Growing Fruit Trees
Growing a variety of fruit trees as well as grapes and berries can be easily done in containers on your deck or in a small space in your back yard.
Berries, grapes, and fruit trees, a veritable orchard, can be successfully grown in a small space. Modern plant breeders have developed miniature, dwarf, and semi-dwarf varieties that can be adapted to almost any landscape. The key is to select the cultivars that grow best in your area and ensure that each properly pruned plant receives the ideal amounts of sun, nutrients, and water. You will be rewarded with fruit of outstanding quality and taste. Begin planning your orchard with a sketch your garden area.
Identify locations suitable for trees, vines, or shrubs. For example, if you have a sturdy fence along a property line, consider training a grapevine on the fence. A grapevine trained on an overhead lattice can make a lovely shade. Reserve the sunniest spots for trees such as apple, peach, plum, apricot, pear, and cherry. These trees will not produce fruit in shade or partial shade.
Consider dwarf trees for the smallest backyards. Dwarf trees generally reach a height of 8 to 10 feet but bear standard size fruit. Semi-dwarf trees grow to around 12 to 15 feet tall.
Blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries can be grown in partial shade, although they will produce more fruit in a sunny location. Strawberries are especially versatile and can be planted as borders along walkways, in hanging baskets, in window boxes, or in strawberry pyramids. Dwarf blueberries, perfect for containers, are available in several varieties. If your growing area is a sunny deck, you can grow miniature fruit trees in containers. Miniature trees usually reach a height of 6 to 8 feet, but still produce full size fruit.
Once you have determined where to plant your trees, vines and shrubs, you can now decide on the varieties of fruits you want to grow. Remember that many apples, pears, plums, and cherries are not self-pollinating and need another variety growing nearby to produce fruit. When you have chosen a particular variety of tree, consult a reliable reference, nurseryman, or county agriculture extension agent to determine whether you need to plant a pollinator.
Prepare your soil well in advance of ordering or purchasing your fruit trees and shrubs. Test your soil to determine the pH (whether the soil is acidic or alkaline) and add the appropriate amendments to adjust the pH for the specific fruits you plan to grow. For example, blueberries, blackberries and cranberries love acidic soil and will thrive in conditions that are too acidic for apples, grapes, peaches and cherries. Consult a pH preference chart to determine the needs of your trees and shrubs. If compost is available, it should be incorporated into the soil. If your soil has a high clay content, you will need to add peat moss (1:3 ratio) to increase drainage. This is especially important for cherry trees. Your trees and shrubs will need to be watered regularly for the first year after they're planted. After one year, unless you live in a drought prone area, the root systems should be well-established and the trees should be able to absorb adequate moisture from rain. Fertilize your plants with a balanced blend of organic nutrients or a fertilizer specifically formulated for fruit trees and shrubs.
Proper pruning is one of the most important aspects of fruit tree cultivation. A bare rooted tree should be pruned back by approximately one third when it is planted. Always prune in the dormant season when the tree is not actively growing. Always make selective pruning cuts rather than cutting back all limbs to the same length. Always remove dead, injured, and diseased limbs first. Thin out branches that cross or compete for space. Miniature trees generally do not need pruning other than removing crowded branches. Apple, pear, and cherry trees should be pruned to have a central leader. Peach, plum, apricot, and nectarine trees should have the central leader removed at planting time and should be pruned to a vase-shape. If you cannot visualize these pruning methods, consult a reference book or ask your county agriculture extension representative for a brochure on pruning.
Thinning fruits on apple, peach, nectarine, apricot, and pear trees is very important to ensure large, sweet fruit. You will have more fruit if you don't thin, but the fruit will be smaller and of substantially inferior quality. It may be difficult to discard some of the fruit you have worked hard to encourage, but it is well worth the time and misgiving! Thin tiny fruit about three weeks after the blooms have disappeared. Damaged or misshapened fruit should be discarded first. Thin apples, pears, and peaches to approximately 6 or 7 inches apart. Plums and apricots should be about a hand's width apart.
If insect pests are a problem in your area, learn to identify them and how to control them using the most environmentally friendly methods.
You may need to protect your fruit from birds and squirrels. Nets, barriers, and other devices to scare away nuisance animals are available at hardware stores and by mailorder.
When to harvest your fruit will be determined by the variety of fruit you grow. Most fruit is allowed to ripen on the tree, vine or shrub before picking. However pears should be picked while still hard and light yellow-green. They should ripen in a few days to two weeks at 65 to 70 degrees. If you choose everbearing berry varieties you will be treated to more than one harvest per season.
Your local library, plant nurseries, and county agriculture extension office can provide specific information for selection of varieties, cultivation, pruning, insect and disease control, and harvesting in your area.