Planting Fruit Trees 101

Ah, apple pie – the quintessential American dish. What could make mom’s apple pie even better? There’s one sure method: growing the fresh apples yourself. As environmentally-conscious Americans seek out ways to make their lifestyle more sustainable, many are starting to grow their own, backyard fruit trees. What used to be a widespread practice of growing your own fruit is now making a comeback.

Once a fruit tree is mature, just one tree can provide you and your family with fresh fruit for years to come. However, not all fruit trees are easy to cultivate, and certain trees don’t work well in certain climates. Here’s a brief guide to choosing, nurturing, and benefiting from a fruit tree that will be right for you.

How to Choose a Fruit Tree

The first consideration for a fruit tree is climate. Not all fruit trees grow in all climates. Even if you think your climate has a long growing season and works well for most of the plants in your vegetable garden, that doesn’t mean that any fruit tree you plant will thrive.

The best way to choose a fruit tree that matches your local environment is to ask around at nurseries. Nursery owners are usually avid gardeners who have tried to grow almost everything in their own backyard, making them a storehouse of good advice for others.

You’ll also want to consider your soil. Plum trees, for example, like damp soil; pear and apple trees can handle a much drier soil. Peach trees need a balance; too much rain will rot the fruit, so they grow well in areas that have some protection, such as underneath an eave. Again, your local nursery can guide you when you ask a few questions.

Size is another consideration. Most fruit trees come in standard sizes, along with dwarf and semi-dwarf varieties. The dwarf trees don’t live as long, and obviously a smaller tree means less fruit. Dwarf trees start producing fruit after three to five years. However, they also have a shorter lifespan than their bigger cousins.

Semi-dwarf trees are medium-sized, growing ten to sixteen feet in height, and needing at least a fifteen-inch diameter for growing. These trees produce a significant amount of fruit, but some seasons they won’t produce any fruit at all.

Before the smaller fruit trees were developed, standard fruit trees were the only fruit trees around. They’ll grow up to thirty feet – which takes many years – and start bearing fruit within five years. Because they’re bigger trees, they take more maintenance than dwarf and semi-dwarf trees.

Getting Your Tree to Bear Fruit

Some fruit trees take some extra love to coax them into bearing fruit. For starters, not all fruit trees are self-pollinating. Self-pollinating trees don’t need any human intervention to get them to bear fruit, but trees that need pollinators often do.

Trees that don’t self-pollinate may require another tree or two of the same fruit but of a different variety. Therefore, the first thing you should do if you choose a fruit tree that requires some pollination help is to plant at least two different varieties of the tree.

Bees are usually a necessity if you want your backyard orchard to bear fruit. Mason bees, in particular, can be offered little “houses” near your trees, giving them an excuse to stick around and pollinate your trees for you. These houses can be found at a reasonable price online, usually ranging from $25 to $40. Place the bee house in a warm, dry place, as close to the fruit trees as you can get. More bees close to the fruit trees means more pollination, and more pollination means more fruit for you and your family.

When the bees stay inside due to poor weather, you can always pollinate the trees yourself. Take a branch from one tree and dust it through the branches of the other tree.

Care for Your Tree During the Colder Months

Keep your tree well-watered until at least mid-October, and when the leaves fall, rake them up and keep them away from your trees. Leaf piles can lead to leaf-borne tree diseases, which can easily wipe out your backyard orchard. Lots of leaves are also an attractive home for mice, who don’t see any problem with gnawing on your delicate fruit tree.

Meanwhile, don’t be tempted to prune the tree in the fall months. Let your tree stop growing before the winter, otherwise it will be more susceptible to winter injuries.

The steps above should help you get started planting fruit trees. For help specific to your area, speak to the local experts – farmers and nursery owners.

Photo by  WxMom