Successfully growing fruit trees at home is achievable for home gardeners of all skill levels and provides an excellent complement to your vegetable and herb gardening efforts.
However, growing them demands steady attention throughout the year, most of which occurs early in the growing season. Pruning and applying organic fertilizers will take up the lion’s share of your tree-tending time, both of which usually happen before growth starts when the tree is dormant.
If you’re new to fruit growing, head over to our Planting Fruit Trees page before reading below.
For their first year, fruit trees will need lots of watering as their roots are not fully developed. Water weekly if there has not been rain. Remember that a tree needs much more water than ordinary garden plants… around 5 gallons (19 litres) per week.
If you live in a dry climate, watering needs to continue during any dry spells. In climates that see plenty of rainfall, an established tree should need little watering, except during droughts.
Many types of tree fruit benefit from thinning, particularly plums, apples and pears. While it’s tempting to keep as much fruit on the tree as possible, too much fruit on a tree will limit full size and taste potential of the whole bunch. Not thinning can also result in some varieties only providing you with fruit every two years (biennial bearing).
Thinning will also help to ensure that branches do not break due to excessive weight as the fruits mature.
When thinning, you can either pick fruit off by hand or use a pair of sharp, clean pruning shears. Look for any diseased or misshapen fruit and remove these first. Then aim to have at least 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 cm) of space between each fruit.
Most fruit should be picked when fully ripe. There are exceptions, though. For example, pears can be picked before they’re ripe and put into brown paper bags to ripen. This is really helpful to home growers that want a steady stream of ripe pears.
To test if a tree fruit is ripe, twist it on the branch. If it comes off easily into your hand, it’s ready for picking. Sometimes your fruit trees will give you a nudge, since their fruit will begin to fall of the tree if not picked in time.
When picking, check each fruit to ensure that it’s healthy. Storing fruit that is damaged or diseased will increase the chances of your whole harvest rotting.
If stored correctly, some tree fruit may last for weeks or even months.
For fruit-specific details, see our Fruit Growing Guides.
And remember, lots of tree fruits can be made into preserves or juices for storage over the winter. Tree fruits such as apples, cherries, peaches and plums will all freeze after their cores or stones have been removed.
The best way to tell if your fruit tree has all its necessary nutrients is to check for leaf discoloration. In this case, use organic fertilizers such as compost or farmyard manure. These are slow to release their nutrients and should be applied in late winter or early spring.
When applying, don’t just put a deep application of compost or manure around the tree trunk. Use a sharp stick to mark the ground around the tree underneath the width of its branches. Evenly apply a mulch of 3 or 4 inches (7 to 10 cm) over this area.
Even if you’ve thinned your fruit tree correctly, you may still have heavily cropping branches. These branches become more and more likely to become strained as the fruit swells during the season, especially if your tree is young.
Check your branches for stems that are bending under the strain of the weight. If there are only one or two that look overly laden, you can tie them to other stronger branches.
If the entire plant is affected, you’ll need to create an additional support. Tie a wooden pole to the main tree trunk. Tie one end of a length of garden twine to the branch and the other to the central pole so that the pole bears some of the weight.If you select varieties that are suitable for your area, frost shouldn’t cause too many problems. But if you happen to suffer from sustained freezing weather, it’s possible to cover smaller fruit trees to protect them with garden fleece wrapped around branches. Assuming the temperature rises above freezing during the day, remove the fleece during daylight hours to allow air circulation.
If you suffer heavy snow, carefully dislodge it from the branches as soon as you area able, as allowing snow to build up may result in branches snapping. This is undesirable for two reasons…
It will take a tree a couple of years to grow new branches that can bear fruit.
Open breaks in the tree’s bark will also be susceptible to damage and disease.
Use garden netting to protect your trees’ buds and ripening fruit.
To keep your fruit trees disease-free, pruning during the correct season and using clean, sharp tools are essential. Pruning also helps increase air circulation which reduces a tree’s vulnerability to disease.
In addition, diseases will thrive in trees if areas become water logged and debris builds up. Make sure you clear the base of the tree regularly, particularly in the autumn when falling leaves and other garden waste may build up.
If your plant does suffer from pests and diseases, there are several problem-specific organic sprays that are available to home growers. Don’t spray more times than recommended within a growing season as this will negatively affect your fruit.
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