Dwarf or Semi-Dwarf Fruit Trees? When Size Matters.

When starting a backyard orchard, there are many decisions to make regarding fruit type,  number of trees, amount of light, and soil composition.  But before all that, the most fundamental question that a gardener should ask is “What size tree can I fit on my property?” Is there sufficient room to grow a standard size tree or is it best to plant semi-dwarf or dwarf trees? You see, it’s all about size.  Dwarf and semi-dwarf fruit trees offer a compact alternative to standard size fruit trees.  From a practical point of view, the tree size of either makes them much easier to prune and pick, not to mention you can add more trees and more varieties to your backyard orchard. Smaller trees also mean that the use of ladders for harvesting may be eliminated completely.

apple tree dwarf apple tree red apples
Fruit trees are an investment in time, money and space. Pick wisely and watch your harvest grow year after year.

What Are Dwarf Fruit Trees? Generally speaking, the fruit trees with the smallest mature height are considered dwarf trees. Dwarf fruit trees grow 8-10 feet tall and wide. If you have limited space for your backyard orchard then dwarf trees are for you. The fruit is the same size as a standard tree, but harvesting is much simpler because of the tree size.  There is a downside to dwarf trees since this type of tree usually has a reduced root system size due to the rootstock used.  Because of this, most dwarf trees require a stake in order to support the additional weight of the fruit. These trees may require more staking in very windy areas.  Additionally, dwarf trees require more fertile soil due to their smaller root systems.

What Are Semi-Dwarf Fruit Trees? Semi-dwarf is the next-larger size in fruit trees. These trees will reach 12-15 feet tall and wide.  A considerable advantage is the average semi-dwarf fruit tree may yield almost twice as much fruit as a dwarf-sized one, without taking up much more space.  Semi-dwarf trees do not need staking since they have stronger root systems. A tree’s productive life usually lasts for 15 to 20 years.  For example, a single semi-dwarf apple tree can produce up to 500 apples in a season.  Their fruit sizes are also the same size as a standard tree.

It’s all about Root Stocks. Fruit trees are grafted to rootstocks rather than being grown from seed. This is because they are not “true-to-type” when grown from seed. What this means is that you do not get the same fruit characteristics as the parent plant due to genetic recombination.  In most cases, growing trees for example, from apple seeds is a waste of time.

For this reason, both dwarf and semi-dwarf trees are propagated using budding and grafting techniques. Grafting allows for exact clones of trees to be produced with identical fruit characteristics as the parent tree. A scion or bud from the desired tree is grafted to a rootstock.  Rootstocks serve as the root system of the tree. The selection of rootstock by the grower has a direct impact on the size of the tree at maturity as well as disease resistance. Dwarfing rootstocks typically produce trees that are about 30% to 60% of the size of standard trees while semi-dwarfing rootstocks typically produce trees that are about 60% to 90% of standard size.


When Can I expect fruit? Semi-dwarf and dwarf fruit trees reach their mature size more quickly than standard varieties. Dwarf apple trees can begin producing full crops of fruit within 2-3 years after planting, while semi-dwarf apple trees typically begin producing crops of fruit at about 4-6 years after planting.  Typically, when you are buying a fruit tree at a nursery it’s probably already about 2-years old.

Which Type Is Best? Well, it depends on your particular situation.  If you have limited growing space, then it would be best to pick the dwarf variety. The care for this tree in terms of pruning will be easier too. Dwarf trees generally reach maturity and begin producing fruit more quickly than their semi-dwarf counterparts. However, if you have the extra room then plant semi-dwarf fruit trees, they will bear more than twice the fruit of its dwarf counterpart.


Conifer Or Evergreen, What’s The Difference?

Evergreen is a botanical term that refers to a plant that has leaves throughout the year that is always green. There are many different kinds of evergreen plants that include both trees and shrubs. Evergreens come in many different forms such as spreading, pyramid shape, open, prostrate or creeping. Evergreens also provide year-round color and texture in a landscape making them excellent accent plants. Many homeowners love their vibrant color, especially during winter.

On the other hand, a conifer is a plant that is grouped according to its reproduction.  Simply stated conifers reproduce with cones or structures that resemble cones.  A group of plants that we all can easily recognize as cone bearing is conifers in contrast to other plants that reproduce with flowers. It is this fact regarding reproduction that points us to the difference between evergreens and conifers.

conifer versus evergreen
Pine cones indicate that this tree is a conifer. Its needles are green throughout the year so it is also an evergreen.

Evergreens include most species of conifers, examples include white pine, hemlock, blue spruce, and red cedar. But not all conifers are evergreens. Perhaps the best-known example of the fact that not all conifers are evergreens is the larch or tamarack tree (Larix laricina). In summer, tamarack appears to be evergreens, because it bears green needles. But tamaracks are actually a deciduous tree. Its needles even change to a yellow color in autumn.

There are numerous broadleaf evergreens that are not conifers because they reproduce via flowers instead of cones; examples include:

Holly shrubs (Ilex)
Azalea shrubs (Rhododendron)
Boxwood shrubs (Buxus)

To make things more complex, not all cones have the appearance of a classic pine or spruce cone. Some trees and shrubs that you may not think of as being conifers actually are.  For instance, the Maidenhair tree (Ginkgo) an ornamental tree with a messy “fruit” that is really a cone. Another is Juniper shrubs (Juniperus) whose berry-like structures are actually cones.  Lastly, Yew trees (Taxus) have red berry-like structures that are really fleshy cones called arils.

So who really cares anyway about the technicalities of tree classification? Well actually it’s quite simple if you think about the consequences. Evergreen trees and shrubs are useful for people seeking living privacy walls all year long. You can get away with a hedge of deciduous trees or shrubs if all you need is privacy just for the summer. Evergreens also help by adding a splash of wintertime color.  Often times choosing a conifer has bigger implications, such as height. Some conifers can range in height from 40 to 75 feet tall. Other issues are messy cones and needles that drop throughout the year which add tremendously to yard clean up and soil acidity.

Meaning of Deciduous: List of Trees

In botany and horticulture, the term deciduous refers to those plants that lose all of their leaves for part of the year. In temperate and polar climates leaf loss coincides with winter. However, in other parts of the world, including tropical and subtropical regions, plants lose their leaves during the dry season. The opposite of deciduous is evergreen, where foliage is shed throughout the year, therefore appearing to remain green all year long. Now that we know the meaning of deciduous, now we need to understand why some plants need to lose their leaves.

So why do trees and shrubs lose their leaves?  It’s a matter of survival.  As winter approaches more and more water will be locked up as ice and will no longer be available to plants.  So deciduous plants shut down for the winter, enter a state of dormancy until the water becomes plentiful once again in the springtime.

deciduous forest

A partial list of North American Deciduous Trees

Maple Trees Red and White Oak Trees
Walnut Trees Cherry Trees
Birch Trees Locust Trees
Elm Trees Ash Trees
Beech Trees Sweetgum Trees

How to Grow Raspberries in Containers

Imagine how great it would be to start your day by picking delicious raspberries for your morning smoothie or breakfast cereal. Homeowners with limited space can grow berries in containers and it’s really not a hard thing to do. What’s important is to select the best variety, the right container, and a sunny location. For gardeners with limited space or for apartment dwellers who grow on a porch or patio, growing berries in containers allow a level of flexibility not realized by inground plants.  In this post, we will give tips for successfully growing raspberries in containers.

growing raspberry plants

Choosing the right variety:

Berry plants are great candidates for container gardening, especially if you pay careful attention to which varieties you choose to grow.  Some raspberry varieties are just too large to grow in containers. Fortunately, plant breeders have been busy at work producing container-friendly plants.  Newer cultivars like Raspberry Shortcake® a dwarf, thornless variety, are best suited to growing in large pots.

Choosing The Right Container:

When choosing a pot, always opt for the largest container possible. Plan on needing a minimum volume of eight gallons per raspberry bush. Do not pick a tapered pot and regardless of its size, there should also be a drainage hole in the bottom of the pot. Roots allowed to stay in standing water will eventually rot. Fill the containers in your small-space garden with a 50/50 mixture of potting soil and compost. Mulch the soil surface to reduce water loss.

Sun Requirements:

All fruiting plants, whether you’re growing raspberries in containers or in the ground, produce the most berries in full sun. Provide at least six to eight hours of sun per day. Planting in containers provides for the flexibility of moving plants to different patio locations to receive full sun each day.


Raspberries are perennials that usually set fruit on two-year-old canes. Sometimes plants may produce fruit in the first year, however, full bearing begins in the second year.

Final Tips:

  • Raspberry Shortcakes® grow successfully in large containers
  • Grow in full sun
  • Water regularly
  • Fertilize with an organic fertilizer in early and late spring
  • Let the raspberry bushes go dormant in winter, protect from deep freezing
  • After three years transplant your raspberries from container to inground

Redbud: A Tree For Native Bees


bumble bee on a flower

Redbuds, Cercis canadensis, are native to much of the eastern United States where they are a common understory tree in deciduous woodlands. Redbuds are also commonly planted as a popular landscape tree and many ornamental cultivars have been developed. In early spring, Redbuds produce clusters of pink fragrant flowers that provide an important ecological service for our native pollinators.

Trees For Bees

Many native bees also rely heavily on redbud flowers in the early spring. Redbuds have been recognized by pollination ecologists as attracting large numbers of native bee species. Examples of native bees that are attracted to redbud flowers and in the process serve as pollinators include: carpenter bees, bumblebees, mason bees, blueberry bees, and many others. The bee collects pollen on her body and gathers nectar as a meal. Additionally, Redbuds are a special value to bumblebees because the tree provides nesting materials and structures for constructing nests.

So consider planting a Redbud tree in your yard, the local bees will thank you. The environment will thank you because it is a perfect substitute for non-native cherry trees and other invasive species. Redbuds are truly impressive trees in any landscape, a real show-stopper in your early spring garden.

Redbud Facts

  • Common Name: Eastern Redbud
  • Type: Tree
  • Native Range: Eastern North America
  • Zone: 4 to 8
  • Height: Up to 30 feet
  • Bloom Time: April
  • Sun: Full sun – Partial shade




Top 5 Deer-Resistant Plants For The Northeast


If you live in a region where white-tailed deer are prevalent, consider plants and shrubs that deer are less likely to feed on. Deer tend to stay away from poisonous plants like foxgloves and monkshood. These common garden flowers are also very toxic to humans so I do not recommend planting them at all. Deer are deterred by fragrant plants with strong scents. Herbs such as sage, mint, lavender, and bearded irises are among those smelly plants that deer tend to avoid. Fuzzy or thorny plants tend to be avoided by deer as well. Fuzzy plants like lamb’s ear are off the menu and prickly ones such as roses and hollies. In the Northeast, the heaviest garden browsing occurs from October through February. Lastly, if deer are desperate for food they will eat just about anything that grows so be prepared for some damage.

1. Lavender, belongs to a genus of flowering plants in the mint family, Lamiaceae. It is native to Europe, Africa, the Mediterranean, and China. Many members of the genus are cultivated extensively in temperate climates as ornamental plants for landscape use, for use as culinary herbs, and commercially for the extraction of essential oils. Deer dislike the heavy scent of lavender.


  • Scientific Name: Lavandula angustifolia
  • USDA Zones: 5 to 8
  • Height: 18 – 24 inches
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun

2. Junipers are coniferous plants that are members of the cypress family.  Junipers are among the most popular conifers to be cultivated as ornamentals for gardens. These cultivars have been selected and bred to produce a wide range of forms, and colors. Junipers have a very heavy odor that tends to repel deer with sensitive noses.


  • Scientific Name: Juniperus
  • USDA Zones: 4 to 11
  • Height: Up to 15 feet
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun – Partial shade

3. Boxwoods are evergreen shrubs that can be used as hedges, as screening plants along borders and accents to your landscape.  Why are boxwoods deer resistant? It’s because the foliage contains aromatic alkaloids, so deer would rather forage on something tastier.


  • Scientific Name: Buxus sempervirens
  • USDA Zones: 5 to 8
  • Height: Up to 20 feet
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun – Partial shade

4. Holly is often cultivated by plant nurseries for their use as an evergreen ornamental plant. It is planted as a shrub or as a slower growing ornamental tree with over 1,000 cultivars availableThe vast majority of holly species are highly deer-resistant.


  • Scientific Name: Ilex opaca
  • USDA Zones: 5 to 9
  • Height: 15 feet to 60 feet tall
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun – Partial shade

5. Marigolds provide a wealth of color to your garden. These hardy annual plants will bloom reliably from early summer to the first frost in autumn. Depending on the variety you choose, marigolds are available in a range of gold, yellow and orange shades. Based on observation, deer at least seem to be put off by the strong smell of marigolds. Still, a border of marigolds or rows placed between plantings is sometimes enough to deter deer.


  • Scientific Name: Tagetes 
  • USDA Zones: 5 to 8
  • Height: 18 – 24″
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun – Partial Shade

Tips For Growing Azaleas

Azaleas are one of my favorite plants.  Azaleas are easy-care flowering shrubs that reward gardeners with massive blooms.  They’re a must-have in your garden. Azaleas are closely related to Rhododendron, in fact, they are in the same genus. There are literally thousands of azalea varieties and cultivated hybrids available. They come in many flower colors, including red, pink, yellow and white. Though most plants flower for about two weeks in April and May, there are also summer-blooming varieties that add color and grace to any garden later in the season.  Keep reading to find out more tips for growing azaleas.

azalea plants

Where to Plant Azaleas:

Select a location that has morning sun and afternoon shade, or filtered light. The all-day hot sun can stress these plants and make them susceptible to pests. Azaleas have shallow root systems and require well-drained soil. Azaleas grow best in USDA plant hardiness growing zones 6 to 9. Before you buy, look for plants that have deep green foliage, no yellow leaves, no wilt, and well-watered. Check the soil in the container with your finger and avoid plants that are overly dry.

How to Plant Azaleas:

Dig a planting hole that is twice as wide and just as deep as the root ball of your plant. Remove the plant from its container and place it in the planting hole so the top of the root ball is even with the soil line. Refill with soil that has been amended with compost or peat moss to help retain water and enhance root development. Water thoroughly followed up with a layer of mulch around the plant. This will help keep the soil moist.

How to water Azaleas:

With newly planted azaleas, thoroughly soak the soil two to three times a week. Keep that schedule up for at least two months after planting. You can gradually decrease the frequency of watering as the plants become rooted so in three or four months, watering only once per week should be satisfactory. After the first growing season, plants should not need supplemental water unless there is a drought.

How to Prune Azaleas:

In most landscapes, azaleas look best when minimally pruned, allowing them to retain their naturally graceful form and beauty. If you selected an azalea variety that is the proper size for where it is growing, then you shouldn’t have to prune it every year. Prune azaleas right after the blooms begin to drop.  Cutting them back in late summer, fall, or winter will remove flower buds and keep the plant from blooming the following season.


Growing Boxwood From Cuttings

The Common English Boxwood, Buxus sempervirens, is perhaps the oldest known ornamental plant in western gardens. Boxwood parterres and hedges can be seen in many of the great gardens of Europe and America. In your yard, boxwoods can be used as hedges, as screening plants along borders and accents to your gardenscape. This shrub will grow in USDA hardiness zones from 5 to 8.


This species has a narrow leaf with a slightly blue-green cast and it is actually a small understory tree in its wild form.  Boxwoods have been cloned by cuttings for centuries so several distinct growth forms are commonly seen.  The “American” boxwood is a tall growing variety that grows up to 15-feet tall and is offered in the nursery trade as “Arborescens.” The earliest mention of imported boxwoods in the colonies was in 1652.

Let’s Get Started

It’s easy to get plenty of new shrubs for free by starting boxwood cuttings. Successfully rooting boxwoods depends on choosing the tips from healthy, vigorously growing plants. Taking greenwood cuttings in early to midsummer catches the stems at just the right stage to give you the best chance of success. Here’s what you’ll need for propagating your boxwoods:

  1. With pruning shears remove 4″ of new growth.  I usually add the cuttings to a plastic bag with a wet paper towel inside to prevent excess water loss from newly cut stems. Choose only healthy plants with no insect damage, no leaf discoloration, or disease.
  2. Bring the cuttings back to your garden bench and cut them again at the base with a sharp knife. This clean cut will have much less tissue damage and will increase success rates so it is worth the extra time.
  3. Remove the leaves from the lower 2″ of each cutting and scrape the bark from one side of the stem. Roll the lower end of the cutting in rooting hormone.
  4. Stick the lower end of the cutting where the leaves were removed about 2″ into the rooting medium. Firm the medium around the stem to make the cutting stay straight.
  5. Water and cover with a clear or white plastic bag. The bag prevents excess water loss and will again increase success rates.  Place in a location with indirect sun. Rooting should take approximately 6 to 8 weeks.


Take a nodal stem-tip cutting from greenwood as you see below. Clone the best most vigorous plants.


Make final cuts at the base using a sharp knife.  Strip the leaves from the lower 2″ of the stem.  The final step in processing our cuttings is to apply root hormone to the base of each stem.


Transfer to commercial rooting medium since it will be more cost-effective.  However, if you want to make your own rooting medium add equal parts of mason sand, vermiculite, and peat moss.


Boxwood cuttings require a more little time and patience and some cuttings may refuse to root altogether, so take more than you think you’ll need. If you are successful, you can always give your extra plants to your neighbors.


The Beauty Of Japanese Cherry Trees

Celebrating Nature

In the United States, nothing signals the arrival of spring in our nation’s capital like the blooming of the Japanese Cherry Trees and the three-week-long National Cherry Blossom Festival to celebrate the occasion. There are over three thousand cherry trees in Washington DC.  The brilliant blossoms attract as many as 1.5 million visitors each season.  This year the festival runs from March 20th to April 14th, 2019.  Events are primarily free and open to the public. For additional information visit the National Cherry Blossom Festival Website.

The Washington DC event dates back to 1912 when Yoshino and Kwanzan cherry trees were gifted to the United States by Tokyo’s mayor.  In return, the U.S. government reciprocated with a gift of flowering Dogwood trees to the people of Japan.  Today, the National Cherry Blossom Festival honors the close ties between the Japanese and American Governments. During full bloom, these beautiful trees create an unforgettable sea of pink and white as pictured here surrounding the Jefferson Memorial.


Add A Magnificient Tree To Your Gardenscape

Like our national festival, celebrations around the world surrounding the blooming of the Cherry trees are common. This tree is planted not only because of its beauty but because it represents to us the changing seasons that symbolizes the spring, summer, fall, and winter of human life. The homeowner who chooses to plant a Japanese Cherry tree will be rewarded time and time again with its billowing light pink to ivory white flowers.

Japanese cherry trees include several varieties; however, the most common cultivar is the Japanese Flowering Cherry, Prunus serrulata, or the Yoshino Cherry tree.  Cherry trees belong to the Rose family. In the United States, these trees prefer USDA Hardiness Zones 5 through 8.  Plant this tree in a variety of sun exposure regions, including full sun to partial shade.  Minimal pruning is needed for this cultivar, which naturally produces a rounded shape.

Ornamental Cherry trees are tolerant of a variety of acidic soil conditions from sandy and loamy to clay soils which will all support this tree. As long as there is adequate drainage your tree should do well however, standing water should be avoided. These cherry trees are mildly drought tolerant; however, if you live in a location prone to severe droughts, consider planting it in partial shade to reduce water evaporation. When first planted and during the first summer trees should receive thirty minutes of water to encourage the development of a deep root system. Additionally, using mulch can help conserve water and disperse the water more evenly.

Interesting Facts About Yoshino Cherry Trees:

  • This amazing tree is a clone of a single tree and propagated by grafting.
  • The gorgeous Yoshino Cherry is native to Japan
  • The Yoshino grows quickly, especially when it is young, up to 3 to 4 feet per year
  • These trees do not produce edible fruit
  • Beware, this tree is prone to diseases and pests
  • Its reddish bark is marked with prominent lenticels


This tree is a winner for any temperate garden.  Plant your own Japanese Cherry Tree and enjoy your own everlasting festival.

Forsythia Facts: Brilliant Blooms at Eastertime



Forsythias are popular early spring-flowering shrubs in gardens and parks.  Border Forsythia or, Forsythia x intermedia,  is a common cultivar.  It is the result of hybridization between F. suspensa and F. viridissima. There are other cultivars available that have been selected for their dwarf and compact traits.  Forsythia is a genus of flowering plants in the olive family Oleaceae. They are mostly native to eastern Asia.

This deciduous shrub typically grows to a height of 3 to 9 ft with rough grey-brown bark. The leaves are simple, opposite and range between 3/4 and 4 inches in length. Leaf margins may be serrated or entire. Color is medium to dark green color above and lighter on the underside.  The stems are squarish with prominent lenticels.

Forsythia is the earliest blooming shrub at springtime and is used primarily for its showy early brilliant yellow blooms.  It is especially prized because its lovely flowers are in full bloom before the first green leaf appears. Individual flowers are about 1 1/4 inches in size and may occur in clusters up to six.   Blooms begin in March and April and may last two or three weeks.

Forsythia is very hardy, is fast growing, and makes a good screening for borders and living fence.  Plant 4 feet apart for a dense hedge and 8 feet apart for a loose hedge.  After several seasons, be prepared to prune them back.  Occasional rejuvenation pruning may benefit older plants.

Forsythia Facts

Forsythia is frequently forced indoors in the early spring. You can make a long slanting cut at the end of the stem for better results.

Forsythia is hardy from growing zones 5 to 9.

These shrubs will tolerate full sunlight to partial shade but need at least six hours of full sun for vigorous bloom.

They are adaptable to many soils and are easily transplanted and established.


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