Growing Your Own Fruit
February 18, 2021
It’s February, and you know what that means: Spring is just around the corner, yet cabin fever is still at the door. Although the winter weather can be questionable, now is the time to prioritize your fruit trees and get them ready for the year ahead.
You might be thinking, “I can’t have fruit trees! How am I supposed to grow an orchard?” Here’s the thing, never has growing your own fruit been easier. There are countless options for self-pollinating varieties, dwarf options that will never need a ladder to manage, and even varieties you could grow in large pots if desired. You can also pick out some multi-grafted trees with multiple types on the same tree for the ultimate selection in one space-saving package.
For those of you who are new to fruit trees, I know it can be intimidating. My advice is to pick up a solid reference book to walk you through how to grow trees. You’ll always have it on hand if a question comes up. I strongly recommend The Holistic Orchard: Tree Fruits and Berries the Biological Way by Michael Phillips; however, there are many options out there.
If you are ready to take the plunge, I recommend seeking out reputable nurseries that carry a large selection of tree varieties. A few good places to start online are Trees of Antiquity, specializing in heirloom varieties; Raintree Nursery located in Washington State; and Stark Brothers, one of the oldest fruit tree companies operating. Order early as the popular varieties often sell out quickly. You can also buy trees from your local nurseries but choose carefully. Make sure the trees are in good condition and still dormant. It’s best to purchase your trees early and intentionally, so you have the space and a plan for getting them in the ground and off to a good start. Newly planted trees should be watered deeply once a week during the growing season to ensure healthy root growth.
Maybe you already have some trees to your name. Now is the time to prune them! Yep, you need to do this BEFORE spring hits and your trees break dormancy. While I can’t cover all of the details in this article, I can give some general guidelines.
First, always start by pruning back dead, damaged, or crossing branches. These branches will be the easiest to spot. After that, it takes a little more finesse. Apples, pears, plums, and sweet cherries should be pruned to a central leader. Peaches, nectarines, and apricots should be pruned to an open center. This allows light in and keeps adequate air flow. If there are any sucker sprouts growing from the base of the tree, clip those off as well. Pruning always seems to be the most challenging task to wrap your head around but trust me; your trees will greatly benefit from this small effort on your part. Many reputable online nurseries such as those mentioned above also have blog posts and videos to guide you through the pruning process.
If your trees have any diseases (fire blight is a common one for apples and pears in our area), be sure to dip your pruners in a diluted bleach solution after every cut to ensure you do not spread any diseases further. Again, a solid fruit tree reference book should give some guidance on managing pests and diseases as well as signs to watch for that may indicate you have a problem.
While this article briefly covers some high-level considerations, growing fruit trees is a wonderful experience and can provide you with the freshest produce you can get your hands on with minimal effort. I’ll wrap things up for this week, but I wanted to leave you with an old saying, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now.” And I couldn’t agree more.
Resources for fruit tree growers
Trees of Antiquity at https://www.treesofantiquity.com
Raintree Nursery at https://raintreenursery.com
Stark Brothers at https://www.starkbros.com
Ali’s Favorite! - The Holistic Orchard: Tree Fruits and Berries the Biological Way by Michael Phillips
The Fruit Gardener’s Bible: A Complete Guide to Growing Fruits and Nuts in The Home Garden by Lewis Hill and Leonard Perry
Fruit Trees for Every Garden: An Organic Approach to Growing Apples, Pears, Peaches, Plums, Citrus, and More. By Orin Martin and Manjula Martin
The Gardening Channel with James Prigioni:
How to Prune an Apple Tree! - https://youtu.be/LoCcC9Ll5nM
How to Prune a Peach Tree! - https://youtu.be/b0K6_OevFwc