Fruit tree challenges, part 1

Larry G. Field
Thursday, February 21, 2019
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Fruit trees produce heavy crops but offer many challenges. Our climate is too short and cool for many. I grow mixed varieties of apples, plums, pears, apricots and peaches. Apples, plums and cherries seem to do relatively well here but all others are questionable, especially for a beginner. Fruit trees are expensive, consider the risks if purchasing. I have tried others including nuts and cherries but have reverted to those listed. The major problem with fruit is that when it does produce it generates many times more than a family can use. We give away hundreds of pounds a year, primarily to the Food Bank.

We used to divide our far back yard into an orchard and garden. Our orchard has since been replaced by a pole barn and now the garden site shares fruit and veggie crops. In our early pre-diabetic years at this site I got a bit carried away and thought that I had to grow everything. To do this I did a large amount of grafting. I would graft both sexes onto a single plant for those species like buffalo berries that have male and female plants. I grafted liberally onto fruit trees, I had 28 varieties of apples on three trees. I planted several commercially–supplied multiple grafted trees like the 7-in-1 pear and the 5-in-1 apples. I soon learned that the more varieties

a tree supports, the sooner it will be killed by fire blight.

I now plant exclusively one variety of trees; but I plant several to get a choice of varieties. I stick to old proven apples and plums and to modern, shorter growing season pears, apricots and peaches. Trees must be planted as instructed for positioning of the graft, if not, the tree will not perform as advertised. I have grown pie cherries with success but I have had no luck with sweet cherries. We utilized too few pie cherries to justify the space/work, I would prefer the space be allotted to one of the fruit types that we do grow.

I thoroughly till, loosen and mix soil with added manure and fertilizer for planting. I position the roots into a slightly oversized hole with the graft slightly higher than recommended and allow it to settle as the planting soil settles. My watering would be something like the following: Every 2nd day for ~10 days, followed by once a week for a month, followed by once a month plus on

extremely hot days for the remainder of the first season. In future

years I would water once per month, supplemented by the daily sprinkling that my lawn receives.

I do not fertilize fruit trees with fertilizer spikes/stakes. It is frequently said that a tree will have as many roots as limbs. I do

not feel that fertilizer spikes are going to diffuse sufficiently to

feed such a large cluster of roots. I feel that without injection, it

will be difficult to reach the lower roots, however, the upper roots

should gather the fertilizer. I mix 1 cup of triple 16 (Laurel Cenex) fertilizer into a 5 gal. pail of water. I stir and let set, repeat this until all is dissolved. I then apply half of this pail in a ring around each of two trees. I pour the mix in a circle about 2/3 the distance from the trunk to the outer limbs. Many spike dealers recommend that you place spikes in line with the outside diameter of the tree; which, with diffusion, would move half of the fertilizer away from the tree. After the fertilizer application, I set a soaker sprinkler on each application site and allow it to run for at least an hour to dilute, spread and leach the fertilizer. This is an annual application, done in early spring.

I prune the lower portions of all fruit trees as cleanly as possible providing enough space to easily work under and around them. I prune all to shape. Peaches, apples and plums are easy but pears and apricots tend to be taller more slender trees and they will lean strongly to the south, searching for sunlight. If this tendency is not controlled by pruning, problems will arrive once they begin to bear fruit. The weight of the crop will require guy wires on the north side and braces on the south side to keep the trees from breaking off under the leaning fruit load.

I prune apples as do the commercial growers, with flat tops. I

have allowed my apples to grow to similar heights as the California orchards. At my advanced age (pay attention youngsters!), this makes the trees excessively tall for ease of harvests & annual pruning. When I do my 2019 spring pruning, before these trees become active for the summer, I am going to shorten all. One tree is quite large, I plan to cut its height in half. This will require cutting very large limbs; I hope that it survives. I also remove internal “crossing” limbs and any limb that extends across my border fences. Apple wood (prunings) is the acknowledged standard for smoking

fish & meats.

Part 2 in next week’s paper

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