Dwarf Rootstocks for the Home Orchardist
Home gardeners should consider using fruit trees grafted to dwarfing rootstocks. Trees grafted on dwarfing rootstocks are not only shorter, but take up far less space within the home landscape. They also tend to mature and set fruit sooner than full-sized trees. Fruit trees grafted on dwarfing rootstocks are easier for homeowners to maintain and manage pests by organic means. Dwarfing rootstocks for apple, cherry, pear, prune, and plum are available to homeowners at many home and garden centers. Some nurseries sell just the rootstocks for home gardeners who are interested in budding or grafting their own dwarfing fruit trees.
Traditionally, apple trees in western Washington have been sold on semi-dwarfing rootstocks. Depending upon the vigor of the cultivar, it is not uncommon to find trees reaching a height of over 15 to 18 feet when semi-dwarf rootstocks are used. To best ensure that the total tree height will not exceed 10 feet, homeowners should select trees with fully dwarfing rootstocks such as M9, Bud 9, or M27 varieties. Full dwarfing rootstock trees are now available at independent garden centers.
The fruit on dwarf rootstock trees should be comparable in size to those found on semi-dwarf rootstocks. Full dwarfing rootstocks trees are not self-supporting. They require support either from a post or a wire trellis. Trees grown on full dwarf rootstocks typically bear fruit within 2 years, while trees on semi-dwarfing rootstocks may take 4 to 5 years.
Regardless of the rootstock chosen, overall tree size is best maintained by proper training and pruning.
For more information, see Organic Pest and Disease Management in Home Fruit Trees and Berry Bushes http://cru.cahe.wsu.edu/CEPublications/EM066E/EM066E.pdf .
Submitted by Charles A. Brun, January 20, 2015