The investment of planting a fruit tree is as old almost as gardening itself. You plant a young sapling and years later reap the rewards of tree ripened luscious fruits, and gain a great sense of satisfaction, not to mention the incomparable taste of tree ripened fruits!
The care of a young tree is pretty similar to the care of any newly planted plant in the garden. You plant the young tree, water it, and direct growth, and then you wait for the tree to mature and come into bearing. There are some simple initial steps to guide your new tree from the onstart of planting. Fruit trees are obtained in a couple ways. You either get them bareroot (with only the tree and its roots dug from the field and in a dormant state) or you plant an established tree from a container. Advantages to container planting are several. You get all the roots of the plant in the root ball of the container(not many of them left in the growing field as when you get bareroot trees). You can plant at any time of the year(they do not have to be dormant to plant.) And planting can be done at your leisure / circumstance if there is a delay with not ill effect to the plant since it is already growing in a container. Sometimes you get a time advantage as well since an established tree can bear fruit younger than a bareroot planted tree of the same age(it has to catch up in growth of both top growth and root growth in order to bear those first fruits).
Initial pruning is recommended for both sorts. You need to establish a strong framework of main branches which will in time support a heavy fruit crop. This translates into making stron structural guiding of those branches by spacing them at least 6-8″ apart and radiating those branches so they circle around the trunk. You also want to make wide branch angles (45 degrees is considered ideal). This is another structural detail. A narrow branching crotch is suceptible in later years to splitting off the main trunk, causing a huge scar and sometimes compromises the overall health of the tree since there could be a huge gaping scar. Wide angle branching is structually strong and can support much weight of the fruit crops to come.
So begin your initial pruning by lopping off the top from 18″ to perhaps 4 ft. The following growth will initiate below that cut and be vigorous and you can make your decisions as to which branches to keep for the mature framework of the tree, and which others to either cut off or cut back. (cutting back branches allows them to lose their dominance, yet still provide food making capacity with added leaves on those now smaller branches). cut off any dead or diseased wood anytime, making clean cuts with SHARP tools. Gopher baskets and wire netting for rabbits, netting for birds as well are all important in growing the crop so you can enjoy it, but do be kind and generous enough to let the birds and critters enjoy a few too!
If you decide to summer prune the trees to keep them short(the method I highly recommend as you do not need ladders to either do maintenance on the tree or harvest), you can pinch or prune the tips of growing shoots as they reach 6″-8″ or even up to 12″. Treated like this, that new supple growth acts like a hedge, continuing to grow from below that pinch, yet becoming more branched. Having a lot of low branches allows you to have freedom of selection as to which branches to keep and which to head back or prune out altogether. Bearing also is hastened with this method since instead of making a lot of structural vegetative growth, that energy now gets directed to making fruit production.
Don’t be put off by making any errors in pruning, the trees will grow again and you will have learned much knowledge by making mistakes! Do get a good gardening book(s) and pruning book if available.
In hot sun areas it is important to protect the more tender young trunk bark with either paint or sunscreen. That will prevent sunburn on that young trunk until it toughens up with thicker bark in age, or is shaded by the growing tree canopy.
In standard orchard pruning of the trees, you just keep directing growth to points further and further out away from the main branching and the trunk, allowing for a larger tree canopy.
It is important to identify the characteristics of each soil type. Sandy, loamy, clay, or adobe are all fine for tree planting, but have varying characteristics which you will need to understand in order to keep your tree doing its best. Drainage is fundamentally important. If the soil does not drain well, it will be fatal or detrimental to cherries, and less so but still important with peaches, nectarines, apricots. All others are less fussy about this and can tolerate wet roots for short periods while dormant, depending on which type of variety.
Direction of winds, frost pockets/low lying areas are also important to understand when you decide on planting location.
Some varieties like more warmth and winds will be detrimental to that situation. Staking before planting is important and set the stake in first on the windy side, then plant and tie the tree loosely to the stake with soft nonbinding ties so the trunk can move a little in the wind and that will make it become stronger in age.
Regular watering during the growing season are also important and light feeding may be appreciated if soil is on the poor side of fertility. *(a rule of thumb is that if you grow good weeds, you have fertile soil!)
Selection of fruit types and the varieties of each of those types is very rewarding. Many people prefer to get varieties which are outstanding in flavor, quality, but are not grown locally so available in stores/markets. Heirloom and antique varieties fall into this catagory, but do remember that anything you plant and grow will ALWAYS taste much better than anything you can buy, since you are picking at peak ripeness. The fruits will be at their highest maturity and fullness of flavor then. Some things like peaches, nectarines, apricots, pluots cannot be shipped when fully ripe…they are just too soft, so you never get to sample a spectacularly wonderfully tree ripened fruit unless you grow it yourself. (Alternately you have a very generous friend that will share some of their harvest so you can also parttake of the bounty of Nature!) I have tended to stop this in several instances since people can overdo it and just gobble everything up since they won’t get that kind of quality and flavor at the stores with thier commercial production fruits. (they are picked too green and not fully flavored and sugared up as mine are when fully ripe) And other fruits just do not ship when fully ripe, they are too tender. (If you shipped most peaches fully ripe, they would arrive at the stores bruised all over or else be almost like mush/jam consistency from being bumped around while trucked to market.)
Another point to mention is that you will know exactly what is or is not sprayed on your trees and their fruits if you grow your own.
If you make a small effort to look, you will be amazed at what choices there are in selection of fruits available to grow. I like to cover the season with early, midseason and late varieties, throwing in a few heirloom/antique varieties for added flavor in all types of fruits. Apples, apricots, apriums, citrus, nectarines, peaches, plums, plumcots, pluots, peachcots, persimmons, pears, quinces, pomergranites, and lesser companions like grapes, kiwis, blueberries, honeyberries, guavas, passion fruits, and so on.
And in this economy, it not only makes sense in a healthful way, but also an economic way since you don’t have to pay premium prices for fruits at the stores when your trees are in season. (andyour fruits will taste much better too) plus the satisfaction of growing them yourself!
Good luck and happy growing!
Erik’s Gardening Tips
Garden Delights Nursery