Three requirements for the right fruit tree

Just because your new fruit tree bloomed this spring doesn’t mean it will produce fruit. It all depends on the variety you chose and whether it’s reliable in your immediate microclimate. If you get it right, fruiting is a no-brainer, but if it’s not the right variety, you may never have a crop.

For example, the older apricots at the home I bought flower like crazy every year, the first to do so in my orchard. Inevitably it’s cold and rainy that early and the bees aren’t flying. No bees, no pollination. Despite water, pruning, fertilizer, etc., I never got a single apricot in 20 years. The previous owners definitely planted the wrong trees.

Choosing the right one is vital because you’ll invest years in its growth before you finally see a crop … or not. If the one you chose isn’t well adapted locally, it will languish, fail to flower, fail to fruit or fruit won’t ripen.

Here are three handy tips to help you get the right fruit tree for your yard this year. Look for these details on the grower’s tag attached to each tree.

Get season timing right. Fruit tree varieties are labeled early, midseason or late. This relates to the fruit yields but also to flowering times. In areas of late frost, choose late blooming varieties to ensure the weather is more settled and bees are flying when they bloom. If you live in a milder winter climate like Arizona or Florida where summers are super hot, then early bloomers are better so fruit can ripen while temps are below the century mark.

Check chilling requirements. Each kind of fruit has a need for winter cold, some such as cherries need a lot more winter cold. This is linked to dormancy because without enough cold the trees can’t “rest” in winter and lose vigor. They will finally fail, often when the bark is sunburn blistered from too small a canopy to shade itself. Know how many chilling hours your local climate produces in order to avoid those trees that ask for more than you can give.

Get the right size. Fruit trees are grafted in ways to make them smaller and better adapted to your backyard. The original full-sized trees are recommended where deer are a problem so eventually fruit is produced beyond their reach. Semi-dwarf trees are about 30 percent smaller, making the fruit more accessible where space is limited. They are also easier to pick and prune than standard sizes. Dwarf fruit trees are even smaller yet and make a fine choice for fruit in the heart of the city.

Independent garden centers that have been in your town a long time are the best places to buy fruit trees. These folks know the local climate and only order fruit trees that will grow well and fruit easily there. They can tell you why one variety may be better than another for where you’re planting, your soil, local winds, typical diseases (which are so common with peaches) and other characteristics well suited to their loyal clientele.

You may not find what you want in container fruit trees because they’re often left over from the big fruit tree sales earlier during bare root season. You can buy bare root too for a huge selection online. The catalogs online help you zero in on the right variety. They send the trees at the proper time for bare root planting in your area. It’s planted before things start growing in spring and some say they do far better in the long run.

Best part about bare root is they cost a fraction of the price you pay for just one container grown fruit tree. These are the best way to plant a backyard orchard too. So don’t risk it with unsuitable varieties, take your time and choose wisely and those trees will reward your efforts generously.

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Maureen Gilmer is an author, horticulturist and landscape designer. Learn more at www.MoPlants.com