Dwarf and semi-dwarf fruit trees are grafted onto a similar variety that is less vigorous and has a smaller root system. If you look at the base of the trunk, you'll see the graft, just above place where the trunk rises above the ground.
Fruit trees on dwarfing rootstocks grow to about 40 percent of the size of the same variety on a regular rootstock. Semi-dwarf trees grow to perhaps 60 percent of standard size.
Dwarf trees grow well in containers on patios and decks, and fruit is borne within easy reach. Semi-dwarf trees are suited best to slightly larger areas, such as the back of a flower bed, and may require a short ladder for pruning and harvesting.
Semi-dwarf trees, up to 15 feet in apples, are large enough to give some shade. Dwarf trees, up to 10 feet in apples, are more like large shrubs and less valuable for shade.
Dwarf trees may have such a small root system that they can't hold the tree upright in strong winds and need to be staked. They also need more attention to watering and fertilization because of the smaller root area.
Types of Fruit
Apples and cherries are naturally large trees and may require a fully dwarfing rootstock to bring down to home garden size. A semi-dwarf plum or peach may be the same size as a dwarf apple.
- UBC Centre for Plant Research: Semi Dwarf or Dwarf Apple Tree
- Home Orchard Society: Just How Large Is a Standard Tree Anyway?
- Colorado State University Extension: Backyards in the Midwest Require Planning Ahead
dwarf fruit trees, semi-dwarf fruit trees, fruit trees
About this Author
Over the past 30 years, Mara Grey has sold plants in nurseries, designed gardens and volunteered as a Master Gardener. She is the author of "The Lazy Gardener" and "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Flower Gardening" and has a Bachelor of Science in botany.