Grow Fruit Trees: Planning, Planting, Care, Maintaining and Harvesting

Just one look at the long list of free seed catalogs available from all over North America and the popularity of gardening will become quite evident. Whether you plant your vegetable seeds or flower seeds in a container garden, hanging basket garden or backyard garden will depend on space, time and need but will undoubtedly provide months or even years of enjoyment.

Types of Fruit Trees

  • Standard: trees that stand more than 18 feet tall. Plant 25 ft. apart.
  • Semi-Dwarf: trees that stand between 12 – 18 feet tall. Plant 12 – 18 feet apart.
  • Dwarf: trees that stand 12 feet tall or less. Plant 10 – 12 feet apart.

Planning

Contrary to what many people think, you do not need to have a lot of room in your yard to grow fruit. If you have just 1/4 acre you can grow a large variety of fruits. When you are going to grow fruit, make sure to plan wisely. Determine which types of fruit you want to grow and how much fruit you want to harvest. Make sure to select trees that are adapted to your climate and purchase only top quality trees. Also, it is important to remember that many fruit trees require two or more full years until their first harvest.

Fruit seeds can be grown into trees by planting the seed during any time of year, but the seed will only generate sprouts with enough heat and water.

Planting

Plant your fruit trees in full sun and fertile soil in an area that is protected from high winds. Use natural means to protect your trees and fruit whenever possible. Good soil is the number one need and should supersede all other considerations. A main factor in selecting a soil area is its ability to drain water throughout the root system area. To determine soil drainage, dig a hole that is approximately 8 inches wide and 32 inches deep and fill it with 5 gallons of water. Let the soil absorb the water and then fill it again. If the hole is empty in 24 hours, the soil has good drainage. If it requires 48 hours to drain, the drainage is poor but adequate. If any water remains after 48 hours do not plant trees in that location It is also very important to properly space your trees when planting, and different trees have different requirements.

Fertilizing Fruit Trees

The best time to fertilize fruit trees is in the early spring or late fall after the leaves have fallen. The fertilizer should be applied in the “drip zone” of the tree. This is the area under the tree where rain would drip from the leaves. Since the roots  must compete for nutrients with the plants on the surface, it is a good idea to make holes in the ground with an old broom handle about 12 inches deep in a circular pattern around the drip zone. Pour the fertilizer into the holes. Use a fertilizer mixture such as 2 lb. of 5-10-5 along with  1 lb. of super phosphate for every 1 inch of tree diameter. Fruit tree fertilizer spikes can also be used. These can be pounded into the ground 3 inches below the surface at a rate of 3 spikes for every 2 inches of tree diameter. The diameter of the tree should be measure about 2 feet from the ground level.

Maintaining

Water your trees every two weeks making sure to water thoroughly each time. Full trees should have soil that is moist 3-4 feet deep while dwarf trees should have moist soil approximately 2 feet deep. Make sure to watch for unusual growth patterns as well as insects and disease and take care of arising problems immediately.

Harvesting

Harvesting is a very critical process because if the fruit is incorrectly picked or is picked at the wrong time, an excellent quality crop can be ruined. When harvesting, remove the fruit from the tree in a twisting and lifting motion so that the fruit is not bruised. Fruit such as apples and pears should be placed into a picking bag which is carried around the neck and or shoulders. This will leave your hands free to pick the fruit and carefully place it in the bag.

Pruning Techniques

The best time to prune fruit trees is after they have finished dropping their leaves for the season so the branch structure can be seen.  There are three basic steps to pruning trees; just remember  the three “D’s”:

  1. Remove all dead branches until you come to living wood and make a clean angled cut.
  2. Remove all damaged branches to prevent disease from invading the good wood.
  3. Remove all dysfunctional branches which include:
    1. branches that rub together
    2. branches that cross the center of the tree
    3. branches growing from the under side of the larger branches
    4. branches that grow vertically but faster than the rest of the tree and do not produce flowers.  These will only drain the tree’s energy  with no fruit production.  These branches are called watersprouts. They  can be pulled off easily when young but will require pruners if they’re older.
    5. suckers growing from the root zone around the base of the tree.

Important:

  • Do not remove the fruiting spurs on the sides of the branches because these produce fruit for many years and should be left on the tree.
  • I suggest using Phytech 50  wound paste on the exposed wood. It is made of natural oils and wax which allows the wound to heal faster without rotting. Avoid tree paint because it can encourage moisture to collect underneath promoting rot.
  • Never remove more than 1/3 of the tree’s height at one time or the health of the tree may be compromised

Diseases Common to Fruit Trees

Apple trees – Cedar-Apple Rust is caused by a fungus that lives on both cedar trees and apple trees during the growing season. To avoid, do not plants these in the same area.

Apple/Pear trees – Apple/Pear Scab over-winters in the leaf debris so raking and disposing of the leaves in the fall can reduce the infection. The disease is worse in wet weather and can infect the leaves and the fruit. Use lime-sulfur spray in the spring and follow the regular spray schedule.

Cherry/Peach/Plum trees – Gummosis is a bacterial disease causing gummy spots on the branches and trunk. Bacterial canker can also occur in these trees. Removing the infected branches can help reduce the infection. Be sure to clean pruning tools in between cuts with 10% bleach solution or full strength rubbing alcohol.

Peach trees – Peach leaf curl starts as a reddening of the leaves then continue to turn yellow and curl. These infected leaves eventually fall. Sometimes a second crop of leaves may form without a problem. To help control this use a lime-sulfur spray in the spring.

Insect problems – There are several common insects that attack fruit trees including mites, aphids, curculios, psyllas, leaf rollers, maggots, flies, moths, and caterpillars. All of these can be controlled with the regular spray schedule listed. Cleaning up debris under the trees including old fruit can help eliminate many pests for the next year.  Another group of insects not mentioned are borers such as trunk borers, flat-headed borers. If a hole is seen in a branch or trunk, a thin wire can be inserted in the hole to try and kill the borer or a pesticide called Lindane may have to be used for sever infections. See package for proper application. Follow directions carefully.

Bird problems – Netting can be placed over the trees when the fruit is ripening to prevent the birds from eating it.

Pollination

Many fruit trees require 2 or more cultivars from the same family (Japanese, European or American) to be planted within 500 sq. ft. of each other for proper pollination by bees. Apples and pears are examples of trees that need a pollinator in order to produce quality fruit. Sweet cherries and most varieties of plums are also in this category. Some fruit trees are self-pollinating such as peaches, sour cherries and a few plum varieties such as  ‘Standley’ plum. These trees can be planted alone and will produce fruit.

Growing Fruit Trees from Seeds

Planting a fruit tree (if enough space is available) is one sort of gardening that offers many benefits some of which include; provides organic fruit (if you don’t spray tree with pesticides); good for the environment; filters air; conditions soil; provides shade; shelters wildlife; attracts pollinators into your garden; provides savings (when you consider the life of a fruit tree and all the fruit you will harvest over the years) and of course provides years of beauty.

If you are able to plant a fruit tree along with your flower seeds and vegetable seeds your garden is sure to be a visual and tasty delight. Some fruit trees to consider are apple, apricot, cherry, crab apple, nectarine, peach, pear, plum and prune trees.

Fruit Tree Products

  • Use fruit tree stakes, which are concentrated spikes of fertilizer, to conveniently fertilize your orchard. Before inserting the stakes in the soil, water the tree well. Then drive the spikes in along the drip line – the soil below the outside perimeter of the leaves – using five stakes per three inches of the tree trunk diameter.
  • Most labels deteriorate in time, or the ink washes off, but copper labels last indefinitely. That’s because you etch the words into the copper, and then stick the metal holder into the base of the tree as a permanent marker.
  • To make a tree trunk more decorative, use an apple ring. It comes with cups, which you fill with plants after placing the ring around the base of the tree. But don’t leave the ring on long enough to girdle the tree!

The Range of Fruits

The various sets of fruit plants can be categorized according to their size, their growth and fruiting habit, and their particular hardiness. Tree fruits (top fruits) include apples, peaches, and figs. The phrase embraces both pome fruits (those having a core with small seeds, for example apples and pears) and stone fruits (those containing stones, for example cherries, peaches, and plums), as well as some other fruits, such as mulberries and persimmons.

The term “vine” is used to describe woody, fruiting climbers including kiwi fruits and grapes; in a few countries, the term is typically applied only to the grapevine.

The category of soft fruits consists of bush fruits, cane fruits, and strawberries, which are herbaceous. Bush fruits are obviously shrubby, forming a compact, bush shape, even though they can be trained into other forms. Blackcurrants, redcurrants, white currants, and gooseberries are the most frequently grown bush fruits. Plants referred to as cane fruits produce cane-like shoots that bear the fruits; raspberries, blackberries, and hybrid berries, including loganberries, are in this group. Most produce their canes in one season, and bear fruit on these the next, while producing new canes that will fruit the year after.

A number of fruit-bearing plants can’t withstand frost and require warm, subtropical temperatures to develop and ripen completely; these might be classified as tender fruits. Tender fruits include citrus, pomegranates, pineapples, tree tomatoes, and prickly pears. Some are also tree fruits, but have been grouped with tender fruits due to their need for constantly warm temperatures. Nuts consist of all plants that produce fruits that have a hard outer shell around an edible kernel, such as hazelnuts, almonds, and pecans.