By Ken Lain, the mountain gardener
It is easy to see in times like this how differently people think and act. Differences in action and belief seem to be on display everywhere. Whether the news, your favorite social media, or just shopping at your local garden center, you can see differences on display. In contrast, kindness and understanding for others seem to be in short supply. I wrestled with this idea and turned the question on its head with this question, “What can everyone, (or at least most everyone) agree on??
It seems flowers, plants, fresh vegetables, or some form of gardening is just that, something we can all appreciate and agree with. It’s like seeing a friend’s face and how their expression changes when given flowers, or how you feel while walking through a beautiful garden; it’s transformative. I keep coming back to plants; it’s just what we need in today’s turbulent world.
Sorry, you’ve gone too deep into this garden writer’s process. This column is dedicated to picking the freshest fruits right from your own back yard.
Even with smaller trees, growing fruit is a long-term investment. It can take anywhere from 2 to 10 years for fruits to begin bearing. If your plan is to be harvesting for years to come, it pays to design before you plant.
Choosing a Size – The terms dwarf and semi-dwarf can be a bit confusing. Dwarf fruit trees reach a height and width of about 8′ feet; pruning does keep them smaller. At this height, trees can be tended and harvested easily while standing on the ground. Unfortunately, dwarf fruit trees tend to be short-lived.
Semi-dwarf fruit trees are a little larger at maturity, with most topping at 12-16 feet tall and wide. Their size can make maintenance and harvesting a bit of a challenge, but the average harvest is 8-12 bushels, about twice that of a dwarf tree.
There’s not much difference in the space required for the two types of trees, and both should start producing fruit within 2-5 years. For readers thinking even 8 feet is more area you’re not willing to sacrifice, you have choices. Both semi and dwarf trees can be grown in containers. The yield is not as heavy, but every bit as delicious!
Which Fruit Trees Need Pollinators? Most fruit trees produce better if there are two or more trees planted near each other. Anywhere in the landscape will do; just don’t put your house, barn, or shed between the two trees.
The trees do need to be the same type of fruit, but different varieties. You should plant two different kinds of apples, as long as they bloom simultaneously, they help cross-pollinate each other. Most fruit tree catalogs recommend tree combinations that pollinate each other. We have several Yavapai County charts here at Watters Garden Centers that help, and completely free.
If you only want one fruit tree, your best options are peach, apricot, nectarine, and sour cherry. These fruits are self-fruitful, meaning they pollinate themselves with help from local bees. One notable exception is a sweet Stella cherry that is also self-fruitful.
Smaller yards are the perfect place for cocktail trees, with multiple fruits graphed into the same tree trunk. This is where three or more pear varieties are grafted onto one trunk.
Chill Hours – deciduous trees need a certain number of winter nights below 45 degrees before they are stimulated to bloom. Without this chilling period, the fruit set will be limited the following spring. A tree needing only 300 chill hours flowers very early in spring exposes the fruits to snow and freezing weather. Mountain landscapes need trees that require at least 600 winter chill hours for ideal fruiting. I know this is technical, but one of the most critical decisions when choosing the right fruit tree. Here at the Watters Garden Center, we’ve curated locally proven varieties when you need help.
Which Fruit Trees are Low Maintenance? All fruit trees require some care and feeding. Most require annual pruning. However, some grow naturally with minimal care once they’re established. Cherries top the list of low maintenance trees. These require pruning only when branches are damaged or crossing.
Stone fruits like peaches, apricots, and nectarines are also low maintenance. Some pruning is needed to keep stone fruits open to light and usually need fruit thinning in early summer for a healthy harvest.
Apple and pears are the best mountain producers. A late frost, just as the fruit is forming, will thin the fruit set. Because apples and pears are the very last trees to blossom in spring, the likelihood of frost damaging this crop is reduced considerably. This one trait keeps them in the number one producer spot.
Autumn is the ideal planting season for trees. We have the best selection of local varieties now. If you’re thinking fruit this fall, now is the time to plant.
Until next week, I’ll be helping gardeners choose the best fruit trees here at Watters Garden Center.