Question: I want to try growing fruit on a smaller scale — is it possible to grow miniature fruit trees in my region (Kansas, Zone 6b)?
Answer: Miniature fruit trees can’t survive temperatures below freezing. But being able to harvest lemons, oranges, limes, and even bananas is so much fun that you’ll be pleased to know it’s possible to grow citrus trees of your own, no matter where you live.
Although Ohio, where I live, is in Zone 6, I’ve grown full-sized lemons for the past decade. I do have to drag our potted lemon tree into our sunroom to protect it from frost, but my annual harvest of 2 to 3 dozen organic lemons makes it worth the bother.
What makes a tree “miniature?” The “extreme dwarf” size of miniature fruit trees is mainly obtained from their rootstock. Even with this rootstock, most miniature fruit trees could reach 8 to 10 feet tall, but they’re usually kept at a more manageable height of about 3 feet. To accomplish this with our miniature lemon tree, we keep it in a container and prune it occasionally.
Most miniature citrus trees thrive in Zones 9 and 10. In Ohio, bringing these trees indoors before reaching freezing temperatures is essential. We joke that it’s easy to prune a miniature tree — just make sure it can fit in the door!
Achieving abundant harvests from miniature fruit trees requires both healthy soil and good pollination. Healthy soil for potted plants is difficult to maintain with commercial fertilizers. Instead, use compost tea; its natural microbes and sugars can never be overdone. I believe our 10-year-old lemon tree is thriving and productive because it has been nurtured with compost tea.
It would be most convenient to have a self-pollinating miniature fruit tree (and most are), but I’m afraid our little lemon tree needs help with pollination. It usually begins blooming in February, so I do my best to pollinate each flower’s pistil with a little paintbrush. My efforts are far inferior to the bees, however, so we carry the tree back outside on warm days when it’s in bloom. Between the bees and my pollinating efforts, we’ve always had as many lemons as the little tree can support by harvest time in November.
Because miniature fruit trees only require some patio space in summer and a sunny indoor corner in winter, I hope you’ll be able to find room in your home to grow your own. It’s a new adventure that can add both healthful food and fun to your life!
-- Mary Lou Shaw, homesteader and writer, including author of Growing Local Food.
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