What To Know About Choosing Fruit Trees To Grow - 27 East

Residence

Residence / 2235611

What To Know About Choosing Fruit Trees To Grow

Number of images 5 Photos
After nearly four months from blooming this unblemished, organically grow apple is ripe for the picking. Mouthwatering indeed from a 75-year-old tree. ANDREW MESSINGER

After nearly four months from blooming this unblemished, organically grow apple is ripe for the picking. Mouthwatering indeed from a 75-year-old tree. ANDREW MESSINGER

This downed apple tree was rescued from the Boscobel garden in Westchester and moved to a Westchester estate along with 100 other similar apple and pear trees more than 25 years ago. In spite of appearing to be well, an overnight windstorm blew the tree down. The tree was righted, staked and continues to fruit and thrive in the same location. The pruning on these trees isn’t great but all continue to fruit, produce incredible cider every year and feed plenty of deer. ANDREW MESSINGER

This downed apple tree was rescued from the Boscobel garden in Westchester and moved to a Westchester estate along with 100 other similar apple and pear trees more than 25 years ago. In spite of appearing to be well, an overnight windstorm blew the tree down. The tree was righted, staked and continues to fruit and thrive in the same location. The pruning on these trees isn’t great but all continue to fruit, produce incredible cider every year and feed plenty of deer. ANDREW MESSINGER

Found on an abandoned upstate farmstead this apple tree is over 100 years old. It still continues to bear fruit in spite of it having been ignored for at least the past 25 years. ANDREW MESSINGER

Found on an abandoned upstate farmstead this apple tree is over 100 years old. It still continues to bear fruit in spite of it having been ignored for at least the past 25 years. ANDREW MESSINGER

Most apple trees need pruning on an annual basis. Older trees and varieties need to have stems like this 6-foot-long year-old stem removed or pruned to encourage fruiting.  However, if long stems like this are saved they’re great for garden staking, and if allowed to dry they can be cut to small pieces and used as kindling or in cooking fires to add a delicate apple-smoked flavor. ANDREW MESSINGER

Most apple trees need pruning on an annual basis. Older trees and varieties need to have stems like this 6-foot-long year-old stem removed or pruned to encourage fruiting. However, if long stems like this are saved they’re great for garden staking, and if allowed to dry they can be cut to small pieces and used as kindling or in cooking fires to add a delicate apple-smoked flavor. ANDREW MESSINGER

Pear trees can be as robust and fruitful as apples in spite of their age. This pear is never pruned and yet each summer it produces bushels of fruits that are made into pear chutney. The tree is approximately 60 years old. ANDREW MESSINGER

Pear trees can be as robust and fruitful as apples in spite of their age. This pear is never pruned and yet each summer it produces bushels of fruits that are made into pear chutney. The tree is approximately 60 years old. ANDREW MESSINGER

Autor

Hampton Gardener®

There is nothing quite as frustrating as working on a horticultural project for years only to find that after all of your efforts there are no or disappointing results. I’ve had this experience with some rare seeds that take two or three years to germinate, or don’t. But even more frustrating are fruit trees that you lovingly plant and take care of for two to five years waiting for your first apple, peach or cherry — and nada. Fortunately, we can often figure out why this happens and correct the problem.

And if you’ve contemplated growing fruits, now is the time to order your trees or speak with your local garden center to see what they plan to carry in terms of bare-root varieties and container-planted ones as well. Spring is planting time for these, and if you hadn’t noticed, spring is just days away.

Fruit trees normally begin to bear soon after they are old enough to flower. Nevertheless, the health of the tree, its environment, its fruiting habits and the cultural practices that you use influence its ability to produce fruit once it reaches bearing age. It’s also critical to remember that pollination is essential to fruit yield and there are several things that may be beyond our control that will have an influence on this as well. Unfortunately, only one of several unfavorable conditions can reduce yields or prevent bearing of any fruit, but most of these conditions are under your control either before and or after planting.

Most fruit trees are propagated by grafting or budding the chosen variety onto a rootstock. When you purchase nursery-grown trees their tops will be one or two years old, while the roots are one to two years older. The age (from planting) when trees can be expected to bear fruit depends on the type of fruit that you are growing: apple, apricot, and sour cherry (three to five years), peach (two to four years), pear and plum (four to six years), quince and sweet cherry (five to seven years). The exceptions are dwarf fruit trees, which begin to bear one to two years earlier, and more mature trees that are moved with large root balls or with tree spades. These may flower and fruit to a small degree the following year, then normally the second year after transplanting.

The first thing to remember is that a fruit tree must be healthy to produce good quality fruit. Weak or diseased trees produce either poor quality fruit or no fruit at all. So, the first step is to keep these trees free from insects and diseases, and this can be done with chemicals, organically or using a combination of the two.

Next, we need to consider climate. Not all varieties of any particular type of a fruit are well suited to our area. You need to make this your first check when ordering fruit trees as some are more cold and heat tolerant than others, while some fruits require a certain number of winter “chilling” days and others may not. At the same time you need to consider your specific microclimate and how that relates to spring frosts. If you’ve ever driven past a large commercial fruit orchard off the island you may have noticed that they are usually planted on hillsides. This is because frost is more likely to settle at the bottom of a hill or in the valley than on the slopes. This is critical in your planning as late spring frosts (which are more common away from the coast in inland locations) can cause injury to the flowers. These injured flowers may appear normal, but if the pistils, the center part of the flowers, are killed, no fruit will be produced.

It’s also important to remember that bloom time varies with species and varieties. The earliest to bloom is almond, followed by Japanese plums and apricots. Peaches are next followed by sweet cherries, pears, European plums, sour cherries and apples. Apples tend to have the longest season with varieties ripening from late August into early November. When purchasing varieties consider where and when they’ll flower and that your property upstate may not be appropriate for the same varieties here on the East End. Another consideration in this category is that while the tree may grow and flower and initially produce fruit, because of the frost-free season being too short the fruit never matures. A good example of this is that many pecan varieties can be grown in Georgia, but if you move them up here, you’ll go nuts but not grow nuts. That is unless you grow the northern adapted varieties called “Major” or “Perque.”

The next consideration is pollination. The flowers of fruit trees must be pollinated to produce fruit. Without adequate pollination you may see blossoms galore but few resulting fruits. Varieties that bear fruit from pollination among their own flowers are said to be “self fruitful.” However, many varieties cannot produce fruit from their own pollen. Those requiring pollen from another variety are called “self unfruitful.” Some trees like pecans have separate male and female flowers on the same tree. If the male pollen is shed before the female flower is receptive, fruit set becomes a problem.

Some varieties of fruit trees do not fit conveniently into either category.

Pistachios, which you can’t grow here, have male trees that produce pollen and female trees that produce fruit. To grow them successfully it’s necessary to plant at least one male for every eight females. Most apples are self unfruitful. For this reason we usually plant two varieties near one another. “Golden Delicious,” a self fruitful variety, and “Jonathan” are among the most common pollinizers used. In general, a pollinizer should be considered for all pear varieties even though there are a few varieties that set good crops without pollinizers. In peaches, most varieties are self fruitful; however, there are a few like “J.H. Hale,” “Stark Honeydew Hale” and “Stark Hale Berta Giant” that will need pollinizers.

It’s the general lack of “fuzz” on the fruit that determines if it’s a nectarine or a peach. Nectarines are usually smaller and have a distinctive sub-acid flavor. Nectarines do not need pollinizers; however, they are more susceptible to frost injuries than peaches, and this needs to be a consideration.

Most varieties of apricots are self-fruitful. However, a pollinizer will increase production. “Goldrich” and “Perfection” varieties must be pollinated to bear fruit. Japanese plums bloom earlier than European plums and for this reason they will usually pollinate each other. “Stanley,” the No. 1 European type, is self fruitful. “Bluefre” and “Stanley” are the most common pollinizers. “Redheart” is the most common pollinizer for the Japanese varieties.

With the exception of “Stella” and “Compact Stella,” all sweet cherries need a pollinizer to bear well. As a general rule of thumb, dark-colored varieties will pollinate dark varieties and light-colored varieties are recommended to pollinate other light ones. Most of the sour cherries bear heavily without a pollinizer.

Occasionally, fruit trees bear heavily one year and sparsely or not at all the next year. This is called “biennial bearing.” The spring-flowering buds of most hardy fruit trees are formed during the previous spring or summer. Therefore, an especially heavy crop one year may prevent adequate bud formation for the following year. Over pruning can also have the same effect, and there are a very few apple and pear trees that may be naturally biennial bearing.

Fruit trees also need good cultural practices during the season to maintain adequate numbers of good leaves for quality fruit production. About 30 to 40 good-sized leaves are needed to produce one good quality apple. Adequate sunlight is also necessary as reduced sunlight delays the setting of fruit as well as fruit quality. Avoid severe pruning as well since severe pruning stimulates upright growth, delays flower production and reduces yields.

If you’re just contemplating a small orchard or a few fruit trees, apples are good starters. Plums and peaches can be challenging whereas pears can be on the easier side. Peaches seem to be very susceptible to diseases that rely on high humidity so the East End may not be the best place to grow them, but if you’re up to the challenge.

If you’ve ordered bare-root trees or if you buy them at garden centers be sure to follow the directions for rehydrating very carefully. Don’t overplant (as in too deep) and do protect your trees from deer browse while the trees are young and reachable. Mistakes made at planting time will haunt you for years and may not be easily reversible.

Do your homework. Remember what fruit growing has in common with real estate. Location, location, location. For those with fruit trees these are the last weeks for safe pruning and remember that dormant oil sprays applied in the next few weeks will get you off to a much better season when it comes to insects and diseases. Keep growing.

AutorMore Posts from Andrew Messinger

The May Garden Ramble

It’s spring, it’s planting time and it’s crazy. Three boxes of plants arrived this afternoon, ... 23 May 2024 by Andrew Messinger

What To Know About Growing Marigolds

This week’s column is the second and last part in a series on marigolds. As ... 15 May 2024 by Andrew Messinger

The History of Marigolds

Here’s a short gardening quiz: What plant is native to the New World, a sacred ... 9 May 2024 by Andrew Messinger

The Truth About Butterfly Bush

It was several decades ago when I was standing in front of a Meadow Lane ... 2 May 2024 by Andrew Messinger

Spring Is the Time To Pot Up Houseplants

In spring our gardening attention logically and naturally focuses on things going on outside. We ... 25 Apr 2024 by Andrew Messinger

The April Ramble

April got off to a typical start. For most of the first two weeks of ... 18 Apr 2024 by Andrew Messinger

Plant Radishes Now

As you may have discovered from last week’s column there is more to a radish ... 11 Apr 2024 by Andrew Messinger

A Brief History of Radishes

The madness will begin. Adventurous souls have had just one day too many of cabinus ... 4 Apr 2024 by Andrew Messinger

What To Know and Consider Before Buying Fertilizer

If you are trying to figure out which fertilizer you should buy and how much ... 27 Mar 2024 by Andrew Messinger

Feed Me? Don’t Kill Plants With Love (i.e. Fertilizer)

Yes, you can kill a plant with love. This is especially true if you believe ... 21 Mar 2024 by Andrew Messinger