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Want Homegrown Fruit? Tips for Growing Fruit TreesFebruary 18th, 2014 by
Since the Garden of Eden, man has delighted in harvesting something deliciously edible from his own backyard. Growing fruit trees can require a bit of work, but reaping the rewards of fresh fruit from no further than your fence line can make the investment of time and energy more than worthwhile.
Most people immediately grab for the trees that produce the fruit they enjoy most, but consider your climate before committing to anything. While many commonly planted varieties of fruit trees will hold up in most parts of the country, there are certain types of fruit that are too delicate for cold weather and some that are too heat-sensitive to drop below the Mason-Dixon line.
|Temperate||Apple, cherry, pear, plum, peach, various berries|
|Tropical||Avocado, melon, guava, banana|
|Mediterranean and Subtropical||Date, fig, citrus fruits|
One way to ensure that you select fruit trees that are compatible with your climate is to consult the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.
Choosing a proper site for planting your fruit tree is going to make the biggest difference in the health and productivity of the tree. All fruit trees require six to eight hours of sunlight each day for optimal growth. Plant in an area that will be far enough away from stands of shade or ornamental trees to reduce root competition and allow for as much sun to reach the tree as possible.
Soil composition and drainage are also important factors to consider when choosing a site for your fruit trees. The soil layer needs to be at least three feet deep for a dwarf-variety tree and at least five feet for a standard-sized tree. Be careful of areas in which the soil suddenly turns to a clay layer; clay restricts root growth and water drainage. If the soil in the area is undersuited to the task of supporting your tree’s roots, you can always build raised beds for planting.
As much as you might look forward to snacking on a delicious crop of your homegrown fruit, there are a number of pests that will be looking forward to it even more, and some are bound to get started before even the first bud pokes through.
Rodent pests can be discouraged from damaging growing fruit trees by establishing plastic or wire guards around the base of the tree—set about two inches into the soil, guards should reach a height of about eighteen to twenty inches. Removing all weeds within a three-foot radius around the tree as well as keeping any grass or ground cover beyond that radius cut low will eliminate the hiding places that rodents prefer.
Among the most persistent pests known to damage fruit trees are nematodes. These are parasitic roundworms that often infest the soil where susceptible crops are planted, and once they have infected the tree, there is no cure or remedy. Planting your trees in an area where a ground cover of grass has grown for at least two years will limit the possibility of nematode infection, but the only way to be absolutely sure is to conduct a soil test. If the area to be planted has high nematode levels, you can often eradicate them by delaying tree planting, instead planting a “trap crop” of marigolds. These flowers will draw the nematodes to their roots and can later be pulled up and destroyed, taking the nematodes along with them.
Newly planted trees should be watered whenever the top two inches of soil have become dry. Once the root system has become well established, the tree can be watered less often, but it will still need a deep soaking periodically to ensure juicy fruit. Many fruit tree growers rely on drip irrigation systems to ensure the correct amounts of water reach the trees, while mulch is used to retain moisture.
Fertilizing and Pollinating
Unlike those in commercial growing operations, homegrown fruit trees don’t require a lot of feeding as long as the tree is growing well.
Most varieties of fruit trees require cross-pollination in order to produce fruit. Two varieties of the same fruit should be planted near one another, and while some pollination will occur by wind movement, bees are generally the most effective pollination device. If there is a dearth of bees naturally in the area, some beekeepers will rent out and manage small hives during the early growing season to promote pollination.
Fruit trees require regular pruning, but it must be carefully done to promote tree health. Pruning helps the tree limbs get as much sunshine as possible, and the tree uses that solar energy to produce the sweetest, juiciest, and largest fruit possible.
When the tree is young, the goal of pruning is to shape its future framework. The goal should be to encourage strong branches to support future fruit loads and prevent main branches from crossing or shading one another. As the tree reaches maturity and begins to bear fruit, pruning should be done annually to limit its size and keep it producing regular, healthy fruit crops.
While it seems counterintuitive, pruning to remove some potential fruit in mature trees benefits the overall fruit harvest. Trees—such as apple and peach—that tend to produce larger fruits will often bear smaller and less sweet fruit if branches are allowed to become overcrowded with buds. By pruning back selective branches, the grower can ensure steady annual production and better fruit. A tree service professional will be able to give you additional tips or even do some of the manual work for you.
Properly cared-for fruit trees can be harvested for years, even decades to come, and the rewards for that care can wind up right on your family plate. Nothing will make a pie sweeter or a jam more delicious than knowing that your own efforts produced the fruit in every juicy bite.
Sources: Better Homes and Gardens; Fruit Info; National Gardening Association; San Francisco Chronicle; Sunset Magazine; University of California Extension Service; University of Florida Extension Service; US Department of Agriculture.
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