Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Fruit Trees in Early Spring

Ill-fated peach tree in 2007. I did get about a dozen peaches each fall.

Anything that I can have as a perennial and ornamental foodstuff in my home garden, what I refer to as my potager, is all good. If it is sweet, all the better.

Over the last ten years as I have developed my landscape around my tiny home I have added a strawberry bed (that central Wisconsin sand is good for something!), a cherry tree, an apple tree, grape vines, rhubarb, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, a pear tree, herbs, asparagus, and an apricot tree.

I even grew a short-lived peach, as pictured above.

In addition to ornamental, perennial, fruiting, self-pollinating when possible, dwarf stock in my .15 acre lot is highly preferable.

As often as possible, I have planted dwarf varieties or cultivars grafted to dwarfing root stock. For some fruits, dwarf is not part of the vocabulary. Enter my saw and handy pruner. So yesterday, with beautiful weather (in the mid-60s), I began my regular "winter pruning" (yes, I am behind!) of some of my fruit trees that are not so dwarf.

One of the mistakes I made with the peach tree was attempting to bend it to my will, particularly to the shape of a flat fan against the wall of my tiny home. Peach trees grow best if trained in an open vase-like structure. Attempting to grow them flat gives up over half of your possible fruiting spurs. The other mistake was planting against my house at the exact spot kept warm by a standing gas pilot on my stove.

At first thought, this may seem like a good idea to all of your adventurous fruit growers trying to hack your zone. Not. What happens is the tree thinking about blooming a few days ahead of when it should given possible freezing night time temperatures. My advice to you is to plant on a south slope or in the open, but in a location where the north or northwest winds will not cause unduly harm, and not to plant in a swale.

Because peaches are not grown here in central Wisconsin, it didn't help that I started out with a far less than perfect specimen bought on fall clearance for ten bucks. The structure, to begin with, was bad. In even the best of situations, peaches are a short lived tree and begin bearing fruit much too young, before they have the structure to support it. When my peach blossomed and started showing swelling fruit the next spring on a poorly branched whip. I felt much like the Mormon mother of a pregnant 10-year-old daughter must feel. Part of me wanted to pluck off the swelling fruit, the rest of me could not bear to do so. Fruit growing is not for the weak of heart. Even on mature fruiting trees, it is a good idea to thin out your fruit, especially the clusters of three or four to just one every 3" to 6" or even a foot.

So after my experience with the peach, I decided to try a self-pollinating apricot instead. Yesterday, pruners in hand, I cut back my apricot to just one bud above the beginning of last year's growth. This is placing my apricot at about six feet high. The space I have allotted for my apricot 'Moorpark' is about six feet wide. I can see the numerous fruiting spurs running very close along all the branches of the older wood. Apricots bloom on 2-year old or older wood.

Over the next couple days I will be pruning other fruit trees and caring for the other small fruits in my potager. The family garden also has a lot of small fruits and cherries so I have lots to tell. I recently picked up this book, Growing Fruit . Although not specific to central Wisconsin, when choosing cultivars for fruit trees and small fruits, this can be a great resource. It also has a great deal of information on diseases and growing tips for first-time growers. Between marketing hype and poor selection by buyers that also stock boards, nails, and lamps at your local big box store where they are also selling fruit trees, this book might be a good first stop on selecting appropriate cultivars for your own growing conditions.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I have actually bought this book. And, if you click on the link to and buy it there I probably make like ten cents. Are we all good, now?)

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