Small-space Orchards

A backyard orchard does not require a lot of space. Scientists and backyard orchardists are studying different tree rootstocks and specialized pruning practices to create small fruit trees with high yields.

Selection of a dwarfing rootstock and proper pruning allows control of tree size:

  • Ultra-dwarf trees are great patio choices, as they are 3 to 6 feet tall and wide at maturity.
  • Dwarf fruit trees will grow 10 feet tall and wide, depending on the environment and pruning techniques.
  • Semi-dwarf trees will reach 12 to 15 feet tall and wide. Once semi-dwarf fruit trees are bearing fruit, a 6-foot-tall person can harvest most of the fruit using a small stepladder.
  • Standard trees are the largest, generally growing from 18 to 30 feet tall. They are rarely planted anymore because much of the fruit cannot be reached easily. See care section.

To give trees the best start, select a good location. Fruit trees require at least eight hours offull sun in order to be productive. Good water drainage is critical. In most cases, fruit trees do not need supplemental fertilizers, as long as the soil is amended with quality compost, which will feed the tree slowly and naturally. While neutral soils (approximately pH 7) would be ideal, southern Nevada soils have a pH around 8. Any fruit trees can tolerate a pH that is high. At the Research Orchard, trees are surrounded with a berm and watered using bubbler irrigation. Spraying the foliage with water every few weeks may help to suppress mites, aphids and other insect pests.

Research Center and Demonstration Orchard History

Fruit trees were originally planted at the North Las Vegas Research Center site in 1997. Fruit trees are grown in 8-feet-by-10-feet spacings in orchard rows. All trees were planted as bareroot plants and amended with compost at the time of planting. Wood mulch covers the surface of the orchard to a depth of 4 to 6 inches. Fruit trees are pruned annually to heights of 6 ½ to 7 feet to keep the orchard "ladder-less."

The orchard follows the principles of integrated pest management. Although not a certified organic orchard, pesticides used are organic in nature, following a least toxic and sustainable philosophy. Research Center volunteers, consisting of Master Gardeners and community members, perform most of the work. After studies of a particular cultivar have been completed, trees are replaced with other test cultivars to gather information on what types will grow and produce best in the Mojave Desert.

Evaluations Categories

Evaluation trials were conducted originally from 2005 to 2009, and then from 2010 to 2018. Fruit evaluations were compiled through taste and tree evaluations. Taste evaluations were conducted periodically and included color, shape, texture, taste and brix of the fruit. Evaluations of the trees themselves were made throughout the year and included their performance and general health at the Extension Research Orchard located at 4600 Horse Drive in North Las Vegas, Nevada.

Top Choice lists those trees providing exceptional fruit and tree health; Notable Mention identifies those that provided very good fruit and very good health in southern Nevada's climate; and Under Review names those that have not been growing long enough for multiple year evaluations or for which results have been inconsistent.

Care and Maintenance

Proper care and pruning are essential to the health of fruit trees and shrubs. To prevent sunburn and pests from getting into the bark, young trees are painted with a thinned white latex paint. 2

To prevent pest infestation, dormant oils are applied to fruit trees in winter after pruning, but before bud break. Pruning is also performed as needed in the summer and dormant seasons. In the spring and summer, some pruning is done to train young trees and to shorten the time to full fruit production. On mature trees, summer pruning mainly involves removing vigorous upright shoots that are not needed as permanent branches and thinning shoots to control tree height and develop branches. Tree size is dictated by variety, root stock and pruning practices. Keep trees to a height that is manageable by pruning accordingly. Fruit also needs to be thinned to encourage maturation of larger-sized fruit. Extension offers multiple opportunities for classes in these areas throughout the year.

Other pest control methods include tying Mylar ribbon or hanging old compact disks in the trees to deter birds. Proper pruning is another way to prevent problems, such as disease, sunscald and insect pests.

Harvest Times for Southern Nevada

Harvest times are listed as very early, early, early-mid, mid, mid-late, late or very late season. While temperatures can affect harvest times, generally this is when harvesting would take place:

  • very early season: first to second week of May
  • early season: mid-May to mid-June
  • early-mid season: second to fourth week of June
  • mid-season: third to fourth week of June to early July
  • mid-late season: mid-July to first week in August
  • late season: mid-September to second week of October
  • very late season: mid-October to mid-November

For the complete list of fruit trees, berries, and other noteables, use the link below to download the PDF version.

Robinson, M.L., O'Callaghan, A., and Ruskamp, L. 2020, Research Orchard Fruit Evaluations & Recommendations for Southern Nevada - 2020, Extension, University of Nevada, Reno, SP-20-07

Learn more about the author(s)


Also of Interest:

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Donaldson, S. 2009, Extension | University of Nevada, Reno, FS-09-25
Thinning and Sanitation: Tools for the management of bark beetles in the Lake Tahoe Basin
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Kratsch, H. 2012, Extension, University of Nevada, Reno, SP-13-04
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Kratsch, H., Hanson Mazet, W. 2015, Extension | University of Nevada, Reno, Fact Sheet FS-15-02

Associated Programs

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Pesticide Safety Education Program

Extension’s Pesticide Safety Education Program provides web-based training for pesticide applicators seeking to apply restricted and general use pesticides safely, properly and according to the law. Pesticide licensure and certification is administered by the Nevada Department of Agriculture.

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Research Center & Demonstration Orchard

Researching new varieties of fruit producing trees, vines and other plant materials in sustainable ways for the Mojave Desert climate.

master gardeners in garden

Master Gardeners of Washoe County

Master Gardeners provide free, research-based horticulture information to Nevadans.