Hard Graft

Once we knew we were going to stay in Australia for a while, I’d started collecting odd trees I’d spotted in garden centres, usually in the ‘Wounded: About to Die’ section; cheapo misfits unwanted by anyone else. All of them on dwarf root stock, suited to a smallish garden and pots. They hung on to life, despite my mistreating them, but didn’t really thrive in their containers.

lime close up

This year, we were ready to start planting them out – and within weeks they were green, happy and much healthier looking! Our success made us braver about fitting more into our little plot, so as well as the Meyer Lemon, kaffir lime and Tahiti Lime we already had, we invested in a feijoa, a lychee, a native finger lime, and a ‘fruit salad’ – basically 3 trees grafted onto one root stock – of two plum varieties and a peach.

The great thing about grafted trees is that you can grow stuff that, were it full size, would require an orchard of English country house proportions. For a small garden – or even a balcony – you can have fruit bearing trees galore without crowding out all your sunlight and space. Some fruit trees pretty much have to be grafted, regardless of size – apples being the best example, as they don’t ‘come true’ when you try to grow them from seed.

So what the heck is a graft? Well, basically it’s the root bit of a tree, with another tree stuffed on top of it. The ‘stuffing’ process is a bit more technical than I’ve allowed for here, but that’s pretty much about it. The bases (or rootstock) can be from a variety of different types. The types are usually named (or numbered, for apples) as a guide to which are the smaller trees (more ‘dwarfing’).  The rootstock will usually have been bred to reduce the size of the tree that’s grafted onto it, to a particular size. Or, like my funky fruit salad, you can have a tree with 2 or more different fruits growing on different grafts – looks like a tree with different fruits on different branches, basically.

fruitsalad small

Small ‘Fruit Salad’ of 2 plums and a peach

If you’re looking to buy dwarf trees, it’s worth considering what root stock to plump for – there is generally considered to be a trade off in quality and viability of tree, which diminishes with it’s size. For example, my next project is to plant a hedge of very dwarf apple trees in the ‘step over’ style – literally, a low hedge you can step over – so I’ll be looking at dwarfing root stock of M9 or M27 for these. I know that I’ll be getting a less vigorous tree, but that’s OK because I only have a small space to grow it in.

There are specialist web sites (no, not that kind of specialist) dealing with dwarfing fruit trees, or your local garden centre should be able to advise.

Planting out all our dwarfs into the ground left our two olives and a curry leaf tree still in pots. In early January we could see that the olives were finally starting to complain about being potted and were losing leaves and generally going yellow and sickly, so we pulled up a bunch of turnips and planted them out too. It may be my imagination but I’m sure I’ve seen a couple of tiny new shoots appear in the few days since they were grounded!

scrawny olive small

Scrawny little olive tree

I’m expecting them to grow only very slowly, so to cover up that boring colourbond fence, I’ve planted a couple of passionfruit vines behind them. I’m hoping these will scramble up and be both beautiful and harvestable!


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