By Ken Lain, the mountain gardener
You used to need a lot of land to grow fruit trees. Dwarf and semi-dwarf fruit trees have allowed growing them in just about any yard. Most standard-sized fruit trees mature at a height and width of between 18-25 ft. Not only will this require a big chunk of your yard, but it also makes them tall to prune and spray without using a ladder.
Even with smaller trees, growing fruit is a long-term investment. Fruits can take anywhere from 2 to 10 years to bear fruit. If you plan to be harvesting for years to come, it pays to do some upfront planning.
Choosing a Size –The terms dwarf and semi-dwarf can be confusing. Dwarf fruit trees reach a height and width of about 8-10 ft. At this height, they can be tended and harvested without a ladder. Pruning keeps them even smaller. Unfortunately, dwarf fruit trees tend to be short-lived.
Semi-dwarf fruit trees are a little larger, with most topping at 12-16 ft. tall and wide. Maintenance and harvest require a ladder, but the average yield is 8 – 12 bushels, about twice what you expect from a dwarf tree and far longer living.
There is not much space difference between the two types of trees, and both should start producing fruits within 5 years. With just a bit more work, the yields are far greater on semi-dwarf trees. Actual dwarf trees, you will have all your fruit within arms reach.
For those of you thinking that even 8-10 ft. is more space than you have or can sacrifice, don’t give up. Fruit trees can be grown in containers as well. The yield is not as heavy, but every bit delicious.
Which Fruit Trees Need Pollinators? Most fruit trees produce better fruits if two or more trees are planted nearby. Just don’t put your house or barn between the two trees. Anywhere in the landscape will do.
Although the trees need to be the same type of fruit, they should not be the same variety. You can plant two different kinds of apples, and they will cross-pollinate with each other as long as they bloom simultaneously. Most fruit tree catalogs and plant labels give you suggestions for excellent pollinators. We have several local charts here at Watters Garden Center that will help.
If you only want one tree, your best options are peach, apricot, nectarine, and sour cherry. These are self-pollinating or self-fruitful and pollinate themselves with help from bees. One notable exception is a Stella Sweet Cherry that is also self-fruitful.
A second option is a multi-grafted tree, where three or more varieties of fruit are grafted onto one trunk. Another name for this fruit tree is a ‘Fruit Cocktail Tree.’
Some Like it Cold – Fruit trees need a certain number of hours when the temperature drops below 45 F. Without this chilling period during their dormancy, they set little fruit the following spring. We have locally proven varieties available here at the garden center.
Which Fruit Trees are Low Maintenance? All fruit trees require some care and the right Fruit Tree Food. Most require annual pruning. However, some can get by with minimal supervision once established. At the top of the list of low-maintenance trees are cherries. These require pruning only when branches are damaged or crossed.
Stone fruits like peaches, apricots, plums, and nectarines are also easy to maintain. Some pruning is required to keep the trees open to light and may need fruit thinning in early summer for a larger harvest.
Apples and pears are the best mountain producers. Because apples and pears are the last fruit trees to blossom in spring, it reduces the likelihood of frost damage. This one trait puts them in the number one producer spot.
Pruning fruit trees is a vast topic and varies with the tree type. But starting with the right tree for your location and getting it off to a healthy start is a solid first step toward your first fruit harvest. If you’re thinking fruit this spring, now is the time to plant. Plant before they leaf. Late winter and early spring are the ideal planting window for fruit trees. Watters has the most extensive local selection and ready to set fruit and grow.
Free Garden Classes offered by Watters Garden Center
We go deep into growing better. Check out this spring’s class selection offered every Saturday @ 9:30 am.
March 18 – Healthy Evergreen and Bark Beetles
April 1 – Growing Better Peonies this Spring
Until next week, I’ll be helping gardeners plant the perfect fruit tree here at Watters Garden Center.