Book Review – Grow a Little Fruit Tree: Simple Pruning Techniques for Small-Space, Easy-Harvest Fruit Trees, by Ann Ralph
By Ann Ralph
Paperback, 168 pages
Author Ann Ralph is on a mission: to bring the art and practice of fruit-growing within reach, literally and figuratively, of as many people as possible. Her goal is to show you how to keep fruit trees no taller than 6 feet in order to achieve a healthier tree and a higher-quality, more easily accessible harvest.
Why Grow a “Little” Tree?
In Grow a Little Fruit Tree: Simple Pruning Techniques for Small-Space, Easy-Harvest Fruit Trees, Ralph lays out the steps any home gardener can take to train and care for a small tree.
She begins by making the case for the benefits of keeping fruit trees small as opposed to following the practices adopted by commercial agriculture. Small trees can be pruned quickly and without ladders. Fruit can be thinned easily, resulting in larger, better quality harvests that have fewer pest issues and are less likely to be overwhelming or wasted. Small fruit trees are perfectly suited for urban gardens, allowing more trees to be planted in small spaces without shading out too much of the garden.
With that groundwork laid, Ralph guides readers through selecting fruit tree varieties and planting them.
Then comes what Ralph calls “the hardest pruning cut you’ll ever have to make”-cutting off the top two-thirds of the young tree, leaving you with a stub about 18 inches high. This radical cut is what allows the tree to develop lower branches and alters the structure of the tree to grow more fruit in less space.
There’s More to Fruit Trees Than Just Pruning
In spite of the subtitle, Grow a Little Fruit Tree, covers much more than pruning. Ralph addresses most of the issues surrounding planting and caring for fruit trees, including soil issues, watering, fertilizing, and pest management. These subjects aren’t covered in depth, but enough to give home gardeners a good introduction to these care and maintenance concerns.
Back when Ann Ralph was working at Berkeley Horticultural Nursery, I attended one of her pruning demonstrations the first time I needed to winter-prune my young plum tree. Her calm and capable manner of explaining pruning helped me to overcome the heebie-jeebies that newbie fruit growers can so often experience when first tackling pruning.
Grow a Little Fruit Tree has the same reassuring effect. It shrinks fruit growing down to a manageable size and makes the topic easy to understand and put into practice.
This is perhaps the best book available for home gardeners on pruning and training fruit trees. It does not cover fruit tree maintenance comprehensively but it is not intended to. By focusing primarily on shaping and pruning to keep trees small, the book provides information and guidance for small-space gardeners that they’re not likely to find anywhere else. The photos and illustrations show details that can be extremely helpful to new fruit growers, such as fruit spurs, suckers, thinning, and various types of pruning cuts. The writing is friendly, inspiring, and accessible and the author’s experience and depth of knowledge are apparent throughout.
Where to Buy
The book is available on Amazon, as well as through select book stores.
And now over to you – What’s your favorite new gardening book? Let us know in the comments below.
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Disclaimer – GPReview would like to thank Storey Publishing for giving us a free book to review. There was no expectation that it would be a positive review and we received no compensation for writing it. All opinions expressed here are those of the author based on personal experience using the product.
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