves can live to be 65 in exceptional conditions (though sources often state much lower, this is what I've seen and experienced). Standard apples can live 150-200 years here.

Standards take longer to begin producing, but this isn't always a bad thing, as that way you don't have to worry about it stunting itself or even dying by fruit while still very small. They are also FAR more drought tolerant, though semi dwarves are by no means poor in this regard. In my area most standard trees seem to tolerate seasonal flooding much better too.

Dwarf trees often need to be staked as well.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each. For me, I favor standards and semi dwarf because they live longer, are more drought tolerant, and I have lots of space.
 
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I've spent a fair amount of time reading about apple cultivation. I have a little bit of experience, but not as much as other folks on the forum. That said, I am a little frustrated and a little embarrassed that I don't understand some fundamentals.

Can anyone tell me whether these are the right questions to educate myself?
If so I'm also looking for answers to the questions!

  • What are the species of common apple rootstocks (M.27, MM.111, etc)? Is everything malus pumila?
  • Are "dwarf" and "semi-dwarf" genetic traits? Are seedlings grown from the fruit of dwarf and semi-dwarf trees also dwarf and semi-dwarf?
  • Do root suckers from dwarf and semi-dwarf trees retain that attribute?
  •  
    pollinator
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    Good questions. I’ve planted mostly standard in my zones 3-4 and some semi-dwarf in my zone 2. This is because mu clay soil will require robust roots to break through them and become drought tolerant and well anchored. I also believe producing more biomass is inherently valuable, and necessary to tie up excess atmospheric carbon. They are great for urban lots, but 8ft tall “food forests” are simply not going to cut it when it comes to replacing lost forests while feeding the world. We need massive overstory canopies with complex and diverse productive understories. Replacing row crops, let alone standard sized tree orchards, with monocrop rows of dwarf espalier trees (as is becoming the norm in orchards to save labor costs, to my chagrine), may reduce tillage, but is still not going to serve the ecosystem functions of an actual forest. An ecologically functioning forest, as opposed to an orchard, woodlot, or tree farm, is characterized by a diverse multi-layered canopy, and lots of woody debris of all shapes and sizes creating habitat, holding water, and building soil.

    Chestnuts, oaks, mulberries, linden, hican (hickory-pecan cross), walnut, cherry and seed grown apples will be my eventual canopy overstory, succeeding interplanted stonefruit, pears, elderberry and hazelnuts once they get too old or shaded out after a few decades.

    As for dwarf and semi dwarf, this is referring to  rootstock, which may produce fruit on their own but have been bred for their genetic root characteristics, and are grafted with a varietal with more desirable fruit. The suckers from the root system, if allowed to fruit, would produce fruit with half the mother’s genes, and half the pollenizer’s (likely the closest viable neighbor, possibly from itself for some varietals).

    The fruit from the grafted part of a tree will have seeds with half the genetics of the mother (the grafted varietal), and again half from the pollenizer. It will not have any genetics from the rootstock unless it produced flowers and pollen that fertilized the grafted flower.
     
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    Any time I haven’t planted full sized trees I have regretted it.  They take longer to produce, but once they do produce, they more than make up for lost time.
     
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    John F Dean - absolutely!
    In my experience, dwarf and even semidwarf trees are slower growing, more sensitive to problems and much easier killed.

    I had semi-dwarf apples having their roots and bark chewed by voles.

    At the same time I planted an Antonovka (standard) tree in a swampy area (supposedly a no-no) and it doubled in a year.
     
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    Mark William wrote:

  • Are "dwarf" and "semi-dwarf" genetic traits? Are seedlings grown from the fruit of dwarf and semi-dwarf trees also dwarf and semi-dwarf?
  • Do root suckers from dwarf and semi-dwarf trees retain that attribute?


  • Seedlings or scions from dwarf or semi-dwarf trees will not carry very much, if any, size differences. Root suckers will retain the characteristics of the tree they came from.
     
    Ben Zumeta
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    Anyone know if dwarfing is generally a recessive or dominant trait?
     
    James Landreth
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    Ben Zumeta wrote:Anyone know if dwarfing is generally a recessive or dominant trait?



    It's generally recessive, in a pool of high mutation
     
    Mark William
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    I think it's interesting that within a short period of time, we have one poster writing that "[seedlings]... from dwarf or semi-dwarf trees will not carry very much, if any, size differences", and another that "[dwarfing is] generally recessive, in a pool of high mutation".

    Are these statements contradictory, or are they compatible in a way that isn't obvious at first?

    From my understanding, a recessive trait is unlikely to re-emerge in an open-pollinated situation. Especially in a tree that is often chromosomally complex like malus spp.

     
    Ben Zumeta
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    I noticed that too, but figure from context and James’ info about dwarfing being recessive they must have meant “differences” from the standard size. This would make sense to me, along the lines of the 1/10,000 chance of getting fruit almost exactly like the parent, but I am no breeding expert.
     
    John Indaburgh
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    In my post I was discussing the question as asked " Are "dwarf" and "semi-dwarf" genetic traits? Are seedlings grown from the fruit of dwarf and semi-dwarf trees also dwarf and se:mi-dwarf?" I read the question to ask: Do trees carry the genetic traits of the rootstock of their parents?

    I should have posted my answer this way: Seedlings or scions from dwarf or semi-dwarf trees will not carry very much, if any, size differences from the rootstock of the parent. Root suckers will retain the characteristics of the tree they came from. The only reason for my hesitancy was that fruits from some dwarf rootstocks may be larger and may carry forward some of that larger size.

    There are studies, some available on the internet that investigate the genetics of size. One being: "A study of the results of crossing varieties of apples", by C. C. Vincent. His reports on fruit size begins on page 66.
     
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