Guest post by Susan Poizner
Looking to grow some fruit trees? Fantastic! Like other trees, fruit trees are great for the environment – they clean our air and they stabilize our soil. And by eating locally grown fruit we cut down on the environmental cost of importing fruit from far away. A mature fruit tree can produce up to 500 pounds (226 kg) of fruit a year - enough fruit to feed you and your family, with lots left over to share around. Growing healthy fruit trees can help you save money on your organic grocery bills. And best of all? They taste great!
But if growing fruit trees is such a great idea, why are so many people disappointed after planting them? Sometimes the fruit looks wormy and doesn’t taste good. Sometimes the tree is messy and suffers from pest and disease problems. And yet, you can save time and money, and grow fruit trees successfully right from the start simply by doing your research early on.
A good place to start is to learn the three mistakes that new growers make – and how you can avoid them!
Mistake Number 1: Planting the Wrong Fruit Trees!
Often, aspiring orchardists decide they want to plant a fruit tree and what do they do? They rush off to the garden centre to buy a tree that produces familiar varieties of fruit - like Bartlett Pears or McIntosh Apples.
The problem is that many commercially available fruit tree varieties are vulnerable to common fruit tree pest and disease problems and so most growers help them along by spraying them regularly with toxic pesticides and fungicides. Needless to say, this is not ideal for the home or organic grower.
In contrast, specialist fruit tree nurseries have a wider selection of trees – many of them hardy and disease-resistant varieties – and you can choose one that is best suited to your unique needs and conditions. It’s important to do some research to find the right tree. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Can the tree survive in your climate zone?What rootstock was the tree grafted on to and how large will it be at maturity?What are the tree’s pollination requirements? Some trees need to be planted in twos and threes in order to produce fruit. Is the tree resistant to the types of fruit tree diseases that are prevalent in your community?
The good news is that fruit tree nurseries ship their trees in the post so even if you can’t find one nearby, you can still order trees from a nursery in another state or province. For a list of fruit tree nurseries in North America, click here: http://urbanfruittree.com/free-nursery-list
Mistake Number 2: Not Pruning Your Tree
We all know fruit trees that look like they need a serious “haircut”. The problem is that messy, unpruned trees don’t just look bad, but they become a magnet for pest and disease problems. Fruit trees need good air circulation in order to thrive. Correct annual pruning also helps you create a solid, fruit-bearing structure for your tree that will last a lifetime. Here are a few hints about fruit tree pruning:
Correct annual pruning starts from the year you plant your tree. Young trees have softer branches and so it is easier to create a great shape for your tree that will last a lifetime.Winter or early spring is usually the best time to prune your tree as it gives your fruit tree a burst of energy for the growing season.Fruit tree pruning is very different from pruning a native or ornamental tree so make sure you research correct pruning techniques.Prune boldly, but correctly. If you don’t know what you’re doing you can harm your tree more than help it, so be sure to sign up for a fruit tree pruning workshop near you
Mistake Number 3: Ignoring Pest and Disease Symptoms
Many of us are members of the “Hope for the best” school of fruit tree care. In this school, we may notice strange things happening to our fruit trees – like spots on the leaves, or goopy stuff oozing out of wounds on the bark or branches – and we ignore these things, hoping that the tree will somehow get better on its own.
The truth is that when you are growing fruit trees organically, it’s easier to prevent pest and disease problems than to cure these problems once they have already spread all over your tree and to other trees in your neighbourhood.
Pest and disease prevention doesn’t have to be complicated. Depending on the problems, you will use simple tools like pruning, insect traps, and organic sprays. Here are some tips for preventing pests and disease:
Monitor your trees every week and look for and take note of changes or problems.If you see a problem, be sure to research it online or talk about it with your local expert or mentor.
Once you have identified the problem, be quick about implementing a solution as pest and disease problems can spread quickly both within the tree and to other trees nearby.
Don’t be scared to find out what the problem is! Sometimes the solution can be as easy as just pruning a diseased branch off a tree and carefully disposing of the branch.
Consider taking a workshop on fruit tree pests and disease while your tree is still young and healthy. You’ll learn what problems to look for and how to deal with them when they arise.
The moral of the story: When it comes to fruit trees, there is always more to learn!
So many people assume that growing fruit trees is easy. You just plant your tree, water it, and wait for the harvest. The truth is that once your tree is in the ground there still is some work to do to keep it healthy and happy. Make an effort to learn the key fruit tree care skills – including how to evaluate your site and research your trees, correct planting and young tree care, winter and summer pruning, pest and disease prevention, and soil and nutrition management.
What you will discover over the years is that the better you care for your trees, the more they will give back to you – by providing you and your family with an abundant harvest that you can enjoy for many years to come.
Susan Poizner is an urban orchardist and the author of the award-winning fruit tree care book Growing Urban Orchards. She is also the creator of the online fruit tree care training program, and the host of The Urban Forestry Radio Show and Podcast which covers fruit trees, food forests, permaculture and arboriculture. Susan teaches Fruit Production at Niagara College in Ontario.