Backyard Orchard Culture

    • Bare root season is here. Choose and plant your favorite fruit trees and roses now.
    • Fruit trees can be pruned this month. If you’re not sure how, take advantage of one of the fine classes being offered this month.
    • Primroses will give you the most color during this cold weather. Choose some pretty ones now for your boxes and beds.
    • Strawberries can be planted any time now. Get them in early, and you’ll be picking strawberries this summer.
    • FREE Fruit Tree Pruning Classes on Saturday and Sunday, January 19-20 from 10 AM to 3 PM. Call Sanhedrin Nursery, 459-9009, for details.

Backyard Orchard Culture

For years, most of the information about growing fruit trees came from commercial orchard culture. These methods promote maximum size for maximum yield but require 12-foot ladders for pruning, thinning and picking, and 400 to 600 square feet of land per tree to allow for tractors.

But the needs and priorities of the backyard orchardist are quite different. Most homeowners want to maximize the amount of fruit production in a limited area and be able to harvest fruit over a long season. This includes planting a variety of fruit trees with different ripening times.

If you have limited space for your orchard, there are several techniques you can use to maximize the yield in that area. Two, three or four trees in one hole, espalier, and hedgerow are the most common of these techniques.

By planting two or more trees in one hole, you restrict the vigor of the trees, effectively dwarfing them. It is important that they are on rootstocks of similar vigor. For example, using a four-in-one-hole planting, four trees on Citation rootstock would be easier to maintain than a combination of one tree on Lovell, one on Mazzard, one on Citation, and one on M-27.

Planting more varieties can also mean better cross-pollination of pears, apples, plums and cherries, which means more consistent production.

Espalier is the practice of controlling plant growth so that it grows relatively flat against a structure such as a wall, fence, or trellis. To develop an espalier, fan, or other two-dimensional form, plant the tree 6-12 inches from the structure and remove everything that doesn’t grow flat. Selectively thin and train what’s left to space the fruiting wood.

Many fruit trees are well suited for planting in hedgerows. When planted tightly together they form a lovely screen that works well in an edible landscape on a boundary line or to block an unsightly view. The trees should be spaced 4 to 5 feet apart and again be on similar rootstocks.

Smaller trees are easier to spray, prune, thin, net to protect from birds and harvest. With small trees, it’s possible to have more varieties that ripen at different times and give you lots of delicious flavors. Pruning is the only way to keep most fruit trees small. You will need to prune in both winter and summer. Summer pruning is the easiest way to keep trees small. Take in a pruning class or two so you know what to do and develop some confidence in pruning.

There is a special pleasure in growing your own fruit, growing new varieties of fruit, producing fruit that is unusually sweet and tasty, having fruit over a long season, and in sharing tree-ripe fruit with others. These are the rewards of learning and experimenting with new cultural practices and techniques as you become an accomplished backyard fruit grower.

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