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Fruit Trees 101

Some kind of sticky-sweet fruit likely grows well where you live, and you can plant trees as soon as the ground thaws.

| January / February 2018

  • Few plants produce a sweeter product than fruit trees.
    Photo by GettyImages/PeopleImages
  • Citrus trees require a little work, but they can be grown both indoors and out!
    Photo by GettyImages/Zenobillis
  • Growing dwarf cherry trees makes your fruit easier to protect from diseases and birds.
    Photo by GettyImages/stokaji
  • Peach and nectarine trees produce delicious fruit, but they are often short-lived.
    Photo by GettyImages/Mixmike
  • Pruning is a key aspect of growing fruit trees.
    Photo by GettyImages/simazoran
  • Depending on your Zone, you'll want to plant fruit trees in either February or early spring.
    Photo by GettyImages/Schlegelpictures
  • Invest in some manual fruit-processing equipment to make your harvest and processing go more smoothly.
    Photo by GettyImages/chengyuzheng

No plants give sweeter returns than fruit trees. From cold-hardy apples and cherries to semi-tropical citrus fruits, fruit trees grow in all but the most extreme climates — provided you choose the right varieties and remain dedicated to tree TLC. Growing fruit trees is not as simple as maintaining some annual crops, like tomatoes or basil. Your main commitments will be routine pruning and monitoring of pests.

To avoid frustration, you’ll also want to take the time to find out which fruit trees are known to grow well in your area. To find varieties recommended where you live, check with your local extension service (find yours at Extension Office Directory). Some fruit tree varieties require a certain level of chill hours — a period of time when temperatures are below about 45 degrees Fahrenheit — in order to thrive. Others will not set fruit without the cross-pollination from another nearby tree.

Fruit Trees Worth Trying

Even trees described as “self-fertile” will perform better if grown near another variety known to be a compatible pollinator. Extension publications and nursery catalogs often include tables listing compatible varieties.

Apples (Malus domestica) are the most popular tree fruits because they are widely adapted, relatively easy to grow and routine palate-pleasers. The ideal soil pH for apples is 6.5, but apple trees can adjust to more acidic soil if it’s fertile and well-drained. Most apple varieties, including disease-resistant ‘Freedom’ and ‘Liberty,’ are adapted to cold-hardiness Zones 4 to 7. (If you don’t know your Zone, see “How Low Can You Go? Know Your Cold-Hardiness Zone” below.) In mild winter climates, you’ll need low-chill varieties, such as ‘Anna’ and ‘Pink Lady.’ No matter your climate, begin by choosing two trees that are compatible pollinators to get good fruit set. Mid- and late-season apples usually have better flavor and store longer compared with early-season varieties.

Cherries (Prunus avium (sweet) and P. cerasus (sour)) range in color from sunny yellow to nearly black and are classified in two subtypes: compact sweet varieties, such as ‘Stella,’ and sour or pie cherries, such as ‘Montmorency’ and ‘North Star.’ Best adapted to Zones 4 to 7, cherry trees need fertile, near-neutral-pH soil and excellent air circulation. Growing 12-foot-tall dwarf cherry trees of either subtype will simplify protecting your crop from diseases and birds, because you will be able to cover the small trees with protective netting easily. You can also spray them with organic sulfur or kaolin clay.

Citrus fruits (Citrus hybrids), including kumquat, Mandarin orange, satsuma and ‘Meyer’ lemon, are among the easiest fruit trees to grow organically in Zones 8b to 10. Fragrant oils in citrus leaves and rinds provide protection from pests, but cold tolerance is limited. ‘Nagami’ kumquat, ‘Owari’ satsuma and ‘Meyer’ lemon trees may occasionally need to be covered with blankets when temperatures drop below freezing, but winter harvests of homegrown citrus fruits will be worth the trouble. (See our recent article, “7 Best Plants to Grow Indoors in Winter,” (Nov/Dec 2017) to learn more about growing citrus in the great indoors instead!)

2/8/2018 1:50:38 PM

We have an orchard with 4 cherry trees in it that 2 are tart and 2 are sweet. We have not used chemicals on them but some years they are so wormy we have to let the birds have them. What do others do they are the small white worms I am only guessing fruit fly ? I am to the point where I would use a chemical if I knew which one. They are delicious and plentiful.

2/8/2018 1:50:36 PM

We have wonderful sweet and sour fruit trees that are organic grown. But some years are so wormy we have to let the birds have all of them. WHAT can be done that is organic or what is the least toxic chemical to use to keep the little white worms away.



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