Columnar Trees for the Cottage Garden
My cottage garden is so small, but I don't want to give up my dream of growing fruit trees here. The solution? Columnar trees!
I have a lot of ideas and plans for my cottage garden on Oak Hill. Some of them turned out to be a bit unrealistic though, simply because of how small the garden actually is. The fact that I don't have that much soil doesn't make it any easier either of course. The hill is mostly made up of rock and the spots with plenty of soil are reserved for the vegetables I want to grow here. But what about the trees then, where should I grow them?
Last year, I bought a few new fruit trees and I was hoping to use a few of them here. But it just didn't work at all. The spots I had picked out only had an inch or so of soil on top of the rock. So instead, I had to settle with growing my trees in pots and go for smaller bush varieties.
I recently heard about columnar trees, which is supposed to be a great alternative to the larger fruit trees. The columnar trees are simply smaller fruit trees with a thick main stem and short, fruit-bearing branches. These trees won't develop a regular crown and will instead just grow a foot (around 30 cm) wide. Not at all as wide and bushy as the regular fruit trees of course.
The columnar trees grow straight upwards, just like a column. They usually grow to around 5-6.5 ft (1.5-2.5 meters.) Some of the varieties I picked can grow slightly larger than that too, it seems.
The reason I want to grow columnar trees in my cottage garden is simply because they need a lot less soil to grow. You can even put the trees close together and make a little hedge if you want. This way, you can grow a few varieties in the same spot. Perfect for a small garden!
My columnar trees
Since I don't have that much space in my cottage garden, I decided to make a little avenue with fruit trees from the cottage garden to the lawn underneath the oak. So, I planted fourteen trees, seven on each side of the pathway I created.
Here are the varieties I went for.
Left side, starting from the bottom:
- Apple, Maypole - red apple with a sweet/sour flavor and red flesh.
- Mirabelle, Ruby - red, oval mirabelle with a sweet flavor and yellow flesh
- Apple, Greencats - a green apple, firm and sweet/sour apple that ripens in September-October.
- Mirabelle, Ruby
- Mirabelle, Ruby
Right side, starting from below:
- Apple, Maypole
- Apple, Redcats - shining red fall apple with a lovely sweet/sour flavor, harvested between September-October.
- Apple, Redcats
- Apple, Maypole
- Apple, Green sensation - green apple
- Pear, Condo - regular-sized pears that ripen from September (but probably later here in zone 3, I would assume.)
- Cherry Sylvia - lovely self-pollinating cherry tree with lots of berries that can be harvested in summer
- Apple, Red sensation - red apples
- Apple, Greencats
Most of these varieties are completely new to me. I'm especially curious about the pear tree, since I know that they can be a bit tricky to grow. In order to succeed, we need to make a match with another pear tree for the pollination to work. I'm going to wait and see what happens!
This entire slope is riddled with couch grass and large tufts of other weeds. In other areas, the rock is basically visible and others still are greener and contain more soil. I planted the trees by just digging the holes and then putting some new soil around and on top. Some trees were basically planted right on the rock with only a little lump of soil around the roots. My hope is that the roots will find their way along the rocky hill and still develop nicely. It's going to be an experiment! But I know that both mirabell and a self-sown plum tree managed to root on the slope, so I'm sure it's possible.
Spring is probably the most fun time to plant trees, but my experience is that it can be quite difficult if I don't keep up on the watering. If the trees dry out in summer, it's going to be very difficult for them going forward. Planting is probably easier in fall when the soil is naturally damp.
I wanted to give my little fruit tree avenue the best possible start, which is why I added a drip irrigation system along the newly planted trees. I'm going to try watering my columnar trees every time I pass by the cottage garden. The drip irrigation system distributes the water on top of the slope, but I hope that some of my other trees will benefit from it when the water trickles down the hill too.
When should you plant your columnar trees then? Well, I did it in pouring rain! I know how hard it can be to dig this type of overgrown soil in dry weather. It feels nearly impossible! That's why I decided to finish the planting today, even if it was so warm and wet in my rain clothes. But it went so well! The grass sod loosened so nicely after a day of heavy rain.
My three boys had a little party on the attic of the woodshed while I planted my columnar trees. They came out to inspect my work when I was done and thought it looked great. I just can't wait for the first harvest when I can watch my kids sit here on the slope and eat my homegrown fruit in the evening sun.
The last thing I did before the rain started coming down was to take pictures of all the labels for this article. Otherwise, I wouldn't remember which varieties I'm growing of course. I'm very happy with my new columnar trees!