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Fruit for All

By Paul James

Imagine harvesting a ripe, juicy apple right off the tree and biting into its sweet, sun-warmed flesh. Now imagine that same tree is in your own backyard. Growing fruit is one of the great joys of gardening, and while it’s admittedly not without a few challenges, the same can be said of nearly all edible crops. But unlike most edibles, which are grown and harvested in one season, fruit trees can produce for decades.

Popular tree fruits include apples, apricots, sweet and sour cherries, peaches, pears, plums, and nectarines. Their needs are actually fairly simple and essentially the same — well-drained soil and full sun, regular pruning, and routine spraying to control pests and diseases. But not all fruit trees are alike.

Dwarf, Semi-Dwarf, and Standard

Dwarf fruit trees generally grow to about 8’ to 10’ tall and wide, semi-dwarfs 12’ to 15’, and standards 18’ to 25’. But you can keep any tree at your desired height by pruning it back.

Pollinator Requirements

Apricots, sour cherries, peaches, and nectarines are self-fertile, meaning they don’t require a pollinator. Chances are you’ll get more fruit if a pollinator is nearby (as in within 50’ or so), but you’ll get a fair amount of fruit without one. Apples, pears, plums, and sweet cherries absolutely require a pollinator. 


All fruit trees require annual pruning while dormant, especially during the first three years, and they can be lightly pruned in summer as well to keep their growth in check. There are two basic approaches to pruning — open or vase-shaped and central leader.

Apple, pear, and cherry trees are usually pruned to form a strong central leader, whereas apricot, peach, plum, and nectarine are most often pruned into a vase shape with no central leader.

Entire books have been written about pruning fruit trees, and can’t possibly cover the subject in this post. So I strongly suggest you learn the different techniques by reading this excellent OSU Fact Sheet.

Pest and Disease Control

In most cases, you’ll have to commit to a regular spraying schedule to prevent pest and disease problems. In general, expect to spray four to six times throughout the year using organic or synthetic controls, and keep in mind that the timing of the sprayings is fairly critical. There are dozens of products on the market that control various pests and diseases, but I think general-purpose sprays (such as those available from Bonide) are your best bet.

(Pears are among the easiest fruits to grow and don’t require much spraying. However, they can succumb to a nasty bacterial disease known as fire blight. It can be controlled by pruning the infected growth and through the use of various sprays.)


Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait anywhere from two to three years for the trees to begin producing fruit. But hey, it’s worth the wait. Just keep imagining biting into that ripie, juicy apple!

I’ll soon be writing about even more fruits, including berries of all kinds and my personal favorite — figs! Until then…

Happy gardening, ya’ll.

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6 responses to “Fruit for All”

  1. Mike Williams says:

    Thanks, I have a small apple tree that hasn’t produced yet. It’s three yes old. Wasn’t aware they need pruned yearly, is now a good time to do so?
    Looking forward to in person seminars.

  2. Greg Rosta says:

    Hi Paul,

    While not an edible fruit-bearing fruit tree, I have a large weeping cherry tree that seems to have started suffering from a severe case of gummosis this winter (or at least that is my amateur diagnosis). In fact, one of the two sap ooze areas is nearly the size of a baseball. Any suggestions? Trying not to lose this tree!


  3. Mike Williams says:

    Well shit. Is there a male and female apple tree or just two apple trees? Off topic but I like the tropical look. Are there Palms that grow in in our country? Or, when is the next question and answer with Paul James?

    • Paul James says:

      You need two different apple varieties. Chinese fan palms and cabbage palms are marginally hardy, but they’d be dead today if you had planted them. Sorry. Not sure about the next Q&A, but I’ll let you know.

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