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Landscaping: Fruit Trees

Landscaping: Fruit Trees

Exterior renovationsLandscaping: Fruit Trees

Are you finally ready to tackle your landscaping project and the idea of planting a fruit tree beckons? After all, there is nothing better than enjoying fresh fruit harvested right in your backyard!

Still, deciding on the best type of tree for your yard among the wide variety of options is not to be taken lightly, especially since it will be there for decades to come.

Also, educating yourself on the care and maintenance of your tree may save you from unnecessary expenses; it would be annoying and frustrating should your plant die despite your best efforts or should you find that you do not have enough time to devote to it.

Basics of Fruit Trees

apple tree_fruit tree landscape designs

Source: Canva

Above all, it is crucial to select a species according to the overall condition of your yard. Although most trees seek optimal sunlight and well-drained soil, other criteria will directly influence growth, fruit production, and even the rest of your yard.

When purchasing, consider the following: 

  • Level of sunlight required;

  • Ideal soil composition (neutral or acidic);

  • Space needed to sustain a mature tree (note that potted plants are a possibility to save space);

  • Various nearby structures (e.g. to prevent roots from damaging a pipe or pavement).

There are two main classifications of fruit trees: Pome trees, such as apple and pear trees, and stone trees, such as cherry and plum trees. The latter are more delicate, so it is essential to limit pruning to every two to three years, as it is impossible for them to produce fruit on the same branch two years in a row. However, if you want to have fresh fruit every year, ensure that you preserve more branch-producing buds to have new sources to fertilize.

Some species will grow fruit from the pollen produced by the flowers themselves (self-fertile), while others will need a second tree nearby to be fertilized. There are also plants sold with two compatible trees grafted onto the same tree. If you are not at all familiar with the matter, it is preferable to purchase from small tree nurseries; the employees are well-trained and will be able to give you more information than in large department stores, all the while really assessing your needs.

Also worth knowing: You are required by law to prevent insects or diseases from spreading to your crops, especially if you sell or market your fruit. Some of the problems to watch out for include apple scab, codling moth, apple maggot, canker, fire blight, and pheromone attacks. Setting up a bait trap will help you determine what species are circling your plants and how to react. Ask your municipality about your obligations and required regulations.

How to Plant Fruit Trees or Fruiting Shrubs

While gardening during the spring or summer is often more fun and enjoyable, these periods are definitely not ideal for planting fruit trees or fruiting shrubs. Rising temperatures and droughts will ruin your chances of seeing your tree bloom. However, the end of November is a perfect time.

It may be worthwhile to protect your tree from rodents or wind with a plastic tree guard at the base of the trunk or a stake securely fastened with a wide tie; these can be removed after two years. If your fruit tree is of a dwarf variety, it is best to leave these devices in place for its entire life.

Planting a Container-Grown Tree

fruit tree

Source: Canva

Planting a container tree means your chosen tree was grown in a pot and is now at its final stage of growth. The pot also helps contain the entire root system, which will be much less harmful to the tree when you eventually replant it in your garden.

Aside from a somewhat steeper cost, there are benefits to this method. First, it allows you to plant these trees at a time other than in the fall. Second, there are countless choices, both in species and size. Lastly, the rooting success rate is higher than that of a bare-root tree.

Avoid the following when purchasing a container tree:

  • Rot and bunting at the roots;

  • Stained or insect-infested branches and leaves

  • Light or peat substrate (heavy and dense = quality).

Start by digging a hole. Ideally, it should be twice as wide and deep as the size of the root ball of your tree. Place the removed soil on a tarp or bag; this will make it easier to backfill!

To encourage rooting, lightly break apart the root ball, but avoid damaging the roots to ensure that they will spread more easily once the tree is planted. Then add a bit of mycorrhiza or fertilizer designed for rooting to the bottom of the cavity. To facilitate this step, soak the root ball in water beforehand, thus rendering it easier to work.

Lastly, position your tree in the centre of the hole dug in the soil. Note that if your soil is primarily clayey, you will need to position the branch collar higher than the soil level by creating a mound of soil.

Fill in the hole with soil and compost. Press down the area, water it generously, then add mulch. For subsequent waterings, sink about five centimetres of one finger into the soil. If the soil is still wet, there is no need to water your tree further.

Planting a Bare-Root Tree

fruit tree

Source: Canva

Contrary to the container-grown tree, the bare-root tree is grown in the ground before being dug up for resale. The roots are not contained in the ground inside a pot, therefore they are exposed to the elements.

You should plant your trees within two days of purchasing. Prior to doing so, remove any damaged or overgrown roots and soak the root ball in a tree-specific mixture to provide an ideal moisture level for rooting. This kind of mixture is often made of water, soil, and manure. Then, follow the same steps as previously described.

The tree trunk must be straight, so it is best to plant a bare-root tree with the help of another person. While one holds the tree, the other can backfill the hole.

Fruit Tree Care and Maintenance: When and How to Prune It?

fruit tree

Source: Canva

During the first five years of your tree's life, pruning will consist of improving and strengthening its structure, without harvesting any fruit. In the case of a dwarf tree, two years may be sufficient. Afterwards, you will have to prune it to ensure its natural protection against certain diseases, balance the weight of the fruits on its branches, and encourage the production of quality fruits.

Prune during the winter, but never during the frost period. The best time to prune is between leaf fall and before the appearance of buds. A stone tree should be pruned in the fall, while a pome tree should be pruned around February, before rebirth.

Safety first, always! A tripod stepladder is more stable than a twin stepladder or a simple ladder. Also, leave it to a professional if you have any doubts or if the branches are too heavy for you to handle.

Required tools & equipment:

  • Protective gloves;

  • Pruning shears;

  • Branch cutters;

  • Snips;

  • Stepladder or ladder.

To figure out which branches should be cut, bear in mind that horizontal branches produce more fruit than vertical ones. However, do not remove all vertical branches, as you also need leafy branches for photosynthesis. Also, shorten the horizontal fruiting branches a bit as the weight of the fruit will eventually cause them to give way.

If you have a young tree that needs shaping, select three to four of the best horizontal branches to determine its structure before removing the rest. In the case of a mature tree, only 10 to 20% of its branches should be removed.

Being able to recognize the different types of buds could be very helpful when pruning. Trees have both flower buds, which will eventually blossom into fruit, and growth buds, which produce branches.

Growth buds are usually teardrop-shaped. The flower bud is more rounded. On a branch measuring roughly three to four feet, the ideal ratio is five flower buds for two growth buds. Keep this in mind before you start a massive clearing!

Use sharp, clean pruning shears. Remove all dead or seriously damaged branches first, then remove the branches growing at the base of the trunk. These never get enough natural light and suck up too many nutrients.

Then, slowly prune at a bevel to create an angle that will prevent rainwater from trickling down onto nearby buds. Take a step back from time to time to assess the progress of your work and avoid over-pruning. If you need to cut a large branch, for safety reasons, do so in small sections and start with the very tip of the branch.

Keep the area around your tree well-maintained. Weeding, mowing, and leaf removal will all contribute to the continued growth and health of the tree.

Here you are, ready and willing to enjoy your harvests! The whole world of orchards and fruit trees is worth discovering. To learn more about pollination, fertilization, and the many types of buds not mentioned in this article (shepherd's purse, fruiting spurs, flowering shoots, fruiting shoots, and many more), or to consult expert advice, visit the Montréal Botanical Garden library.

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Last modified 2023-11-07

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