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.
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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