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How to Grow Columnar Fruit Trees

You’re limited to growing small plants if you live in an urban or suburban environment or have a small garden. What if you tried growing trees with short branches that don’t spread out as they grow?

The narrow columnar fruit trees will do just that by filling your small garden space without crowding it! Growing them is easy, and you’ll be rewarded with fresh fruit when they bloom.

Keep reading to learn what you need to know to grow these urban-friendly fruit trees!

Columnar apple trees, popular columnar fruit trees.

Columnar Fruit Tree Characteristics

Columnar fruit trees are known by a few names: colonnade, cordon, and urban fruit trees. Unlike fruit trees that grow outward, the columnars grow upright with no long lateral branches spreading out. They also don’t require as much soil as other fruit trees.

They’re narrow and grow up to six to 10 feet with a width of two to three feet once mature. These measurements make it easy to plant in small gardens.

When first grown, the columnars are grafted on medium and dwarfing rootstocks to extend their life and provide greater stability. So when you purchase the trees, you’ll be planting them as they are and not as seeds.

The columnars produce fewer fruit than other fruit trees, but luckily they do so for about 20 years. They’ll grow in hardiness zones four to eight, so they’re great for climates that aren’t very cold or hot.

Columnars vs. Other Narrow Upright Fruit Trees

Columnar fruit trees that produce apples are the only trees that are considered true columnars. Though there are other fruits that grow on narrow upright trees, that doesn’t mean they’re also true columnars. Examples include peach, cherry, pear, and plum trees.

Pears on a columnar tree.

So why aren’t these columnar-like fruit trees considered true columnars like the apple trees? Well, that’s because they’re not bred with natural columnar growth. Their narrow growth habit is formed the way it is due to regular pruning.

One similarity they have with true columnars is that they’re also grown on rootstocks. They serve to produce fruit as early as one to two years after planting.

Columnar Fruit Tree Varieties

The Ballerina series of apples are grown on true columnar fruit trees. They’re popular for being fruitful and low maintenance, but they’re also prone to diseases and may have less taste.

The following three varieties are some of the most popular on the market and are more disease resistant:

  • Golden Sentinel: A golden yellow apple with a sweet and crisp flavor
  • Scarlet Sentinel: A yellow-green apple with a red blush
  • Northpole: Red and green apples that are no different from McIntosh apples

Because apples don’t self-pollinate, they need other types of apple trees to be grown near them for cross-pollination. Some columnar-like fruit varieties self-pollinate, so planting more than one is only a preference depending on the specific variety.

To get a glimpse of other columnar fruit tree varieties, visit our Columnar Apple Trees page.

Tools for Growing Columnar Fruit Trees

To grow your fruit tree, you’ll need these supplies:

  • Three columnar fruit trees (each a different variety of apple if you’re planting a columnar apple tree)
  • Trowel
  • Fertilizer
  • Ties
  • Stakes
  • Pruning shears

How to Grow Columnars in the Garden

young columnar apple trees

If you’re a beginner gardener, growing these small, low-maintenance trees is a good first step to take for your garden!

When to Plant

If you live in a climate that doesn’t have harsh winters, you may plant your columnar fruit trees in early spring or late fall. Be sure to plant them in full sunlight!

Soil and Spacing

Plant one of your columnars in fertile, well-draining soil. Then space the other two trees about two to three feet away. Cross-pollination needs aside, you may plant more columnar varieties in the same manner.


Your columnar trees need regular watering throughout the year to keep the soil moist. Take care to avoid standing water and soggy soil.


You can apply fertilizer to your columnar fruit trees in a few ways. If you fertilize throughout the growing season, use a balanced fertilizer. To avoid overfertilizing, use time-release fertilizer once every year to save you from keeping track of your applications.

Another way is applying about one to two inches of compost to the soil every spring to boost the trees’ nutrients. Adding seaweed extract will help produce more fruit and resist mold and fungus.

Apple blossoms on a columnar apple tree.


Though rootstocks strengthen true columnar fruit trees, there’s a drawback for columnar-like pear, plum, and other fruit trees.

Dwarfing rootstocks restrict these fruit trees’ growth process, lessening their strength. This shortens their lifespan and requires that they have stakes to hold them up.

If you’re growing columnar-like fruit trees, you’ll need eight-foot-tall stakes to support them as they grow. Anchor the stakes two feet into the soil and tie the trees to the remaining six feet.


Pruning your columnar trees depends on the type of tree you plant, but most of the time, it’s minimal. You’ll only need to remove diseased or damaged branches with true columnar fruit trees.

Columnar-like fruit trees require annual pruning to keep the branches in spire-like fashion. Cut off the side shoots three buds back during the summer to do this.

In the first year you plant the trees, we recommend thinning out the branches to support the fruit’s weight.

How to Grow Columnars in Pots

Closeup of columnar tree apples.

Since these trees come in saplings, it’s easy to grow them in pots or containers. Whiskey barrels are also an option in which to plant your columnars.

The pots should be at least 20 inches deep and wide. Since the trees don’t require a lot of soil, you don’t need to fill the pots completely. Instead, mix in some organic matter like grass clippings and flowers to fill the rest of the space.

Water the trees as you would out of a pot, especially since potted columnar fruit trees are susceptible to drought.

Columnar trees in pots are also prone to frost, so place them in your garage or cellar during the winter. Make sure the temperature drops to about 45 degrees Fahrenheit regularly to help the tree become more fruitful.


Every two to three years, you’ll need to transplant the trees to larger pots to give the roots room to grow. After doing so, prepare the soil as you did with the previous pots and continue caring for your trees.

You can also transplant your potted columnars to your garden if you’d rather not use larger pots.

Buying a Variety Columnar Sapling

A columnar apple tree sapling.

When shopping online for columnar fruit trees, you’ll find a lot of apple varieties, and Stark Bro’s offers seven of them.

If you want to grow other fruit varieties, Nature Hills offers nectarine and peach trees that grow similarly to columnars. Remember, you’ll need to maintain their shapes to prevent them from spreading.

Check out your local nurseries or garden centers for more fruit varieties, whether or not they’re grown on true columnar trees.

Grow Fruit Trees in Sweet Columns!

Rows of columnar fruit trees.

Planting trees doesn’t have to be overwhelming, not even for first-time gardeners; columnar fruit trees are proof of that! Now that you’ve learned how to grow them, you can easily beautify your small garden space.

Visit our Fruit Trees page to discover other fruits you can grow in your garden and how to grow them!