Producing Tree Fruit for Home Use

— Written By Susan Condlin and last updated by
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One of the best gardening months of the entire year is January. This is an ideal month to plant fruit trees. This article tells you what to consider before planting fruit trees. Next week, the Garden Guide Article will tell you how to plant your trees, and how to take care of them to ensure many seasons of enjoyment. Growing tree fruit in the home garden or yard can be a rewarding pastime. However, careful planning, preparation, and care of the trees are essential for success.

Most garden outlets get their new selection of these trees during the winter, so you get the pick of the crop. Plus, because the trees are dormant, they transplant with a minimum amount of set-back. Fruit crops that can be grown in North Carolina include apples, Asian pears, figs, nectarines, peaches, pears, pecans, persimmons, and plums. Tree fruits that are not included in the list may grow in North Carolina, but few consistently produce quality fruit. For example, apricot and cherry trees can grow in certain areas where the climate is favorable, but they must be carefully managed and usually do not bear fruit consistently.

Note also that different crops require different levels of management. Low-management crops such as pecans, figs, and persimmons require little attention to training, fertility, or insect and disease control. On the other hand, peaches and plums require intensive management.

Selecting a good site for your fruit trees is crucial to their success. A number of factors should be considered. Fruit trees should not be planted in areas shaded by houses, buildings, or other trees. They also should not be planted near fences or hedges, as these keep cold air trapped around young trees.

Plant fruit trees in well-drained and fairly fertile soil. Avoid poorly drained soils. A tree’s root system grows throughout the year. Water that remains standing in the root zone (18 to 24 inches deep) at any time during the year can drown the tree. During the growing season, standing water can drown some types of fruit trees in just three days. Poorly drained soils also promote the growth of root rot organisms.

When poorly drained soils cannot be avoided, planting the trees in raised beds may alleviate problems. Shaping well-drained topsoil into beds 18 to 24 inches high and 4 to 5 feet wide forms the beds. Raised beds have been used successfully in both backyard and commercial orchards. Trees grown in raised beds must be irrigated more frequently during the growing season because the beds present a larger exposed surface area from which water can evaporate.

Ideally, the soil pH should be around 6.5, but North Carolina soils are more typically acidic. Acidic soils reduce the amount of nutrients available to the trees. When this happens, fertilization does not benefit the trees but results in runoff or leaching. To alleviate the problem, it will be necessary to add lime to the soil to increase the soil pH. Before planting, collect soil samples for analysis. Soil samples should be taken from two depths; the first from the top 8 inches of soil and the second from the 9- to 16-inch depth. Instructions on collecting and submitting soil samples and for the necessary forms and sample boxes can be picked up at the Lee County Center. Test results will be returned to you with recommendations for fertilization and liming. Once the test results have been received, the soil should be amended with the recommended materials, which should be worked into the soil before trees are planted.

Adequate air drainage is as important as proper water drainage. In North Carolina, spring frosts and freezes are common, and a small difference in elevation can mean the difference between a full crop and no crop at all. Avoid low sites, which are commonly known as frost pockets.

Nematodes are microscopic worms that live in the soil. Several types of fruit trees, including peach, plum, and figs, can be damaged or destroyed by nematodes. Nematodes are present in sandy soils but usually not a problem in clay soils. An inexpensive soil test can be conducted to check for nematodes. For information, contact the Lee County Center of North Carolina Cooperative Extension.

After selecting the fruit and the planting site, you must choose the variety of fruit to plant. Novice growers often try to plant the same varieties that they see at their local grocery stores. Many times, however, these fruit are produced in areas with different climatic conditions from those in North Carolina. The result, at best, is fruit that looks much different than expected. At worst, the variety will fail to produce a crop. Some of the fruit varieties recommended for North Carolina include: apples – Gala, Ginger Gold, Jonagold, Empire, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Crispin (Mutsu), Stayman, Rome, Fuji; figs – Celeste, Brown Turkey, Brunswick/Magnolia (for preserves), Greenish, Marseille; nectarines – Summer Beaut, Sunglo, Redgold, Flavortop, Fantasia, Carolina Red; peaches – Redhaven, Norman, Carolina Belle (white-fleshed), Winblo, Contender, Summer Pearl (white-fleshed), Cresthaven, Encore, Legend; pears – Moonglow, Magness (not a pollen source], Kieffer, Harrow Delight, Harrow Sweet, Harvest Queen, Seckel; pecans – Cape Fear and Pawnee, Stuart, Forkert, Sumner, Kiowa, Gloria Grande; persimmons – Fuyu, Jiro, Hanagosho (Only large-fruited Oriental persimmons are recommended for North Carolina); plums – Methley (self-fruitful), Byrongold, Burbank, Ozark Premier, Bluefre, Stanley, Shrophire (Damson).

A Peach Production Workshop will be offered January 26, 2015 from 1:00 – 4:00 p.m. at the Sandhills Research Station in Jackson Springs. Much of the workshop will be driven by questions from those in attendance but will cover proper and precise pesticide application as well as young tree training and management and mature tree pruning. If you would like more information about this workshop, please contact our office at 919-775-5624.

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