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Fruit Tree Sizes

by Stark Bro's on 10/10/2011
Dwarf Candy Crisp Apple Tree

Do you want to grow your own fruit trees but find the sizes a bit confusing? We’re here to help clear up some of the fruit tree sizing lingo. Don’t worry! These terms aren’t in Botanical Latin.

What are the differences between dwarf, semi-dwarf, and standard fruit trees?

Generally speaking, the fruit trees with the smallest mature height will be dwarf trees.

Dwarf fruit trees will grow 8-10 feet tall and wide and, depending on the environment, may start bearing fruit sooner than their larger counterparts. Dwarf trees are ideal if space is limited, and care and maintenance (spraying, pruning, harvesting, etc.) can be done from the safety of the ground — no ladders needed! Some dwarf fruit trees require staking to help them become established and grow upright, but this is a quick and easy task made possible with tree stakes. Trees planted in particularly windy areas may require staking even if you are not planting dwarf sizes.

If you are limited on space, even for a dwarf tree, consider growing fruit trees in containers. Most fruit trees, with adequate care and maintenance, will grow and produce fruit in a container environment.

Semi-dwarf is the next-larger size in fruit trees.

These trees will reach 12-15 feet tall/wide. Once semi-dwarf fruit trees are bearing fruit, a 6-foot tall person can harvest most of the fruit without needing a ladder. Sweet cherries are an exception: running a little larger, the semi-dwarf size sweet cherry tree reaches 15-18 feet tall/wide. 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 fruit trees tend to be well-anchored and have a greater surface area to yield fruit, compared to dwarf fruit trees, all without taking up that much more space.

With proper care and pruning management, a semi-dwarf fruit tree can be the perfect fit for a modest yard or garden, and they are also suitable for being grown in containers!

Standard is the largest-sized tree of any variety.

When they have grown to their full mature size, these fruit trees can reach 18-25+ feet tall/wide. That is, unless you’re considering standard-sized peach and nectarine trees, which will reach 12-15 feet (this may appear to be the range of a semi-dwarf but, because they naturally don’t grow very large, it is the ‘standard’ size for these trees). Depending on the type of fruit tree you’re hoping to plant, the mature height may vary just a little: pears* and plums reach about 18-20 feet in height, while apricots grow up to 15-20 feet tall/wide. Standard-sized trees may take longer to bear fruit but, once they get started, they will produce a greater quantity of fruit over all. At maturity, these trees may require use of a ladder or a fruit picker to help you harvest the fruit, and family and friends to help you consume it. :)

Remember, from smallest to largest, it goes: dwarf, semi-dwarf, standard. For spacing purposes, it is safe to assume that the mature width of a fruit tree will be the same as its height. *Some fruit trees, like pears, have more of a conical (narrow but tall) growth habit — these trees naturally won’t have much of a wide spread: Dwarf pear trees will be 8-10 feet tall and spread about 6-7 feet wide; Standard pear trees will be 18-20 feet tall and 12-13 feet wide.

Now that you understand fruit tree sizes, the real challenge is to choose your favorite fruit trees to fit your available space. Good luck!

Comparing Dwarf, Semi-Dwarf, Standard Fruit Tree Heights Shop All Fruit Trees at Stark Bro’s »

Topics → Planting & Growing, Tips

50 Comments

  1. In my retirement I plan to have a yard with a small orchard. Growing up I had fond memories of picking peaches, plums and apples on my grandparent’s farm.

  2. Fancy seeing you here, Alan! :) I wonder if people realize what lasting impressions they create when they share those experiences with loved ones. So many of us can look back fondly on those memories and are inspired to recreate them. When you’re ready to start your small orchard, we’ll be here to help you! :)

  3. Josh permalink

    I was thinking about buying the dwarf cinnimon apple and was wondering if ginger gold would be a good pollinator

    • Hi Josh! Yes, they would make an excellent pollination pair :) They have overlapping bloom times and a little bit of a span on the fruit becoming ripe (Ginger Gold® ripens in mid to late August and Cinnamon Spice ripens in late October).

  4. Rich permalink

    Are any of your stone fruits grafted to St. Julien rootstock? If not, can you recommend varieties for NE Oklahoma?

    • Hello Rich :) Our peaches are actually on a peach redleaf rootstock (St. Julien is a plum – but works very well for peaches, too). The rootstock we use is virtually the same as St. Julien, but we have found that the peach redleaf has a tendency to be more well-anchored. It should work just fine for you there in NE Oklahoma!

  5. Catherine permalink

    What is the difference between a dwarf fruit tree and a dwarf supreme fruit tree?

    • Hi Catherine! When we ship our bare root dwarf fruit trees to you, they are 3-4 ft tall with about a 3/8 inch trunk diameter. The difference in the supreme is that the trunk diameter is 1/2 inch, in certain types of trees that branch early it will be more well-branched than its regular counterpart, and the tree will be around 4-5 ft tall. It’s our hand-selected best-of-the-best tree, so we have graded it “supreme”. :)

  6. Roger permalink

    I’m thinking about planting a couple of semi dwarf supreme Honey Crisp apple trees. How old are these trees, and how many years before they bear fruit? Would Red Delicious, and Courtland make good polinators? Thanks.

    • Hey there Roger! All of our bare root fruit trees are 2 years old when we ship them to you, and apples will take an additional 2-5 years to bear fruit (depending on the variety and the environment). Read more about how many years it takes a tree to bear fruit here. :)

      As for Cortland and Starkrimson® Red Delicious as pollinators – they would make a perfect trio!

  7. Sheri Maxwell permalink

    I planted an apple tree from Stark Bros back in 1995, it is a semi dwarf, planted it by the leach field!!! I live in Tucson, Arizona and this darn apple starts blooming in December, it absolutely loves life and loves giving me tons of apples. I think it is something like a Jonagold. I wish I could remember or you had records back that far. Would love to plant another. Thanks

    • That is amazing Sheri! I wish we knew what type of tree it was, too. We would love to see photos of it in bloom and the apples if you’d like to share them with us! If you do, please send them to info@starkbros.com so we may share in your delight. :)

    • Ron Crafton permalink

      If it is a really crisp juicy apple with a sweet and tart flavor that has lots of juice, I would opt to call it a Jonagold. The Jonagold is a cross between the Yellow Delicious and the Jonathan. It is a very good keeper and the only apple we have been keeping the last two years in our cold garage all winter. I like it so well that I bought a semi-dwarf at Lowes the other day while strolling the outdoor gardening area. Can’t wait for it to start producing.

  8. J. Woodbury permalink

    How would I prune a semi dwarf apple tree? We have two of them. Golden delicious and Cortland. The GD needs pruning badly and has been producing large amounts of apples for about 3 years. I can’t access video’s because of my dial up situation. If you could email me written instructions, that would be great. Thanks. We live in Whitefield, Maine. Zone 4.

    • The best thing is to know your goals when you’re pruning. Reasons why you should prune are to keep your tree open to light (light = fruit), keep your tree from holding dead weight (damaged, dead, diseased limbs), and to keep your tree manageable (so that fruit isn’t all out of reach at the tops).

      Pruning isn’t very complicated, so I’ll give you the basics here:

      • Prune while your trees are dormant (late fall/winter/early spring)
      • Always prune out damaged, dead, or diseased limbs
      • Be selective with your pruning cuts: You will notice, while the trees are dormant, that there are buds along the branches. Prune to a bud that is on the outside of an existing branch. This way, when the bud develops into leaves and branches, they will grow out and away from the tree rather than in toward the center or toward other branches.
      • Every year, prune back a third of NEW growth. Do NOT prune a third of your tree every year (this is too much for the tree, and you will most likely lose all of your fruiting wood this way).

      We do offer a Pruning Made Easy Book if you prefer step-by-step detailed instructions, complete with pictures, that are easy to follow. It really is a useful tool! :)

  9. Alice Roberts permalink

    Is is possible to grow a Stella Sweet Cherry Semi-Dwarf Tree in a container for a patio?

    • You really can grow practically any fruit tree in a container, including a sweet cherry tree — just be sure your containers are sizable enough, and the trees are maintained in the containers, so that they stay healthy and fruitful. Give it a try! :)

  10. Greg permalink

    Between Fall 2012 and Spring 2013, I’ve put in 17 various fruit trees. These were all bought as bare root trees from you guys. The ones I planted in the Fall are leafing out and look good. What type of maintenance do I need to perform on them this first year after planting?

    • It sounds like you chose a great spot for your new fruit trees to grow, Greg! There isn’t a whole lot you need to do during the growing season other than watch and enjoy them as they continue to thrive.

      If you haven’t already, consider adding a mulch layer a couple of inches thick on the ground over your trees’ roots to keep weeds down and keep the soil around the roots from drying out.

      If you plan on fertilizing your trees, the best time would be during the spring and definitely before July 1st — any later and you’ll be encouraging growth down the line when your trees should be shutting down for the winter.

      Once your new fruit trees are dormant (late fall, winter, early spring before things leaf-out again), you can see where to make your pruning cuts: Simply aim to shape your trees so that they are open — no branches growing in toward the center — and remove dead, damaged, and diseased limbs so that your trees come back healthy and strong next spring!

      • Greg permalink

        Thanks.

        I don’t have the mulch down yet, but it’s on my schedule to do this week. I also need to figure out a good way to water them. It’s 100 yards or more to them and the hose doesn’t seem to the the best way to handle it.

  11. dan permalink

    I recently ordered a bunch of standard, semi, and dwarf trees from you, and planted them a little further apart than the recommended distances because space was not much of an issue. Would it be possible to add soil to above the grafting point on the dwarfs at some point in the future (a few years from now) to get them to root beyond the root stock and turn into standard size fruit trees? Im just wondering if that is an option…

    • This can happen, Dan, and some varieties of fruit tree are more likely to self-root than others. Apples are a good example of trees that do this. It’s why we recommend keeping the graft union above the soil line when you plant. If you would like to intentionally bypass the rootstock’s dwarfing characteristic, you may certainly give it a try — especially if you have the space for it!

  12. Patrick Shaw permalink

    You used to have several SPIRE varieties available and now I see only one. They seemed to be a great idea for people who have limited space. Where havve they gone?

    • They’re here Patrick!: http://www.starkbros.com/tags/columnar-apple-trees

      Of course, this late in the planting/shipping season, most of them are already sold out and won’t be back in stock this spring. However, you may opt-in to being notified when the trees are available for shipping again if you enter your email address where it says, “Notify me when it’s available.” on the sold-out varieties you have in mind. :)

  13. Carl C permalink

    I have standard and semi-dwarf trees in my orchard. I have planted some dwarf apple trees from you. I have a good feel for pruning the other sizes to open up the tree and encourage the shape I want.

    When you prune dwarf apple trees, what guidelines would you give that would be different than semi dwarf?

    • Good news, Carl! It’s not really all that different when you prune dwarf, semi-dwarf, or standard apple trees. You’re still going for the same shape and structure that is best for the tree — in the case of apple trees, it would be a central leader with scaffold branches that aren’t too narrowly-angled. Remove the inward-facing growth and damaged/diseased/dead limbs. The main thing to keep in mind is that dwarf apples tree won’t get as tall as their larger counterparts, so you won’t need to be as aggressive to keep them maintained.

  14. glynnes permalink

    Here I go “preaching to the choir”.

    My 2 year old Stark Bros. Reliance dwarf peach is in full bloom. It is pretty and such a beautiful shape. At first I did not understand the professional (supreme) pruning that gives the tree it’s many wide open branches which are now covered with flowers where lots of peaches can grow. I am learning about fruit.

    This spring, I saw some other Reliance semi-dwarf trees in 7 gal. pots at a big box store. I was shocked at the pruning that left only a few scraggly branches at the top. Some had a few side branches halfway up the trunk. The trunks were very thin compared to height.
    If these sad trees live, they will never produce a normal crop of peaches due to the loss of those lower limbs. Maybe they cut them off to get them all on the truck.

    About dwarf vs semi-dwarf:

    I am sort of sad I did not get semi-dwarfs, but my little yard won’t allow it. However, when a late freeze was predicted, I could wrap the little trees far easier than bigger ones. I don’t even know if putting on Christmas lights and wrapping in sheets did any good. I only know I tried.

    I love my Stark Bros. trees. it took me a long time to consider bare-root trees. Now I see they are by far the best choice.

  15. JOHN permalink

    i grew 16 years ago a few standard size trees in the backyard…they grew so huge and tall, I could not harvest 80% of the fruit, and lets forget ladders. I cut them down. Best bet is the smaller varieties, foot for foot, they equal the larger yields…..huge trees defeat the purpose…

    • Standard-sized fruit trees aren’t for every grower in every space, John, you’re right! If you are growing fruit trees for the fruit (and why wouldn’t you? ;) ) Semi-dwarf and Dwarf fruit trees are the way to go. Like you said, even with a ladder, a lot of the fruit you want to harvest is just out of reach. Many fruit enthusiasts who end up with more fruit than they can handle tend to like standard-sized trees to feed the wildlife and still leave enough for them to enjoy from time to time. To each their own, I suppose! :)

  16. Jessica permalink

    Hi, I’d like to know how big a dwarf honey crisp, dwarf Washington navel orange, as well as possibly a dwarf sweet cherry tree, will grow in air pruning containers. I have a small deck to put them on, and no yard, so space is tight.

    • Hi Jessica! It’s really difficult to say. It’s going to depend on the size of the containers and the individual trees. We don’t offer a Washington navel orange, so I don’t know much about the nature of the variety itself. You might consult whomever you purchase your navel orange tree from on what to expect from it in a container environment. Sweet cherry trees tend to get quite large, even when they are dwarf trees growing in the ground. This nature will likely translate to the container situation, but, again, it depends on the size of the air-pruning containers you intend to use. Honeycrisp is a low-vigor tree itself, so, even when planted in the ground on a dwarfing rootstock, it tends to be smaller than other dwarf apple trees just naturally.

      To give you an idea, I have semi-dwarf apple trees in 7-gallon containers that are 3-4 years old. They are probably a little over 6 feet tall because I haven’t pruned them to keep them shorter — which is also an option you may consider. Semi-dwarf apple trees normally grow to reach 12-15 feet in height, to give you a reference. Their roots have completely filled the containers they are growing in and could use some work this winter, but that’s another story. ;)

      Another thing to consider is pollination. If you want fruit, you need to make sure your fruit trees have pollinators. Most citrus trees are self-pollinating. Most cherry trees and apple trees are not. You will need another different variety of sweet cherry tree for your dwarf sweet cherry to produce fruit. They can’t both be Bing cherries, for example — they will not pollinate themselves and therefore won’t pollinate the same variety. Honeycrisp apple needs another different variety apple tree for pollination as well. Without adequate pollinators you will have nice trees but no fruit.

  17. John permalink

    Hey there,
    I’m on the hunt for two apple trees. I’m in Zone 7 (Southern Connecticut) and I’ve been somewhat infatuated as of recent with apples and really wanting to grow them in my yard (which isn’t too large but big enough for two semi-dwarfs. I’ve been going to every orchard I could find and I’m really looking for the perfect apples for my liking. I could use you’re insight as to what would pair good together and have the qualities I’m looking for.

    Things I’m looking for:
    * I make apple pies all the time, so it has to hold it’s shape when cooking.
    * I love to eat them raw and usually go for a sweet/tart/crisp/hard apple.
    * I need something that’s pretty easy to grow (first timer here).
    * Something that is pretty good with warding off deseases.
    * Something that yeilds a good amount of fruit.
    * Something that stores for a good amount of time (if possible)

    Recently I went to an orchard and I really liked the Cortlands and Macouns I tried. I’m a fan of HoneyCrisp but everything I read pretty much says that it’s hard to grow and keep plus it’s not great for baking.

    A friend suggested the Northern Spy (for pie making) though I never could find one to try.

    Would a Macoun and a Courtland pollenate eachother?
    Can you suggest any other varieties that fit my needs that will work seasonally together for pollination that I can check out?

    Thanks so much!
    All the best,
    John

    • It sounds like you’re a fan of that McIntosh quality in an apple, John!

      Macoun is an offspring of McIntosh x Jersey Black
      Cortland is an offspring of McIntosh x Ben Davis

      They’re not *ideal* pollinators for one another, although their bloom times sort of overlap. If you wanted to plant these two trees, I’d recommend also having a Golden Delicious tree growing nearby because it’s a stellar pollinator and it will help cover any gaps. Maybe your neighbor will be interested in growing one in their yard? ;)

      Macoun + Cortland (+ Golden Delicious)

      Another option, or two, is trying an Enterprise apple tree, or an Empire apple tree, both of which are offspring of McIntosh – so their fruit has that sweet-tart flavor and crisp texture. These characteristics make the fruit good for eating fresh and also for baking. The best part is, these two varieties are both very disease-resistant and either one will pollinate the Macoun and the Cortland apples if you wanted to mix and match the ones you’re most interested in:

      Macoun + Empire
      Macoun + Enterprise
      Cortland + Empire
      Cortland + Enterprise
      Empire + Enterprise

  18. lee permalink

    I just purchased a dwarf starkrimson cherry. The site stated it’s 8-10 ft wide. How far away should I plant it away from the house?

    • Hi Lee! You’ll want to plant your tree *at least* 4-5 feet from your house, since the mature width is for the entire circumference of the tree’s branches. Just remember that the further you can plant from your house the better. Many people like planting the full 8-10 feet away just to be safe and avoid crowding, shading, and other issues to the tree.

      Be sure to keep in mind that you don’t want to plant near any other buildings, structures, or powerlines — including sidewalks — to avoid damage. Also, if you’re in a residential area, there are often rules about contacting your utilities companies before digging. They’ll come out and mark where things are under ground for you so that you don’t interfere with any plumbing/sewage pipes, cables, or wires when you’re preparing your planting holes or when the trees mature.

  19. Kylie permalink

    I am trying to decide which size trees to order and I was wondering about the longevity of the different sizes (you already answered my question about the amount or fruit born on each size

    • It does depend on the type of tree, the environment, and care the tree receives during its lifetime, but generally speaking…

      Dwarf apple, pear, cherry trees live and are productive about 20 years. Larger sizes 20+ years.

      Dwarf apricot, nectarine, peach trees live and are productive about 10-12 years on average. Larger sizes, around 15+ years.

      We frequently hear from customers who have had various fruit trees for over 30 years, and they report that the trees are still alive, well, and productive, so it can vary by a lot!

  20. Christie Jordaan permalink

    I wud like to know how far from each other must I plant apricot trees

    • It depends on the mature size of the trees you are planting. If they are going to be 8-10 feet tall and wide at maturity, dig their holes at least 8-10 feet apart to give them enough space on all sides for the mature width of the branches.

      If the trees are going to mature at a larger size (15-20 feet for standard-size apricot trees), or if you’re going to keep them pruned more compact than their natural spread, you will need to adjust their spacing accordingly.

      If you’re thinking about distance for cross-pollination, fruit trees can be up to 50 feet apart and still adequately pollinate one another.

  21. Christie Jordaan permalink

    some of my apricot trees die Thyl look fine in the beginning of the season, nici leaves and lots of fruit. Then suddenly the leaves begin to curl and the tree die I’ve lost two last year and three this year They are about 20 years old What can the reason be Please help

    • Hi Christie! It’s difficult to diagnose an issue like this without seeing the trees. If you have any photos of the trees’ leaves curling or photos of how the trees looked just before they died it would greatly help! You can post them on our facebook page here: http://www.facebook.com/starkbros.co or email them to us at info@starkbros.com and include Attention: Sarah in the subject line.

      Were they healthy (nice leaf color, no trunk damage, no diseases, no pests, well-anchored) and then suddenly died or were they stressed or weakened and maybe at the end of their natural life? There are a lot of factors that can contribute to an apricot tree not surviving. It could be a nutrient issue, a disease (like a fungus — especially in areas that receive a lot of moisture), damage to the roots, or the result of extreme weather.

      If you don’t have photos to show us here, your best resource for help would be your local county Extension experts, which you can find the contact information for here: http://www.csrees.usda.gov/Extension/ — just follow the map to find the office closest to you. They will be more familiar with your area and will be able to discuss the factors that may have contributed to your apricot trees dying so suddenly.

  22. Grant Cooper permalink

    Are Stark Dwarf Peaches really dwarfing? Are they dwarf because you prune them real hard or because of the roots. I have seen conflicting things on the internet.

    Grant

    • Our peach trees are grafted onto a rootstock (like peach redleaf seedling) to determine the size. The vigor of the top varies slightly depending on the nature of the variety, but our dwarf peach trees tend to hover around the 10-foot range. Fertilizer encourages vegetative growth, like branching, and pruning helps keep longer, unwanted “leggy” growth in check — as with any fruit tree! :)

  23. Henry Ramer permalink

    What kind of tree do you recommend for espaliering? I’m thinking a semi-dwarf size since a 15′ to 18′ final height is just about right for my space. But what kind of tree can best take the heavy control required for espaliering?

    • Semi-dwarf fruit trees are just fine for espaliering — most people prefer to use apple trees and pear trees, but any tree with branches can be trained in this artistic form!

      We have an article on how to espalier fruit trees written by ‘Garden Girl’ Patti Moreno, and we also have an Espalier Pinterest board dedicated to styles and photos of fruit espalier (if you’re on Pinterest!).

  24. Brad permalink

    A couple years ago I bought a 3-in-1 cherry tree from Miller Nurseries (now Stark Bros.) and love it. Last year it sprouted a 4th branch from the root stock and that portion of the tree is now over 10 feet tall. Will the branches from the rootstock eventually bear fruit?

    I don’t mind leaving it and allowing the tree to grow to standard height as long as it is a fruit bearing part if the tree. I can continue to harvest the 3 other varieties from the lower grafts while also getting some from the higher branches too.

    Thanks for the help,
    Brad

    • I’m not sure which rootstock Miller used for their 3-in-1 cherry trees, but rootstocks aren’t selected for characteristics like fruit quality — it would be a waste to hide a good fruiting variety underground!

      I can’t say that you’ll be delighted with the fruit if the rootstock bears any, and, in the meantime, the sucker that is growing from the rootstock will steal nutrients away from the top portion of your tree to support its own fast growth. If it is allowed to grow into a standard sized tree, it will likely shade out the rest of your tree and may affect fruit quality and production as a result. We usually recommend pruning off suckers as soon as they appear. They don’t often provide a benefit to the tree as a whole.

  25. John Moser permalink

    I’m trying to figure out canopy depth for some of these. If I plant a dwarf apple behind a 6 foot tall blueberry, I can have 4 feet of apple canopy… but would the dwarf apple be too pruned? Would I want a semi-dwarf, 12 feet tall, with 5-6 feet of bush reaching up into the branches and leaves that then extend 6-7 feet higher?

    • Couple things that may help with this planting plan, John –

      A happy blueberry plant thrives in acidic soil with a pH of about 4.5-5.5. Apple trees prefer more of a neutral soil, with a pH of about 6.0-7.0. They may not be ideal planting companions for one another in the first place.

      Soil requirements aside, the average blueberry plant has a mature width (how far it spreads out) of about 3-5 feet, while semi-dwarf apple trees have a mature width of 12-15 feet (the same as their height, more or less). This takes into consideration the dimensions of the branches as well as the root systems under ground. To avoid crowding, shading, and nutrient competition, it’s a good idea to plant full-sun loving plants and trees where they will get their sun requirements, with their mature space in mind. It’s better to save smaller, partial-shade/shade-loving plants to companion-plant beneath trees.

      Taking into consideration that it is possible to plant things closer and still have them grow (especially if space is limited), I’ll try to address your original question: From the sound of it, you want the blueberry plant to be its full size while the apple tree grows above it — so the first branches of the apple tree would be at 5-6 feet from the ground*? If this is the case, you’d end up with more surface area in the canopy in the semi-dwarf apple tree. Especially since some apple varieties are less vigorous than others, you may end up with a dwarf apple tree that is only going to reach 8 feet in height, and, if you remove all of the branches up to 5-6 feet, you’ll be left with a mere ~2 feet of apple canopy above the blueberry. It would certainly limit the fruit production if you went with the dwarf instead of the semi-dwarf in your example. I hope this helps!

      *Most apple trees have their lowest branches start about 2-3 feet from the ground.

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