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September 28, 2021

Cramped for space? Try compact plants

You know that growing your own fruit and vegetables can supply your family with fresh-tasting and nutritious food. But what if you don’t have much space for a big garden or an orchard of fruit trees? Nowadays there are many dwarf and compact varieties available for smaller yards and containers. Here are some good ones to try.
Tomatoes are always popular to grow, whether in the ground or in pots. Bush types don’t grow as large as vines. If you like large-sized tomatoes, plant Bush Beefsteak and you’ll be harvesting clusters of delicious 8-ounce tomatoes in just 62 days. Half a wine barrel can house taller tomatoes like the ever popular Sungold. The small gold-orange cherry tomatoes ripen early and are oh-so-sweet. You’ll plant these every year after you’ve tasted one.
Zucchini lovers might try the semi-vining Raven variety, which won’t take up as much space as a traditional type. These plants bear black-green, white-fleshed fruit with a mild sweet flavor and are very tender. If you have a little space to spare, grow the round French heirloom squash, Ronde de Nice. Jade-colored zucchini produce over a long period. Harvest the fruit when they reach golf ball up to baseball size. They are sublime grilled, or try them stuffed. They are unique in the garden and wonderful in cuisine.
A tip to encourage pollination when squashes or melons bloom is to pinch off leaves covering the blossoms to give pollinators a clear path to the flowers.
Herbs make good additions to the smaller garden, too. They can be kept compact with frequent pinching as you harvest sprigs for cooking. They also attract beneficial insects to the garden — oregano, chamomile and fennel are especially good at this.
Dwarf fruit trees can also find a place in a smaller garden. They can be grown in large pots or half barrels on the deck, too. Dwarf Garden Delicious apple is self-fertile and bears fruit at a young age. The greenish-yellow skinned fruit with attractive red color ripens in late September into October, and the plant itself grows to a height of between 8 and 10 feet at maturity.
Compact Stella cherry is also self-fertile and is a good pollinator for all sweet cherries. The fruit is large, dark red or nearly black, and its firm, sweet, dark-red flesh has good flavor and texture. Stella cherries grow to between 10 and 12 feet tall and bear fruit at a young age.
If it’s almonds you crave, plant a Dwarf Garden Prince almond. This compact 10- to 12-foot tree blooms mid-season with beautiful pale pink blossoms. Dense, attractive foliage and quality sweet almonds make this tree a nice addition to any garden.
A patio-sized peach for smaller yards is the Dwarf Southern Flame. Its large, yellow, aromatic freestone peaches are firm, crisp and melt in your mouth. The tree’s height is just 5 feet, and the fruit usually ripens in the first part of July.
So don’t let lack of space stop you from enjoying fresh fruits and vegetables this year.
Jan Nelson, a California certified nursery professional at Plant Works in Ben Lomond, will answer questions about gardening in the Santa Cruz Mountains. E-mail her at [email protected]

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