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Tree size: standard, semi-dwarf, dwarf- In the food forest

 
elle sagenev
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Location: Zone 5 Wyoming
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So I've been curious on this. I'm finding dwarf to be the most common size at nurseries. I've been able to get some standard sized and I buy the largest I can, when I can. Still, I think I only have 9 standard sized trees out of 32. They just aren't selling the larger ones. I imagine for backyard orchardists. Anyway, what is everyone's opinion on size I'm mixing mine up best I can but I'd really love the larger trees. I'm going to root stock and graft my own I think.
 
elle sagenev
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Location: Zone 5 Wyoming
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Also, I thought I would do my nitrogen fixers as a bush as I have lots of catagaras bushes I can transplant about. However, with the shortness of most of the trees i'm getting I'm wondering if I shouldn't go for a larger nitro fixing tree. Hmm.
 
Luke Perkins
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Hi Danielle-

Many of my non-permaculture gardening friends go for dwarf and semi-dwarf trees because they want them to stay small and manageable in their garden and think that a dwarfing rootstock will aid in that regard. However, my current opinion is that I want to go mainly with seedling standard rootstocks unless I've got a local disease/condition that I'm specifically worried about and there's a particular clonal rootstock that has resistance. I think the misconception is that by purchasing a dwarf or semi-dwarf tree, the gardener will be able to avoid pruning as much. However, even with a small tree, I believe that you still need to prune it for optimal production (some people here might disagree). Dwarfing is usually accomplished by providing a rootstock that is less vigorous. Even if I want a small tree on top, I want large, aggressive roots that are going to spread throughout my soil in search of water and nutrients. So, my current plan going forward is to use grafted seedling rootstocks whenever possible and maintain their size to something manageable via appropriate pruning (for me I'm trying to keep most things in my suburban garden within the range of a small two step ladder).

I still don't have much experience with this (growing small trees on standard sized rootstock) and would love to see more photos here from people keeping trees with standard rootstocks to a very compact shape. I would be particularly interested in hearing from anyone with a small apple espalier or cordon that's grown on seedling rootstock. That would be a great proof of concept.

One more thought on seedling rootstocks- I intend to allow one branch to grow from below the graft line to see whether the seedling is worth eating/propagating. This way we can have grafted trees and confidence that we'll get good fruit, but we'll also be able to discover new varieties- a practice which has significantly declined in large part due to the use of clonal rootstocks.
 
elle sagenev
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Location: Zone 5 Wyoming
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Luke Perkins wrote:Hi Danielle-

Many of my non-permaculture gardening friends go for dwarf and semi-dwarf trees because they want them to stay small and manageable in their garden and think that a dwarfing rootstock will aid in that regard. However, my current opinion is that I want to go mainly with seedling standard rootstocks unless I've got a local disease/condition that I'm specifically worried about and there's a particular clonal rootstock that has resistance. I think the misconception is that by purchasing a dwarf or semi-dwarf tree, the gardener will be able to avoid pruning as much. However, even with a small tree, I believe that you still need to prune it for optimal production (some people here might disagree). Dwarfing is usually accomplished by providing a rootstock that is less vigorous. Even if I want a small tree on top, I want large, aggressive roots that are going to spread throughout my soil in search of water and nutrients. So, my current plan going forward is to use grafted seedling rootstocks whenever possible and maintain their size to something manageable via appropriate pruning (for me I'm trying to keep most things in my suburban garden within the range of a small two step ladder).

I still don't have much experience with this (growing small trees on standard sized rootstock) and would love to see more photos here from people keeping trees with standard rootstocks to a very compact shape. I would be particularly interested in hearing from anyone with a small apple espalier or cordon that's grown on seedling rootstock. That would be a great proof of concept.

One more thought on seedling rootstocks- I intend to allow one branch to grow from below the graft line to see whether the seedling is worth eating/propagating. This way we can have grafted trees and confidence that we'll get good fruit, but we'll also be able to discover new varieties- a practice which has significantly declined in large part due to the use of clonal rootstocks.


Mmm I'm liking your opinion on it. I do want the bigger trees myself. I have the space for them and I like big trees. However, they are sooo hard to find for purchase. I'm going to have to do my own rootstock and graft myself I believe. I'm just getting all the kinds I want first.
 
S Bengi
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Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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Other than say apples most fruit trees come true from seed/seedling aka they produce acceptable fruits for sale. So buy those and run with it.

It sounds like 10% of your savanna/food forest is tall trees. That is just about what you are looking for.
Dont aim for a dark forest floor at maturity, with every plant at 35ft.

Instead look for 1/10 as water, 1/10 as veggies, 1/10 sub-shrubs herbs, 1/10 shurbs/ patio dwarfs/ blueberry, 1/10 dwarf like juneberry, 1/10 semi-dwarf like hazelnut/almond, etc...etc
 
Peter Ellis
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Just last weekend we drove past an orchard, somewhere up toward Albany, NY, that had what looked to be old, rigorously pruned, trees. In the midst of winter while driving past it is hard to say what type with certainty, but I would bet apples. The lateral branches were massive and nearly horizontal. The trees were almost espaliered but in orchard rows. I would bet that I could pick every branch from the ground, but these were certainly not any "dwarf" tree.

For my purposes, I think most fruit trees should be kept to a size that makes for convenient and safe picking. I am not inclined to try to achieve that through a restrictive root stock. Selecting root stock for disease resistance seems to me to be a reasonable idea, for varieties of trees where getting a cloned tree matters. My wife very much wants Northern Spy apples - we will buy some grafted plants, rather than hoping we might get seeds that grew true to type. But for lots of other fruit trees growing from seed is not such a gamble and lots of money can be saved for other things.

My priorities? Healthy, productive, sturdy trees that I can harvest safely and with a modest amount of effort. I learned many years ago, I do not like bouncing around an apple tree on a ladder 😱
 
Aljaz Plankl
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Yes, yes, yes! Plant dwarf trees as canopy for miniature forest garden which can also be your focused place, let say 100 square meters, where you can also have your nursery for standard root stocks and for other shrubs, perennials etc.
Mini forest garden will produce a lot after three years + you will have a lot of plants for dream forest garden.
I like to have a smaller start point when planting bigger forest garden mainly because of nursery for perennials and shrubs.

Bigger trees you can mostly grow yourself.

We do it directyl where the trees will grow, in beds, pots etc.

I just lost everything i wrote on sowing and grafting big trees. I can do it again, but not now. :)
 
Ann Torrence
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Fedco and St. Lawrence sell mostly large trees for cold climates
 
Patrick Mann
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Interstem grafting is a way of combining vigorous roots with a dwarfed canopy:
http://turkeysong.wordpress.com/2014/08/09/interstem-apple-tree-update/

One reason for dwarfing rootstock that hasn't been mentioned: precocious fruiting. Full size trees may take many years longer to come into production.
 
John Wolfram
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Danielle Venegas wrote:So I've been curious on this. I'm finding dwarf to be the most common size at nurseries. I've been able to get some standard sized and I buy the largest I can, when I can. Still, I think I only have 9 standard sized trees out of 32. They just aren't selling the larger ones. I imagine for backyard orchardists. Anyway, what is everyone's opinion on size I'm mixing mine up best I can but I'd really love the larger trees. I'm going to root stock and graft my own I think.


What were the rootstocks of those nursery trees? I'm generally skeptical of any tree vaguely marked as "dwarf" or "semi-dwarf" as there's a lot of variability in what that means. A "semi-dwarf" apple on M111 is almost a standard.

From: http://www.grandpasorchard.com

As far as size goes, I generally prefer larger trees because large trees can be kept small with pruning, but it's hard to get a small tree to become big.

White pines get up to 80 feet tall, the one below has been kept much smaller than that.
 
Ann Torrence
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Another thing to consider is your soil type. For our alkaline soil and wind, MM106 came highly recommended. Only slightly smaller than MM111. We also have a few B118s, doing fine, supposedly even more cold tolerant, but not as easy to find.
 
Aljaz Plankl
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Patrick, thanks for interstem link!
 
elle sagenev
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Ann Torrence wrote:Another thing to consider is your soil type. For our alkaline soil and wind, MM106 came highly recommended. Only slightly smaller than MM111. We also have a few B118s, doing fine, supposedly even more cold tolerant, but not as easy to find.


Well, I can honestly say I have no idea. I couldn't find the information on the nursery website. Oops!
 
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