By The Old House Web


Selecting the perfect fruit tree for home growing is a difficult process and requires quite a bit of forethought. Shopping for trees takes some time and effort, which is paid off by beautiful, healthy trees.

There are many methods of obtaining trees. For a less serious grower, general gardening catalogs may offer a handful of varieties and the option of dwarfing or non- dwarfing. Local garden centers also offer a limited selection, some-times at fairly low prices. These trees may be leftovers from fruit nurseries, which accounts for their bargain prices. They generally take longer to produce but may be adequate, depending on the needs of the grower.

Specialty Fruit Catalog's are an option that generally yield a higher quality of tree. Many catalogs that sell to commercial orchard growers will sell to homeowners. While the cost may be more per individual tree, the superior selection offered is well worth it. These catalogs should be read with care; it is important to understand the jargon used in the catalogs when selecting a tree.

Many catalogs do not discuss fruit pollination to any extent, so it is essential to have some knowledge of pollination when selecting trees. Often, the right combination of varieties are necessary for the trees to produce fruit.

Self-fruitful trees will pollinate themselves and do not need other trees nearby in order to set their fruit. Some of these trees include: Peaches, Sour Cherries, and Nectarines. Self-unfruitful trees require cross- pollination from another tree or a different variety in order to set fruit. This different variety can be on the same property or on one nearby - the distance bees will carry the pollen depends on the weather (they are more active in a warm and sunny spring). Self-unfruitful trees include apples, sweet cherries and nectarines.

Most apples are partially self-fruitful and will set some fruit off their own pollen, however these varieties will set more fruit if cross-pollinated another variety. When cross-pollinating, it is important to select one that blooms at about the same time so that the pollen will be available. Nearby crabapple trees can also provide pollen without affecting fruit quality, although seeds from these apples may develop into trees with crabapple characteristics.

There are two main types of plums, and they will not pollinate each other, as their bloom periods overlap. European plums are partially self-fruitful but will produce a heavier crop if they are cross-pollinated, and Japanese plums are self-unfruitful with the exception of Methley.

Not only are Sweet Cherries self-unfruitful; certain cherries will pollinate some varieties but not others. However, sour cherries will cross-pollinate with any sweet cherry, are more winter hardy, and in many springs may produce when the sweet cherry will not.

Any pear variety will pollinate another pear variety, with the exception of Kieffer.

Standard or Normal Sized trees vary in size, according to species and variety. Apples generally grow the largest- some varieties reaching 25 to 30 ft and even larger without pruning. These large trees may produce 20 bushels of fruit, but their large size makes pruning, spraying and harvesting more difficult. When purchasing trees, always assume the tree is of standard size unless otherwise noted.

Dwarf Trees take up less space in the landscape and are easier to prune, spray and harvest (their small size allows this to be done from the ground or a stepladder). Although they bear less per tree than the standard tree, they Will actually produce more fruit per square foot of space taken up by the tree. These attributes make Dwarf trees a good choice for the home grower who wants variety but has limited space.

Dwarfing is expressed as a percentage of the original standard size of that variety. There are three factors which affect dwarfing: rootstocks, interstems, and spur characteristics.

Most fruit trees are created by grafting a shoot or bud of the desired variety onto a separate root system. Called a rootstock, this may change the resulting plant's characteristics by adding a hardiness, an ability to adapt to certain soils, dwarfing or disease resistance. Not all catalogs list the types of rootstocks used.

Unless otherwise specified, trees are usually grafted onto seedling rootstocks. This process may impart added hardiness and possibly some disease resistance to the plant. Seedling rootstocks usually produce a standard size tree and are most commonly used with peach, plum and cherry trees. Peaches and plums grafted on Saint Julien or Damas rootstock are about 80% standard size, while cherries on Mahaleb rootstock are the most winter hardy. Pears also grown on seedling rootstock; they are produced on quince rootstocks and grow to about 50% standard size.

Clonal Rootstocks are propagated asexually, rather than from seed. While this process tends to increase the cost involved, it also insures that each rootstock is like the original, with its original characteristics. Apples offer the most variety in Clonal rootstocks, for example: the Malling IX grows to 40% standard size, requires fertile soil and irrigation, needs trellising, and requires very specific cultural conditions. The Malling 26 grows to 50% standard size, and is even more dwarf when combined with a spur variety. When growing this variety, staking is advised and it is noted that this variety will not tolerate clay soils or poor drainage and is susceptible to fireblight. The Malling VIIa reaches to 60% standard size with moderately spreading form. It is winter hardy and virus resistant, but develops suckers and will not tolerate light, droughty, sandy soils. The Malling 106 is about 70% standard heigth, with a moderately spreading form. This variety tolerates lightly droughty, sandy soils and rarely suckers, but is prone to early winter damage. The Malling 111 grows to 75% standard size with upright form and wide crotch angles. It is drought resistant and the best rootstock for heavy soils.

Interstem is a term not not a term commonly seen in most homeowner catalogs, but is discussed in most commercial fruit catalogs. Trees with interstems have been grafted to a rootless piece of rootstock (the interstem) which is then grafted to another variety of rootstock. Although they may be more difficult to establish, these varieties combine the characteristics inherent in both the interstem and the rootstock. The interstem technique of grafting is most commonly used on apples.

Spur-type branching is most common in many apple and pear varieties. These trees develop small shoots every few inches along the branches, upon which leaves and fruits form. Spur varieties are generally 60-80% standard size and may bear as much fruit as larger trees, due to the larger number of fruiting sites. Spur varieties also require less pruning, as they are naturally more open.

There are several new disease resistant varieties:

The apple varieties Prima, Priscella, Redfree, Jonafree and Liberty are resistant to apple scab, a common fungal disease that can cause leaf drop and fruit disfiguration. While this disease can be controlled with fungicide, plants that require less spraying saves on labor and cost.

Fireblight is a common problem of pears and apples. It is difficult to control, as it is a bacterial disease. A home grower should reconsider any variety that is listed as susceptible to this disease and check into any new, comparable varieties which may have been developed that are resistant to this problem. When choosing trees for the home orchard, it is always wise to pay attention to any information regarding disease resistance.


"How to Select the Perfect Fruit Tree" by Nancy J. Butler Weed'em and Reap- Cooperative Extension Service-MSU

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