Whether you have just moved into a new home or have lived there for decades, it’s always the right time to plant fruit trees. A small investment of time and money will reap delicious, chemical-free fruit in only two to five years. Most fruit trees cost between $30 and $40, but can contribute to a life-time of health and enjoyment. Begin now by deciding what fruit trees you will plant.
Before heading to a local nursery or perusing a catalog, do a bit of daydreaming to figure out what fruit trees you will enjoy long-term. First of all, what fruits do you relish--apples, cherries, peaches, pears, nectarines? Living where there’s frost may mean we have to forego banana and citrus trees, but we still have lots of fruit trees to choose from.
After deciding what fruits are your favorites, it’s time to figure out which variety, or “cultivar,” of fruit would be best for you, based on what you would like to do with your fruit. Do you envision canning or freezing it for winter consumption? Or perhaps your mouth is watering for a slice of warm cherry pie? What about drying your own fruit for nutritious, chemical-free snacks? Does pressing apples for cider sound like a fun, autumn activity?
Finally, there’s nothing wrong with just eating fruit right off the tree. Imagine plucking a fully-ripe peach, soft enough to barely indent with your thumb. When you take a bite and have its warm, sweet-tart juice fill your mouth, your efforts will have been rewarded!
After matching specific fruits and then varieties to your needs, it’s time explore what fruit trees are practical for you to plant. That means choosing varieties that will grow well in your geological location, how much room you have and what varieties are available to you.
Hardiness Zone is the term used to tell what plants can grow in your area based on average minimal winter temperatures. For example, I used the online site, planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/ to discover that Ohio is now Zone 6. Catalogs or online sites will tell you which varieties of fruit trees will thrive in your hardiness zone.
Size of fruit trees makes a difference to what will “fit” at your home. The size a tree grows to — dwarf, semi-dwarf or standard — depends on its rootstock, but also how you prune it. All trees grow full-size fruit and most will produce fruit in two to five years from when you plant it.
If a small, front yard is the only potential site for a fruit tree, plant a dwarf fruit tree and be the envy of your neighbors. You can keep it pruned to a beautiful “vase-shape” or a space-saving “central leader” (see my blog, Fruit Tree Pruning Basics.)
If your backyard could use a tree for shade, then plant a semi-dwarf fruit tree or a standard fruit tree. If you have a lawn, turn it into an orchard! By caring for fruit trees instead of mowing grass, you’ll be investing in your own health while providing habitat for other species.
Choosing between heirloom and disease-resistant fruit tree is next. Some believe that growing disease-resistant varieties is necessary to grow beautiful fruit without chemicals. After growing both heirloom and disease-resistant fruit trees, I’ve found that both can result in healthy trees and beautiful fruit. I’ll describe the holistic methods that make this possible in later blogs.
I’ve found that the down-side of the newer apple varieties is that they lack the flavor of the treasured heirlooms like Granny Smith, Golden Delicious and Cortland. Newer varieties of fruit trees may be bred for disease-resistance, but are also designed to meet the demands of commercial growers for easier shipping and appearance, rather than flavor.
Find out if your fruit tree needs another tree as a pollinator before making your final decisions. Not all fruit trees do, but as someone who has waited seven years for our first pear, I wish we realized sooner that it needed a pollinator tree!
Apple trees often need specific pollinator trees too, but interestingly, crab apples will pollinate most other apple trees. If you don’t have a specific pollinator for your apple tree, plant a crab apple tree within 100 feet or graft a branch from a crab apple tree to it. This will keep your apple trees bearing well.
It’s important where you buy your fruit trees because getting the right fruit tree in excellent condition from a knowledgeable source is essential to get off to a healthy start and have long-term success. You may live with your trees for decades, so your original choice is important.
Resist the convenience of buying potted fruit trees from a chain store. A bare-root tree from a reputable nursery will grow faster and have a better chance of success. I have no local fruit tree nursery but have had decades of success from StarkBro’s (www.StarkBros.com). If you hear of a smaller nursery that sells healthy, bare-root trees that also have known rootstock and are knowledgeable of what will thrive in your area, buy from them!
Planting and caring for fruit trees require so little effort compared to the decades of pleasure and fruit they provide. My next blog will discuss how to plant and care for your new fruit trees.
Mary Lou Shaw, a retired physician who emphasized preventive medicine, is now homesteading with her husband in Ohio. Besides growing their own food, the pair help preserve genetics and knowledge needed by others to foster rare breeds. They have a large garden and orchard, Dorking chickens, Narragansett turkeys, Dutch Belted cows and bees. Buy Mary Lou's book, Growing Local Food, through Carlisle Press at 800-852-4482. Read all of Mary Lou's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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