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Originally published Sunday, July 26, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Plant Life

Dwarf and mini-trees and shrubs offer lots of fruit with little space or effort

In the Pacific Northwest, growing fruit at home is easy if you choose well — especially from among a variety of dwarf and mini-trees and shrubs that promise plenty of returns.

Where to buy

Local nurseries carry a much greater variety of fruit than they did even a year ago. Two specialty nurseries in our region have a great selection of fruit, plus catalogs and Web pages loaded with information on growing fruit in our climate:

Cloud Mountain Farm: 6906 Goodwin Road, Everson, WA; 360-966-5859; www.cloudmountainfarm.com.

Raintree Nursery: 391 Butts Road, Morton, WA; 360-496-6400; www.raintreenursery.com.

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For the past few years, I've moved a puny Meyer lemon tree indoors for winter and back out in spring, trying to coax a fruit or two out of the reluctant little thing. The thought of growing citrus is so alluring . . . Can you imagine stepping out your back door and picking a ripe orange for breakfast?

Yet the question is never which fruits will grow in the Northwest, but which will reliably ripen? In our less-than-balmy climate we have to be realistic. That said, plenty of delicious kinds of fruit grow happily and productively in our zone 7 and 8 gardens. How about a handful of blueberries to top your cereal, strawberries dripping fruit for three months of the year, and full-blown apples on a tree the size and shape of a broomstick?

Petite trees like mini-dwarfs, columnar or pole apples are easy-to-grow and abundantly productive. The dwarfs are ideal espaliered against a fence or grown in a pot. They can be planted a scant 4 feet apart and have beautiful, fragrant flowers in springtime. Because they have not a single horizontal branch, pole apples sport fruit in clusters along their trunks. 'North Pole' has McIntosh-type apples, while 'Golden Sentinel' has yellow apples on a tree that grows only about 3 feet high. Unless you have neighbors with apple trees, to ensure pollination be sure to grow more than one kind and consider similar bloom times.

Blueberries are the ultimate edible landscape plant. 'Sunshine Blue' makes a great hedge because it's evergreen, with hot-pink flowers in spring and light-blue berries August to September. 'Olympia' is especially suited to our climate, with large berries in July on shrubs that grow 4 to 6 feet tall. Choose bushes that bloom sequentially and you can have these antioxidant-rich berries in your garden from July through frost. Again, plant more than one kind for pollination.

What's more luscious than picking sweet strawberries out of your own garden? Day-neutral or ever-bearing strawberries must be the best deal ever per square inch of soil, because they produce fruit nonstop from July through September. 'Tri-Star' is one of the best for our climate. If you want a big blast of June berries, 'Shuksan' or 'Benton' are good bets. Whatever the kind, you can encourage plants to produce larger berries by trimming off the runners.

It takes a big, brawny trellis to grow prolific kiwi vines. Actinidia arguta kiwis fruits are the size of grapes, perfect for popping into your mouth fresh off the vine. Fuzzy kiwis — the kind you find in the grocery store — have big, soft leaves and grow like crazy. I'm intrigued by a new kind called 'Exbury Female' with sweet fruit that ripens late and stays on the plant and edible even after fall frosts.

How about ground covers you can pick and eat? Tiny, fragrant strawberries called musk, Italian or alpine spread to form a thick mat, have great fall color, and taste of wine with a whiff of pineapple.

Dwarf lingonberries (Vaccinium vitis-idaea var. minus) are native to Maine. They grow only about 6 inches tall, covering the ground densely with bright pink flowers followed by pea-sized fruit.

'Top Hat' is a bonsai of a blueberry, growing only 18 inches high and wide, yet in summer this little shrub is smothered in tasty berries.

Growing fruit ornamentally is as much about visual impact as yield. Most kinds have specific cultural requirements, including all the sun and warmth you can find for them. Learn all about sequencing, pollination requirements and how best to integrate fruit into your garden in the new book "A Homeowner's Guide to Landscaping with Fruit" by Lee Reich (Storey Publishing, $19.95).

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of "A Pattern Garden." Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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