How to create mini orchards in balconies and small backyards

Dwarf orange trees on display at a flower market.

Photo credit: Photo | Shutterstock

For many homeowners in urban areas, the lack of 'adequate' space holds back their gardening dreams. Yet, with a dash of know-how and a sprinkle of creativity, any nook, whether it’s a balcony or a tiny backyard, can transform into a green sanctuary.

Where properly utilised, small spaces accommodate not only ornamental flowers, herbs and vegetables. They can also become home to beautiful orchards that give bountiful harvests.

As a seasoned landscaper, it always troubled Careen Muthoni whenever her clients opted to cover their compounds with concrete citing the 'lack of adequate space'.

Then she saw an opportunity to carve a niche for herself, helping urbanites cultivate fresh fruit in their own micro-environments through the art of dwarf fruit gardening.

When BD Life visits her tree nursery in Ruiru, Kiambu, she is busy putting together some seedling orders. Business is good.

“Dwarf fruit trees,” she explains, “are like nature’s compact marvels, reaching heights typically between 5 to 8 feet. Crafted through grafting or budding techniques onto dwarfing stocks, these pint-sized powerhouses are perfect for those with space constraints craving the taste of home-grown fruit.”

Sonnie's fruits and flowers Founder Caren Muthoni poses for a photo on May 6, 2024.

Photo credit: Photo | Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

"I like seeing people grow fruits at the back of their houses and not having to buy fruits every single day. Isn't it just so sweet harvesting that pixie or mango at the back of your house?" poses Careen.

With pots in hand, she champions the notion that one doesn’t need vast acreage to relish the fruits of their labour.

Contrary to popular belief, she notes that fruit trees thrive splendidly in containers, offering a fruitful solution to space constraints.

Careen has over the last few years sparked a revolution of some sort, become a beacon of knowledge, inspiring thousands of gardening aficionados to turn their small spaces into green havens ripe with possibility.

She extols the virtues of these diminutive wonders, noting their low maintenance, space-saving nature, and swift maturation.

Pink guava tree at Sonnie's fruits and flowers along the Nairobi Eastern Bypass in Ruiru on May 6, 2024.

Photo credit: Photo | Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group


“They’re a game-changer for small gardens,” she enthuses, “requiring minimal pruning and offering maximum fruitfulness.”

Among the most sought-after fruit seedlings in her nursery are the Lisbon and Meyer lemons, ghost oranges, dwarf mangoes, and pitanga cherries among others. With over 15 varieties, she says there’s a fruit tree for every palate and every space.

However, Careen advises a judicious hand in maintenance, recommending the removal of suckers, damaged limbs, and about a third of new growth annually.

Dwarf trees, she notes, often hit the fruiting stage sooner than their standard counterparts, promising a quicker harvest for the eager grower.

A game of patience

Yet, patience remains key in the mini orchard journey. “It can take a couple of years for dwarf fruit trees to bear fruit,” she explains. “Citrus and fig trees might surprise you with their bounty within a year or two, while others may take a bit longer, but the wait is always worth it,” she adds.

Tangerine trees at Sonnie's fruits and flowers along the Nairobi Eastern Bypass in Ruiru on May 6, 2024.

Photo credit: Photo | Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

Light and soil, she underscores, are the twin pillars of successful fruit tree cultivation. These arboreal beauties thrive in full sun, basking in at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight daily. Soil matters too, with well-drained, acidic or neutral soils topping the list for optimal growth. For container gardening, she recommends commercial potting mixes tailored for fruit trees, ensuring a nourishing environment for roots to flourish.

Pests and diseases

But where there’s fruit, pests and diseases often lurk. Careen offers a battle plan, advocating for vigilance and proactive measures. From brown rot to fire blight, she provides remedies, whether it’s through targeted pruning or organic sprays, tailored to keep orchard invaders at bay.

For those eager to witness the bloom and eventual fruiting of their trees, she advises that some, like figs and lemons, are self-pollinating, while others, like apples and pears, thrive with a nearby pollinator companion.

Mango trees at Sonnie's fruits and flowers along the Nairobi Eastern Bypass in Ruiru on May 6, 2024.

Photo credit: Photo | Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

And as with any endeavour, moderation is key; excess nitrogen or extreme temperatures can hamper fruit set, reminding growers of the delicate dance between nurture and nature.

“Dwarf fruit trees mature quickly. Extreme temperatures can damage the buds, and excess nitrogen from heavy fertilisation can cause the tree to grow more vegetation instead of fruit,” she warns.

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