Caring for Fruit Trees

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I was eating lunch with a group of ‘gentlemen farmers’ the other day who were discussing their expectations from their fruit trees. Figs, plums, pears, blueberries, peaches, and more were discussed. While some had high expectations for a harvest, others just enjoyed having a small orchard even if the squirrels and other animals ate most of the fruit.

Whether you are a hobby grower or a commercial fruit producer, we should be keenly aware of the fact that each summer, we are responsible for two growing seasons worth of fruit: the current season and the one to come. As we care for the current year’s harvest, our attention to water, nutrients, and pest control will have a huge impact on the following year’s fruit production. So, we as homeowners, and perhaps amateur fruit producers, should also keep the long game in mind as we manage our trees.

Around the base of your trees and shrubs, weed control coupled with mulching is a crucial practice. A good rule of thumb is to eliminate weeds and mulch as wide as the drip line.

As you clear out the area at the base of the trees and shrubs, please note if any new sprouts are coming up beneath the grafted portion of your tree. If you find sprouts beneath the graft, then you should prune them out.

Sprouts from below the graft will be a similar fruit species to what was grafted onto it, but we do not know what variety it will be. Said another way, there was some type of citrus rootstock below your grafted citrus tree. There was some type of stone-fruit rootstock beneath your grafted peach tree. However, the rootstock was selected for its ability to withstand drought, insect, and disease pressure below the soil. It may very well produce an acceptable fruit but mind you it was not the one that you purchased for harvest at the nursery.

Up higher in the canopy, we should focus on the pruning and training of limbs. Pruning practices vary widely from one fruit species to another. Be sure to research your fruit tree and prune it correctly and at the correct time of year.

Since we never know what the rainfall will be, we need to have a plan in place to irrigate fruit trees during a dry spell. Even though the average annual rainfall has been 50 inches for the past 30 years in our part of East Texas, everyone knows that “average” can vary widely and drought may be just around the corner.

Lastly, disease and insect pressure must be kept in check. Commercial growers know quite well how to scout for insects and maintain a protective barrier against fungal infections. As for backyard orchards, a simple fix is the “fruit tree spray” that you can find at most any feed store or garden center.  Look for a fruit tree spray that has both an insecticide and fungicide in it to save you time with your number of applications. 

A tremendous website for Texas growers is Aggie Horticulture. Enter that in your search engine and select the fruit type that you are growing for an abundance of research-based information.

Do all this and you too may be a ‘gentleman farmer’ who grows fruit just for the enjoyment of seeing what you can produce from your own backyard.  

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