Fruit Tree Fundamentals
May 3, 2012 Growing Fruit Trees
When you decide to grow a fruit tree you need to carefully consider a variety of factors. The most important and immediate issue is your existing garden. Plants thrive best when they mesh well with their environment. As a result, you must never try to force the existing garden conditions into a form to match your “ideal” tree. You must pick the tree in accordance with the already existing environmental factors.
Admittedly, you can adjust such things as soil content, but you usually are unable to change such things as location, temperature, amount of light, frost dates, hardiness zone and size. Therefore, it makes perfect sense to pick a tree or variety suitable to the current conditions of your garden. This will ensure your fruit tree has a good chance of being healthier, easier to take care of and more productive. This makes perfect sense. Particularly when you know a healthy plant is less prone to diseases and other tree-specific pests. A healthy and happy tree will also tend to be more productive. It will produce more fruit for you and your family.
Before you pick, let alone purchase your tree, you need to consider certain specific factors. These include chill factors, size accommodation, hardiness zone and use of the plant.
The chill factor refers to the amount of time the tree requires at low temperatures to break bud dormancy and grow in the spring. Some fruit trees are high-chill. This means they require more hours at temperatures below 44E F (7EC). High-chill fruit trees do not perform to their best potential in mild climates. Apples, in general, are a classic example of high chill fruit trees. Fortunately, there are medium and low chill trees as well. Granny Smith is a low chill variety of apple as is Braeburn. Bonita, Gold Dust and Sungold are low chill pears. Earligold, Garden Annie and Tilton are low chill apricots. Be sure to check the chill factors of the species and variety you want before you decide to purchase it.
How big is your garden? Make sure you pick a fruit tree that fits into its allotted space. If the tree you want is too large, this will cause severe problems. Trees forced into confined spaces may become stressed. They will not perform or produce to their potential.
If you still want the specific tree, change the variety. Look for dwarf cultivars. Alternatively, consider a tree with compact growth habitat. Instead of a traditional apple, you could select a Colonnade Apple. It has short branches and grows about 10'.
Never ignore the size of your tree relative to that of your garden. If you do so, you will constantly have to prune. You will need to shape the tree. In doing so, you will also reduce the potential harvest of the tree through constant pruning.
It is imperative you know what zone your garden is in. If you do not, find out. Fruit trees, like all plants, have a specific hardiness. If you place a tropical tree in a lower number e.g. 1, 2 zone, it will not survive, let alone thrive. If you place an apple tree in a higher zone, it may also die. Be sure you match the fruit tree to the right zone. Also check for micro-environments. You may have a colder or warmer zone in your specific area than the norm.
Plant usage: What is the intent of the plant? Is it a foundation planting? Do you want it to act as the entryway to your garden? Maybe it is a specimen planting. Do you intend to place it on an informal lawn, slight slope or open area? Is its intended place the road allowance or curbside? Maybe you think it is best to put it in a container. All these possibilities can and will affect the type of tree you should select for your garden plot.
Plotting It Right
Once you know the basics, you need to plan your garden. Using graph paper or a computer program, sit down and sketch the existent garden. Note its structure and orientation. Mark on the garden “map” such things as shaded and sunny spots. You must know these factors if you are to decide what type of tree yopu can have and where to place it.
As well as the factors of sun and shade, you also need to note any exposed areas. Is there any spot in your garden where it is more open to the elements? Are their higher spots of land or any lower areas? Some sections, due to their height or lack of same, may be more susceptible to frost.
What are the light levels in your garden? Some gardens are only welcoming to plants with a high tolerance to sun or shade. Some have morning sun but lack afternoon or evening light. There are also gardens that are constantly affected by the building structures around them. Buildings may tower over certain sections, blocking out light for specific times of day. Other gardens may be entirely open to the elements, having no shelter at all.
Do not ignore the soil type or types in your garden sketch. Note what they are and include the pH levels. Be aware of the texture and the presence of organic and inorganic matter. Has the soil been treated? Does it need any type of enrichment? Is this the soil compatible with your favored fruit tree?
Note on your sketch other pertinent items such as frost dates, hardiness zones and any microclimates. Once you have all this data recorded, you can begin to talk about what tree and/or variety is the perfect match for your garden. First, however, you need to do more research on your specific environment. By understanding what factors may affect your fruit tree, you can educate yourself for making the right choice and prepare for dealing with the possible problems.
One other factor you should consider in your plans and planting is fertility and fertilization. Keep in mind many fruit trees are NOT self pollinating. They require the presence of at least one other fruit tree to become fruit bearing. Check into the facts about tree pollination before you opt for your tree. This will indicate whether you have to have another tree or can have a single specimen.
Apricots and tart or sour cherries are self-pollinating. Plums, sweet cherries, apples, pears and African pears are not. While some cross-pollination trees may give you some fruit without a partner, they have a higher and better quality yield with another plum tree. It is best to provide them with a partner. These now companion trees must be within 100 feet of each other.
In selecting a companion tree, be aware of the basic facts of pollination. Not only will your fruit tree require another tree within bee range, but it will also need a different variety. In other words, if you want to have fruit on a McIntosh Tree, you have to have another variety, e.g. Red Delicious, to succeed. In some instances, you will have to have at least 2 other varieties in addition to your selected fruit tree. This is true of the pear tree. It is more difficult to fertilize.
It is hopeful you have bees in the area that make regular visits to your garden. They will initiate the fertilization process. If bees are on the decline due to the wind, insecticides or flower competition, there are alternatives. You can cross-pollinate on your own. Use a brush to dust the blossoms.