By Emily Folk
Fruit trees can be a sweet addition to any farm, ranch or garden. Because most fruit trees produce annually and require relatively little attention, they can be a smart investment. With the proper care, your trees will provide fruit for your family, friends or customers for years to come.
Though it can be tempting to plant your fruit tree and forget about it until harvest time, taking proper care of your tree throughout the year is essential to having a healthy, bountiful crop. Luckily, raising a strong tree from a seedling to a full-grown plant is easy, as long as you remember these basic rules and guidelines.
Choose the Right Tree for Your Area
Growing a productive fruit tree begins with selecting the right variety for your area’s climate. Apples, cherries, peaches and citrus fruits are all great options, but some fruits will only thrive in certain environments.
Most varieties of apples are hardy fruits that can handle cold weather and adapt to different soil pH levels. In contrast, citrus fruits like oranges need warmer weather and struggle to survive if temperatures drop below freezing.
To pick the right fruit tree for you, do your research and consult with your local nursery. When you purchase a tree, check recommended growing areas for its variety.
Be Gentle With Young Trees
When you’ve decided on a variety, make sure to choose a healthy, young tree. Avoid trees with roots that have been dried out or damaged, and try to pick trees that are not leaning one way or the other, as a bend in the trunk could worsen as the tree grows.
After you purchase one or more young fruit trees, you’ll have to prepare to plant them. If you are going to wait a week or two before planting, you need to take good care of your trees to prevent them from dying. Spray the roots with water to keep them damp, and when moving or handling the tree, be gentle to avoid damaging the roots.
Plant Trees Properly
To give your trees a strong start, you need to plant them properly in an area that gets plenty of sunlight and has good soil drainage.
A good guide to planting your fruit tree is to prioritize the spreading of the roots. Dig a hole about twice the size of the tree’s root bundle and loosen the dirt around the sides and bottom of the hole to allow the tree to take root quickly. Create a mound of dirt inside the hole and set the tree on top, spreading the roots over it gently.
Check to make sure that the graft line of the tree is at least three inches above the ground. This line is the visible mark where the nursery has grafted the variety of fruit tree you’re growing onto the sturdier base of another tree. It is essential to keep the graft line exposed and above ground. If you bury the graft line, the tree may produce the wrong kind of fruit.
Once you’re sure you have planted the tree at the correct depth, fill the hole, adding an inch or two extra around the base.
Encourage Good Pollination
Though many types of trees are self-pollinating, good cross-pollination is still necessary for a good fruit yield. You can encourage pollination by planting compatible varieties of trees and adding flowers that attract bees nearby.
If you are concerned that your trees aren’t getting pollinated naturally, you can pollinate them by hand as well.
Prune Trees Annually
Pruning branches is essential to the maintenance of your fruit tree. Overgrown arms can block sunlight from other fruit-bearing branches, and dead, broken or diseased branches can sap the energy your tree needs to grow and produce.
The ideal method of pruning your tree will depend on the kind of fruit you’re growing. Some shapes work for some trees, but not others. In general, pruning dead branches during February and March prevents disease and infestation and promotes a healthy tree.
Don’t Let Fruit Go to Waste
Part of owning a fruit tree requires managing the crop. If your tree produces too much fruit in one year, it could change to yield only every two years. Furthermore, the more fruit sits on a tree at the same time, the smaller the fruit will be. Trim away fruit from overcrowded trees and clear diseased and fallen fruit from the tree’s branches and the surrounding ground to prevent pest infestations and ensure good future yields.
By following these simple guidelines and understanding the necessary maintenance for the kind of tree you’re growing, your fruit trees will continue to be healthy and productive.
About the author: Emily is a sustainability writer and avid gardener. You can read more of her work on her site, Conservation Folks, where she writes about helping tomorrow’s planet today.