Fruit tree season is right around the corner! Dormant trees arrive in garden centers and hardware stores in January.
We tend to get certain questions over and over each season. Usually, gardeners want to know: How easy is it to grow? What do I have to do? Do I need two types? When will they produce? So here are some crib notes about each type of fruit. There are charts, lists of varieties, and detailed articles on our website, www.redwoodbarn.com.
Kind of a hassle because you get worms in the fruit (codling moth). If you don’t spray several times, most of your fruit will be wormy. If you do spray, a lot of it still might be wormy. But not every fruit is wormy; we quickly learn to cut into an apple before we eat it! Red apples generally don’t do well here.
* Tolerant of wet soil and lawn watering (unlike most fruit trees). Fruit borne on spurs which take a couple of years to form. Very upright growth habit; prune for size control. Watch for fireblight around the bloom season and prune it out.
Crabapples, including those grown for fruit, grow quite readily here. Same notes.
Frustrating: Blossoms are prone to brown rot, a fungus that destroys them before they set fruit. Trees must be sprayed while coming into bloom, and in wet springs you still may not get fruit. Even the resistant variety (Harcot) can get it, depending on how rainy it is. Rainy spring can mean zero fruit. Commercial growers have to spray a lot.
* Fruit on spurs, which take a couple of years to form. Broad habit: prune for size control.
Aprium was an early introduction in the hybrid fruit category, an apricot/plum cross. Superceded by pluots (see below), but still available. Like a rich-flavored apricot with plum overtones.
Easy, except they need good drainage. Fruit is not infested by SWD (see sweet cherries). Lovely spreading trees produce cherries over a few weeks. Very rich flavor, but tart.
* Fruit on spurs, which take a couple of years to form.
We no longer recommend sweet cherries here. Spotted wing drosophila infests the fruit with worms. It’s utterly gross, and it is not a manageable pest for homeowners. Sorry.
Zero maintenance. Plant it and wait. Figs produce two crops a year. Smaller variety Blackjack probably easiest for most people.
* Fruit on new wood and new growth.
Vines take over your yard unless you train and prune them. Fruit is small, but very flavorful; thin clusters to increase size. A few manageable pest problems. Fruit on last year’s growth.
* Pruning varies by type, but is pretty severe in any case. Good news: You won’t hurt the vines, pretty much no matter what you do. Incredibly vigorous.
Very easy! Birds like them even more than you do. Growing as a bush makes it easier to protect the fruit. Other than that: zero maintenance. Very rich, sweet flavor.
Mild-flavored fruit, prolific, attracts birds. Weeping form makes great landscape feature.
Easy to get good fruit, but you must prune severely to prevent overproduction, and it helps to spray to reduce peach leaf curl. Nectarine fruit is more readily blemished by harmful fungus (rust, brown rot, shothole) than peaches.
* Fruit on last year’s growth (“new wood”), easily recognized by red color of the wood (important to know when you’re pruning).
Pear, European and Asian
Tolerant of wet soil, lawn watering. Fireblight causes dieback. Prune it out when you see it! Some European types are resistant. Worms sometimes get in fruit. Some Asian pears need pollenizers.
Zero maintenance. Plant and wait. Some fruit drops all season as it is developing, and ripe fruit is messy. So don’t plant it where that matters.
* Most common types: Fuyu (flat on bottom; firm for fresh eating) or Hachiya (elongated; squishy for cooking, later ripening).
Plums, Japanese and European (including prune plums)
Plums have become favorites because they’re so easy. Prune for size control, especially the strong sprouts that head for the sky.
* Fruit on spurs. Prune older trees to reduce fruit load. Get self-fruitful types, or make sure you have the right pollenizer. Spraying not needed. Aphids are common. Just blast them off with water.
Plum-apricot hybrids that are most like plums in flavor. Getting the right pollenizer is important. As easy as plums.
Zero maintenance. Tolerates heat and drought. No pruning needed. Just plant it and wait three to four years.
* Large shrub, trainable as a tree. Abundant production no matter what you do. Flavor is best in full sun.
Very easy. Tolerates wet soil. Very pretty blossoms. Multi-trunk large shrub or small tree. Expect lots of fruit from an established plant.
Reasonable-sized tree for home gardeners: 10 to 20 feet tall, depending on variety. No special needs.
Huge trees, lovely for shade but each has some drawbacks. Allelopathy from walnut roots and leaves; poor branch angles and aphids on pecans. Best for rural areas.
Vigorous vines, much like grapes. Quickly covers a fence or arbor. Very attractive foliage. You need at least one male vine, for up to six female vines. Tricky to establish; the young vines benefit from some shade and ample water.
* Yield usually begins in three to five years; established vines may produce several grocery sacks of fruit.
Blackberries and boysenberries are very easy here. The only issue is they may get away from you by sprawling and then rooting. Train up off the ground on stakes, wires, or along a fence. They also spread slowly and steadily by underground rhizomes.
* Fruit on last year’s growth only. Prune it out when you finish harvesting, take that moment to tie up the new growth, and you won’t have a problem.
* Raspberries aren’t happy about our hot, dry climate. Most people just don’t get good yields. Try them where they get plenty of moisture and a little afternoon shade.
Don’t like our water: these plants need lots of organic material and acidic soil. Apply soil sulfur, heavily amend the soil (or grow in a barrel), give plenty of water, and fertilize regularly.
* Small to medium-sized shrubs. Plant a couple of types close to each other.
January is when dormant fruit trees arrive at garden centers. Local sources include Davis Ace, Redwood Barn Nursery and Three Palms Nursery in Davis, as well as Youngmark’s in Woodland, and Lemuria Nursery outside of Dixon. Each carries a different set of varieties based on experience, local preferences and demand. Generally good selection into late February, and many are available growing in pots in the spring and summer.
Citrus trees don’t come bareroot, because they never go dormant.
Cane: In grapes, a long branch. In berries, a long shoot
New growth = This season’s growth: Figs fruit on new wood and old wood
New wood = Last season’s growth: Peaches fruit on new wood
Old wood = Growth from season before last: Spurs are old wood
Pollenizer: Another variety of the same fruit type needed for fruit production
Pollinator: The bee or other animal that carries the pollen
Spurs: Short branches with buds close together, flower and fruit year after year
— Don Shor and his family have owned the Redwood Barn Nursery since 1981. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Archived articles are available on The Enterprise website, and they are always available (all the way back to 1999) on Shor’s business website, www.redwoodbarn.com