Planning and Planting Your Home Fruit Tree Orchard, From Apples and Peaches to Pawpaw {audio}

Emma and Nate discuss planning a home fruit tree orchard, from selecting and preparing your orchard site to choosing varieties, planting and care of young trees.

apple tree

From stunning spring blooms to juicy and delicious fruit summer to fall, cultivating apples, pears, peaches, cherries and more is appealing to many New England gardeners and homesteaders. And while growing fruit trees isn’t necessarily easy, thoughtful planning can lead to healthier, more productive and lower maintenance trees for years to come. In this episode of Granite State Gardening, Emma Erler and Nate Bernitz talk about selecting and preparing your orchard site, choosing rootstock and varieties, planting, and care of young trees. The episode's featured plant is pawpaw (Asamina triloba). 

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Nate Bernitz  0:00  
Welcome to the Granite State Gardening podcast, a production of the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension. Today's episode focuses on planning a home tree fruit orchard. We discuss topics like site preparation and selection, choosing varieties and care of young fruit trees. Emma also features the Pawpaw tree as her featured plant. You won't want to miss that. It's our 25th episode and the gardening off season, so we're going to take a few extra weeks off and start Season Two in a month or so. Season One's been an incredible experience for all of us. It's been rewarding to hear from so many of you. I've also run into many listeners in person which is always really fun. We have some exciting ideas for year two and plan to keep talking to dynamic experts and bring you information you can rely on and put to use in your yards and gardens. You should have our email address, but in case you don't, it's gsg.pod@unh.edu. We'd love to hear from you and we'll answer emails over our break. Okay, let's get into the episode.

Greetings Granite State gardeners. I'm Nate Burnitz, Public Engagement Manager for UNH Extension, joined by horticulturist and field specialist Emma Erler. Today we're chatting about planning a home tree fruit orchard. Emma, the last time we talked about growing fruits was about a year ago, except we were talking about growing fruit indoors. That was Episode Three of the Granite State Gardening podcast. A year later, we should transition to talking about growing fruit outdoors.

Emma E  1:45  
That's something that's a little bit easier to do, actually, Nate, and we've got a lot more choices on things we can grow.

Nate Bernitz  1:52  
That's true. Of course, a lot of people around here grow apples and pears. People are growing stone fruits like peaches and they're growing cherries, plums, apricots, and even some more unusual fruits and nut trees. But before we get into that, do you think that growing fruit trees is right for everybody? I certainly think about the amount of work that goes into growing fruit trees as well as space requirements.

Emma E  2:21  
I don't necessarily think that growing fruit trees is for everyone, at least not if you have really high expectations for how your fruit is going to turn out. Fruit trees do require a lot of maintenance in order to keep them healthy and productive in the form of pruning, pest management, and even thinning fruit. Because the big mistake a lot of people make is leaving too many fruits on their backyard trees. And like you mentioned, fruit trees can be quite large as well. So you have a tree that if you're not paying very much attention, it could be messy, it could be disease-prone, it might be attracting nuisance wildlife to your backyard - and taking up that space, maybe it's not that good of a shade tree. So I think fruit trees are really good for people who have the time and they're invested in the process of being able to grow some of their own fruit. Certainly, you can get a lot of really good high-quality fruit from local farms in New Hampshire, and even sometimes your local grocery store in the summer. And you're gonna get a much better price per piece of fruit if that's what you do. But it can be fun to grow your own, and you can certainly play around with some more unusual varieties if you're going to grow your own fruit in the backyard. So for some people it's totally worth it. The only other thing I'd say is that some people like to have their fruit trees too, for wildlife. I think of the apple tree that is in the backyard that shared with with deer and squirrels, chipmunks. So there's some value to that as well. It just really depends on what your objectives are.

Nate Bernitz  4:04  
Yeah, definitely. For those who know what fruits they like, and oftentimes that means peaches, cherries; well, those are my favorite fruits anyway, if you're looking at a New England property. Are there aspects of some people's properties that are going to maybe steer you towards growing one thing over another? Or are all of these fruits pretty much gonna grow in the same conditions?

Emma E  4:33  
Well, all of these fruits, if we're talking apples, pears, cherries, what have you, all of these are going to need a full sun location in order to bear really sweet, delicious, good-sized fruit. So if you only have a shady lot, you're probably not going to be growing fruits. You're also going to need a quality, well-drained soil. Fruit trees cannot tolerate having their roots wet for extended periods. So if you have more of a marshy soil on your property, that's not really going to work very well. Or if you have a really, really dry sandy soil, you could potentially grow fruits, but you're going to need to do a lot of amendments before they're going to grow really successfully. And then the other factor too, is your hardiness zone, where you live. How cold does it get over the winter where you live? Because that's going to impact whether a tree survives in your area, and potentially whether it's able to bear fruit.

Nate Bernitz  5:32  
We need to think about people's microclimates as well, because it's not enough just to know that you live in Zone Five if you are someone whose property is on a hillside and the only suitable location is at the bottom of a hill facing north. That's pretty different than your neighbor who has a flat piece of land with lots of good sun exposure coming from the south.

Emma E  5:56  
That's such a good point. That sunny, south-facing slope is going to be so much better than that low-lying spot that's facing north.

Nate Bernitz  6:06  
When there's a will, there is a way, to some extent. You mentioned really wet soil, and there's not a whole lot you can do about that. And then you talked about how with sandy soil, you can put in the work. If you don't have full sun exposure, sometimes you can create full sun exposure. A lot of people in New England, in certain parts anyway, they just aren't going to have great soil. So that gets into the question of you know that you want to grow fruit, and you're assessing your property. How much time do you really need for planning between having the idea and actually putting fruit trees into the ground?

Emma E  6:47  
Ideally, I would say probably about a year, so that you have time to test your soil, which is always what we recommend, first off to see where your soil pH is at your organic matter content, nutrient availability. Then that gives you time to fully affect the changes that you need to make before you go to plant your trees. So if you haven't done anything with your soil, haven't tested it, and you're thinking about planting this spring - that's not necessarily wrong. But you might set yourself up for more success if you've done your planning a year out.

Nate Bernitz  7:24  
I think that's really important because it's one thing to rush things a little bit with a vegetable garden where mistakes you make are really only one-year mistakes. But with a fruit tree, you might suffer the mistake you made early on for 10, 15, 20 years, whatever the life span of a poorly planted tree is. So it's really important to get it right from the beginning and it is an investment, right? You're not planning on planting something and getting a full crop that first year.

Emma E  7:53  
You shouldn't be anyways. When you put a fruit tree in the ground, and this actually applies to small fruits like blueberries too, you need to invest some time in that plant and actually keep it from producing fruit for a few years so that it puts all of its effort into quality growth, with height and branches and strong roots before it starts producing fruit. So it's an investment all the way around.

Nate Bernitz  8:20  
One thing that we should also mention with site preparation is getting weeds under control because once you've got that tree planted, you don't have as many options for doing that.

Emma E  8:31  
Perennial weeds would absolutely be the biggest concern. If you have an area where you have a bunch of aggressive perennials that are going to make things difficult for your tree, I'm thinking of some of the broadleaf perennials that are very tall that are going to keep sprouting up. Some of the grassy perennials, perennial weeds like quack grass that are just going to keep sprouting up from rhizomes, could be problematic. You do ideally need some clear ground where you're planting your trees, even if your fruit trees are ultimately going to end up in a lawn situation. You do want to have some clear ground where that plant is actually going into the ground. And ideally, you're mulching around it. You have some space for that so that you don't have weeds growing right up along the trunk of that plant and creating good habitat for pests like voles.

Nate Bernitz  9:28  
I like to also think about planting my fruit trees away from other flowering plantings, right? Because if I need to spray my trees, especially with an insecticide, which you might need to do, I don't necessarily want my fruit trees right next to a pollinator-friendly garden.

Emma E  9:47  
Absolutely. I think an important point there too, is that even if you are planning to take an organic approach to managing your fruit trees, that doesn't necessarily mean a no-spray approach. You could still be applying organic fungicides, organic insecticides that could have an impact on some of the beneficial insects that are in your garden. So I would only put that fruit tree right next to your garden if you're thinking "I am never ever, ever going to spray it". Which, if you want really high quality fruit in New Hampshire, you're going to have to do some spraying.

Nate Bernitz  10:22  
I think a lot of people go into it planning on not doing spraying, only to find that they're unhappy with the quality of the fruit and they change their mind, but you can't change where you planted the fruit tree. So you should really plan as if you might have to spray. If you do know you're gonna have to spray, how much space would you say is ideal between your fruit tree and plants that produce flowers, where you really don't want to risk any sort of contamination?

Emma E  10:52  
I'd say that's a bit dependent on the material that you're spraying, as well as whether you're applying it under ideal conditions. Drift is always a concern when we're spraying pesticides, that some is going to get caught on the wind and blow off target onto a different plant. I would say, and this is this is just a number off top of my head, I'd probably want at least 100 feet between my flower borders, or my pollinator garden and my fruit trees. But you might have another take on that too, Nate.

Nate Bernitz  11:26  
I don't, but 100 feet, let's think about that. I think most gardeners have space on their properties they're devoting to pollinator-friendly plantings or flower gardens in some form. That's going to really limit things for you if you are trying to have 100 feet of distance. All of a sudden, it makes it a lot more challenging to grow fruit trees on a small property.

Emma E  11:52  
Aboslutely. If you are very focused on promoting pollinators and trying to avoid any sort of pesticide drift or contamination, you need a bigger lot to make this happen.

Nate Bernitz  12:06  
Definitely. Fast-forwarding a little bit, you've decided that you are in fact going to go forward with planting fruit trees, which is great. You've prepared your site a year in advance and now it's- It's January when we're recording this, which I think is a really good time to actually select your fruit trees from a reputable nursery, and you have to start to make some decisions. With apples or any of these fruit trees, you've got to choose your root stock and you've got to choose your varieties. Let's start with root stock. There's dwarf, semi-dwarf and standard, which refers to the type of root stock your variety is actually grafted onto, which I think you can elaborate a little bit more on. Of course these days, there are more dwarf options than ever and dwarf is very appealing. There are a lot of benefits you get for it sooner, they take up less space, and they're easier to prune and spray and manage in general. So I hope you can talk about graph root stock science as well as why you might consider semi-dwarf or standard in some instances.

Emma E  13:15  
Yeah, let's dive into that. If you are totally new to growing fruit trees, usually the first thing that might come as a surprise is that all of the varieties that we grow out there are essentially clones of one another. So every single Macintosh apple tree, for example, is genetically identical to another Macintosh apple, maybe with a few slight variations in there. But for all intents and purposes, these trees are all the same. And the way we do that is through a process called grafting in which you're basically transplanting a part of one tree onto another. So these fruit trees initially would have come from a plant that grew from a seed. And it was a one-in-a-million plant that came out of this with this delicious fruit and excellent growth characteristics. But if you are trying to get a new Macintosh apple tree, it's not as simple as taking a seed from a Macintosh apple and planting it because that seed has - who knows what sort of genetic makeup it has, because you don't know how that flower was pollinated. It gets complicated, but really the only time anyone is growing a fruit tree from seed is if they're trying to breed a plant or they're trying to come up with a new variety. So all of the fruit trees that we are going to be planting in our backyards, at least if they are a named variety, they will have come into existence through grafting. When this happens on a commercial scale, plant propagators will combine what's called a root stock and a scion. That root stock is what it sounds like. It's the roots of a small tree that were either grown by vegetative means, so cloning the root system and getting multiple new root systems from the same. And you could have named root systems as well that have different characteristics. Or a root stock can be grown from seed. Most of the time for fruit trees, the root stocks are named so plant breeders have put in the effort to grow roots that give a plant a certain characteristic. On the other side of things, we have the scion, and that is a branch or a shoot from a variety a desired variety that we want to grow. That scion is grafted. So it's attached by various means, there are a bunch of different techniques on how to graft, but it is attached to that root stock. Those two pieces will heal together. What you'll end up with is a root system for this tree that has the characteristics of that root stock, and you'll have a scion, so the upper part of the tree, that is the variety that you wanted. This is where that dwarfing, semi-dwarf, or standard root stock or tree comes into play. Some root stocks that have been bred or developed are dwarf, which means that they grow very slowly. So you're going to end up with a smaller tree. Let's say you put a Macintosh apple on a dwarf root stock, you're still going to end up with the Macintosh apples you expect, but you're going to have a smaller tree. It doesn't grow as tall and it starts producing fruit at a younger age. The downside to these is that they're not as structurally strong. So dwarf trees are liable to fall over sometimes unless they're staked upright because that root system just isn't as robust. They also tend to be shorter-lived. So that's a consideration. A semi-dwarf root stock is going to be somewhere in between that that dwarf and standard full size tree. So if you, a lot of us have these around, if you've seen just a seed-grown wild apple near your home, you've probably seen a 20-plus foot tall tree. And that's what you should expect with a standard root stock - a very very large, unwieldy sort of tree. Semi-dwarf is going to be somewhere in-between. So you're probably going to end up with you know, a 12, 15 foot or so tree. So, the sort of apple that you're still going to need a ladder to climb to do your pruning and your harvesting. Whereas with that dwarf, you might be able to do most of the work from the ground or maybe with just a small step ladder. Semi-dwarf used to be the gold standard for commercial orchards. And you still see this a lot. But more and more growers are actually moving to dwarf root stock, just because the the trees are easier to work amongst. And for backyard growers, a lot of times dwarf root stocks and dwarf trees are more appropriate for small spaces. The only other caveat I'd add there is some of the dwarf trees aren't quite as cold hardy as the semi-dwarf or standard grafted trees. So if you have any issues with keeping these trees alive or getting them to bear, that could be a factor. But as our climate continues to warm in New Hampshire, despite the cold snap that we've been exposed to, a couple of cold snaps we've had so far in month of January, you're you're probably going to have pretty good luck with with any of these options.

Nate Bernitz  19:07  
You can't get every variety on a dwarf root stock. Every year it seems like there are more and more options, but if you're really particular about what variety you want to grow, you might have to grow that on semi-dwarf or even standard root stock. I think that's more relevant for apples where there just are so many varieties and people end up being really particular about them.

Emma E  19:30  
With grafting. It's kind of interesting. People who do this propagation work have discovered that certain root stocks work really well with certain varieties of apple and others just don't. So over time, we've figured out, and are still figuring it out, which root stock is going to provide the absolute best characteristics for that plant. I didn't mention either that root stocks, in addition to controlling plant size can also have some influence on plant resistance to certain diseases or maybe even insects. So that comes into play if you know you're dealing with certain soil-borne disease. It's possible there's a root stock out there that's perfect for you. Although if you are ordering, for the backyard orchard and you're not doing the grafting yourself, you're going to have a little less control over that.

Nate Bernitz  20:28  
You mentioned how with dwarf root stock, they're not as structurally sound. How can you work with that knowledge and ensure that your dwarf root stock trees are healthy and strong?

Emma E  20:43  
What most people end up doing is actually staking their trees. You could use a variety of materials for this as long as it's going to be tall enough and strong enough to support that tree. So I've seen strong metal pipes be used before. I've seen also large wooden stakes, even trellising systems with wires and posts. It comes down to your own ingenuity, creativity, what you have on hand and also what you're going to accept aesthetically in your garden. But you should expect to need some sort of staking for your dwarf tree, if you want to keep it upright and really happy and productive as time goes on.

Nate Bernitz  21:29  
Are there other long-term maintenance distinctions that you should plan for? Or is the pruning going to be different or anything like that?

Emma E  21:39  
Pruning, ultimately, shouldn't be that different. Your trees aren't going to grow quite as aggressively as a tree that's on a standard or a semi-dwarf root stock. You're probably not going to see the sheer number of structural issues or branches, you need to remove, things like water sprouts in the canopy, those aggressive upright growths. This is particularly true in apple. So it's going to be less pruning overall. But the pruning, what's the word I'm looking for? The pruning practices or principles that you're going to employ are still going to be the same whether we're talking standard, or semi-dwarf or dwarf tree.

Nate Bernitz  22:31  
Something that was really eye opening for me was visiting some commercial apple orchards that grew dwarf varieties. And just seeing the difference between an intensively managed and grown dwarf apple verses a natural standard apple tree. They don't look anything alike.

Emma E  22:51  
Aesthetically, it's a totally different experience, right? I think a lot of us like the beauty of a stand alone apple tree that's full, has that nice round shape. Whereas if you have a dwarf tree, you're going to end up with something that's a little bit more upright and has to have some sort of staking. It's not going to be quite as much of a showpiece in your landscape. So you should really be looking at planting that tree for production, not for its ornamental value in your landscape.

Nate Bernitz  23:23  
Then there's variety selection, which we've touched on. Just like picking vegetable garden seeds, there's a lot to digest in assessing all of these different variety options. And again, I had mentioned how I think there are more variety of choices with apples than these other fruits, including some names you'll recognize and some that you won't, whereas I think with a lot of the other fruits, and pears too. But with things like peaches and  apricots, you're probably not going to recognize the varieties because they're not really marketed that way as food, whereas with apples, they they are marketed by their variety name. So how do you go about assessing your variety? Should you just grow what you know you like? Are there other things to consider?

Emma E  24:04  
I think there are a few other things to consider - the first being hardiness for apples if you're in the North Country. If you're in northern New Hampshire, you're going to have to be a little bit more choosy with your varieties to make sure you're selecting plants that are going to bloom at the right time, that are going to be plenty robust enough to survive really cold winters. With some of the other fruits, you're really gonna have to pay attention to this as well. So a stone fruits, let's say peaches, nectarines, apricots. A lot of these plants are most successful in the southern US, or at least in the mid-Atlantic. New Hampshire, for example, is not known for our peaches. And that's because these fruits and these trees just in general aren't as cold hardy. So if you want to have success with these plants, you really need to go with varieties that have been bred specifically for that feature. Plants that can hold up to the really cold winters and cold springs that we have here and, still produce or still survive and still have viable flower buds come spring and summer. So that's something to consider. We have lists of recommended varieties on the UNH Extension website. I would also consider disease resistance when you're choosing varieties. There are some pretty serious plant diseases that your trees can get, that are common in the environment, that if you choose a variety that's resistant to a particular disease, then you probably don't have to worry about spraying as much. One that comes to mind is fireblight, which is a pretty serious bacterial disease that apples and pears are quite susceptible to. Another disease that's more of a nuisance than really a plant health threat is apple scab. But it's a disease that's always present in New Hampshire, and it causes lesions on the fruit which aren't attractive and could affect the yield. And it also can cause early defoliation of the trees, which stresses them out and ultimately means less fruit and less quality fruit. With apple scab, there are fungicides that are super effective, but you have to be applying these throughout the entire season to varieties of apple that are susceptible to the disease. Whereas if you choose one that's resistant, then you can cut out that spray altogether or those sprays altogether.

Nate Bernitz  26:47  
I think that's really valuable. For those who haven't grown fruit trees before, you're not necessarily going to have that awareness about just how much disease pressure there can be, which is partly weather dependent, but partly just a reality of growing fruit in New England. So I definitely recommend prioritizing disease resistance. Take our word for it if you haven't grown them before, you'll be glad to be able to avoid some of those sprays. You'll still have to spray, but not as much. And that's really helpful. Something else that, at least for apples and pears, you have to think about, is pollination requirements when selecting varieties, right?

Emma E  27:29  
Good point. Yeah, that's something I forgot. Your fruit trees, all of them. In order to get fruit, you're going to need insect pollination. That's a given, so you're gonna need to have insects around. But you're also going to need to consider whether a tree is capable of pollinating itself with its own pollen or not. And this varies quite a bit amongst different types of fruit, and even sometimes within a type of fruit, based on variety. If we're talking about things like apples, pears, sweet cherries, plums; all of these need a different tree in order to pollinate them. So you need to have more than one variety. If you plant let's say, two Red Delicious apples, and there aren't any other apples nearby, you probably aren't going to get much if any fruit at all. But if you plant Red Delicious, and let's say plant, oh, I don't know, a Macoun or something nearby (and this is off the top of my head, I'm not actually certain that that's the best option). But if you plant two different varieties in proximity to each other, insects are going to move pollen from one to the other, and you should get good fruit set. In general, when in doubt, you're always going to be better off with pretty much all fruits if you grow at least two varieties. But if you really don't have the space, there are certain fruits that you can get away with just having one plant. Peaches are a great example - peaches and nectarines and some apricots as well. They are pretty good at pollinating themselves. So you can have one tree and as long as there are bees around to move that pollen from one flower to another, you'll get fruit. But with most of the others, having two varieties is absolutely essential. It can get even a little bit trickier, too, in order to get the right plant, to get the best harvest. With apples, the bloom time tends to vary a little bit so you can have early- mid- and late-season apples. The blooms on an early season apple are - the flowers are going to bloom earlier than on a late season apple. So if all you have is an early-season apple and a late-season apple, there's a chance that they might not be blooming at the same time and you won't get that cross-pollination. So if you have any question about what you should be planting with a particular variety, I would definitely go off of the recommendations of the company that you're buying from, if you're ordering your trees from a catalog, or from the nursery that you're purchasing from. A lot of times, they'll provide recommendations on a second variety that is ideal, or is the best at pollinating the other.

Nate Bernitz  30:30  
If you are in a position where you're inheriting a property, you may be faced with having fruit trees, where you don't know what the variety is. And that can make it a little bit challenging for playing matchmaker.

Emma E  30:42  
It can. For apples, though, it can be a little bit easier. A lot of crab apples are actually really excellent pollinators for apples. So you don't need to only grow an edible eating apple or multiple edible apples, you could be growing crab apples for their ornamental value on your landscape, and those are pollinating the apples you have. Or, if you have a single apple tree on your property that you've managed to get fruit on for years, and you're wondering, "I only have one apple, how's that happening?" If you look around closely in the spring, it's possible there's a wild apple nearby, or maybe your neighbor has a crab apple that blooms at the same time as your apple. So you may not necessarily, at least in that case, need to plant a second. But with something like a plum, you really are going to need it. And you're going to want to pay attention to which type of plum you have, whether it's a European plum, or a Japanese plum, and make sure that you've planted a second of the same type. So two varieties of European plum or two varieties of Japanese plum.

Nate Bernitz  31:48  
We shouldn't take for granted that bees are doing this work for us. That's why it's so important when you are doing your sprays that you're really conscious of not spraying when trees are flowering, particularly with insecticides, because you can really work against yourself if you're irresponsible or thoughtless, with how you are spraying. We need these bees for pollinating our fruit and well, a lot more than our fruit actually.

Emma E  32:16  
Absolutely. And that doesn't just mean honeybees either. The first bee most people think of when it comes to fruit pollination is the honeybee. And they absolutely have an important role. A lot of fruit growers keep bees and they may even bring in bees to do pollination work. But for a lot of us in our backyards, unless you keep bees or a neighbor does, you're relying on native insects, native bees to do that pollination. If you have a healthy ecosystem around where you live, or you've helped create that with a pollinator meadow or garden or other safe place for these insects to forage and live, then you're probably going to have plenty of pollinating insects there, you just need to try to keep them healthy.

Nate Bernitz  33:00  
Whether you're ordering something bare root through a catalog or online this time of year, or whether you're planning on buying containerized fruit trees in the spring, when do you recommend people actually aim to plant in New England?

Emma E  33:15  
It varies a bit every year, of course, but I would recommend planting once the soil has thoroughly thawed and dried. So you don't want to be out there just after the snow is gone and things are still kind of squishy and muddy. You want that soil to have dried out a bit and be more workable. So it depends on exactly where you live in the state in the year of course, but I would guess that you wouldn't be putting your trees in the ground before April or early May.

Nate Bernitz  33:46  
Okay. And then what do you need for planting? We've already talked a little bit about staking where you are going to need a stake for planting dwarf root stock - not as important for semi-dwarf and standard. Do you also need any soil amendments or fertilizer for the planting hole? Or should all of that amending really happen the previous year and then fertilizer happening later that year, or are you just skipping fertilizer till year two?

Emma E  34:15  
Fertilizer you're probably going to be able to skip until year two. That's just because young trees or stressed plants (things that have been transplanted) don't tend to take up a whole lot of nutrients because they're not putting on a whole lot of growth in that first season. They're putting on root growth, but not a whole lot of shoot growth up above ground. So a lot of that fertilizer, a lot of those nutrients, are just going to end up going to waste. I would recommend skipping the fertilizer, but doing what you need to do to amend the pH of the soil, or to change the pH of the soil if you need to, and potentially adding organic matter. Rather than just amend the planting hole for the tree, I would amend a broader area. There was some research done a while ago that showed actually that plants end up growing more robust root systems when you amend a larger area versus amending just that planting hole, which kind of makes sense. If you consider that a plant's getting all the nutrients it needs, for example, in that small area in that planting hole, there's going to be less of a need for those roots to expand out further to find what they need. If I was putting in a small, bare root apple tree, for example, I would probably want to be amending an area that was at least 8x8, 10x10,  anticipating where those roots are going to end up.

Nate Bernitz  35:50  
There are a few other things that I think can be really important. And it's a question of, do you decide to prioritize it? And when do you actually do it? One of them is irrigation. I think if you're planting one, two, three fruit trees, you're going to be in a position where you can water by hand or with a hose. I think for larger plantings, setting up irrigation might be something to really consider. What do you think?

Emma E  36:20  
Oh, absolutely, particularly if you have drip irrigation. For trees, it's going to be really efficient. So if you're concerned about water use, either just your water bill or your well, having an irrigation system that's just going to put water down over the roots of the plant where it needs to be efficiently is a great option for larger plantings. Certainly if you go into a commercial orchard, though a lot of that irrigation happens overhead. So it's a possibility as well. If you have a lawn that you're already irrigating, making sure you have a sprinkler head that reaches your fruit trees is, I think, a good approach. You are absolutely going to need some way to get water to your trees, particularly in the first season, but really anytime there's an extended drought if you're hoping to get a good harvest. Our weather has been incredibly unpredictable the last few summers between drought and drenching rains, so we don't know what we're going to get exactly. But having a system in place for how you're going to water your trees when they need it is going to be important.

I think I would stay with kind of a general recommendation that goes for all trees and shrubs, which would be at least an inch of water a week. So an inch is kind of that ideal. That can come from rain; it's actually going to be perfect if that comes from rain, or that could come from irrigation. In the backyard, or really anywhere where you're growing plants, having a rain gauge is really helpful, so that you can keep tabs on what's actually fallen and how much irrigation you need to apply. When a plant has been, when a tree has recently gone into the ground, you really don't want to let that soil ever completely dry out. You want to have some moisture there at all times. So that might mean watering a bit more frequently, and ultimately adding a bit more than that inch a week. I would be checking at least every other day to see if that tree needs water for the first, at minimum, probably first month, maybe two months. And then anytime it's really dry in the summer, or we're far below that inch of rain in a week, then I would be applying some more irrigation, trying to get it up to that inch. Note too that in the the first growing season or two, you shouldn't be collecting any fruit. The trees are going to be trying to produce fruit, but without having any fruit on the tree, you're going to potentially reduce the amount of water that plant needs, too.

Nate Bernitz  39:16  
If planning for irrigation is really important, another thing that's just as important is thinking about fencing proactively, because there are some critters that can really be devastating to fruit trees.

Emma E  39:31  
I would say that whitetail deer are probably the first animal that I would think of. They really like browsing on a lot of young fruit trees over the winter months, which isn't a big deal when you have an established tree. But when you have a young small tree, having the ends of every single branch snipped off is going to have an impact and it's going to mean a lot more corrective pruning that you need to do down the lines to get that plant looking good. Even during the actual growing season as well, these animals can be a pain coming in and in eating fruit or browsing on leaves. So if you are in an area where deer tend to be an issue, having a perimeter fence, or an electric fence that you move around your plants as needed, or at least set around your plants as needed, is important. If you go to the majority of commercial apple orchards, you're going to find that they have very large exterior fences to keep deer out because they are just such an issue. How you do that is going to depend a bit on your budget as well as your preferred aesthetics. Tall invisible fences, I think are probably the gold standard for keeping deer out. But it can be expensive to buy all that fencing material. Having a tall wooden fence will potentially work as well. It needs to be something that's over six feet in height to keep deer from jumping in. Or like I mentioned, an electric fence will work too. So if deer are only an occasional issue, setting up a portable electric fence around your plants could be perfect.

Nate Bernitz  41:16  
Bear can be pretty tough as well.

Emma E  41:18  
Bears too! I wasn't even thinking of black bears. But now that you mentioned it, Nate, I had a black bear climb up a pear tree in my backyard a few years ago to get after the pears. So not only did he get a bunch of those fruits, but he ended up breaking a bunch of branches off of my tree as well. So it was really a double punch. That electric fence would work well for bears. Any sort of standing fence is not going to keep a bear out - they're very good climbers. That's a good point.

Nate Bernitz  41:52  
Porcupines too, which can really devastate fruit trees, when they put their minds to it.

Emma E  41:57  
Porcupines, for sure. And they're challenging. They're also incredibly good climbers, they spend a lot of their time up in trees. So a static fence isn't going to do a whole lot to keep a porcupine out if it's determined. An electric fence, maybe if it's very close to the ground, but they're definitely going to be more of a challenge to deal with. Along the same lines, because porcupines are rodents, I'm also thinking voles or mice in some situations. These guys are really problematic, particularly for young trees. Because in the winter months, their preferred food is well I shouldn't say it's their preferred food, but what they opt for is tree bark during the winter months. And young trees that have very tender bark, tend to be what they go after first. So what most growers or most successful growers will end up doing is putting some sort of guard around the base of that trunk to keep voles away. This is just a physical barrier to keep the animal from chewing on the bark. There are plastic wraps you can purchase to grow around the trees. You can also make your own, which I actually prefer out of a hardware cloth - that galvanized metal mesh - in a quarter inch or no more than a half inch diameter. You can use that to make a cylinder, put that around the base of your tree, ideally at least 24 inches tall so that it's going to still protect that trunk above the snow line. You'll keep that in place for several years, probably at least five years, until that tree has really started to develop some thicker bark that's a bit more resistant to rodents.

Nate Bernitz  43:46  
So you don't actually need that guard until your first winter. But do you want to put that guard in place at planting time?

Emma E  43:53  
It depends. If you're using that mesh that I just mentioned, making your own guards out of a galvanized hardware cloth, then sure, you could put it on at planting time, that would be fine, because that material breathes really well. It's not going to hold any moisture or anything. If you've done a good job controlling perennial weeds around where you've planted, you shouldn't have too many plants trying to grow up inside of that guard. If you're going to use one of these plastic wraps, if you're going to use that, then you'll want to wait to put it on until late fall, before the first snowfall. The reason for that is because those wraps can end up holding moisture against the trunk of the plant which could potentially encourage some insect and disease issues. So it's always recommended to take those off during the growing season and just put them on when they're needed in the fall and winter.

Nate Bernitz  44:50  
Correct me if I'm wrong. I think I've seen some guards for voles that kind of double as providing winter sun protection.

Emma E  44:59  
True. The white wrap that I'm thinking of can actually be really helpful for sun protection on young trees, particularly. These are basically just plastic cylinders that you peel apart and wrap around the tree like a coil. That white color is going to reflect sunlight. It's going to prevent bark splitting on that tree, if it's exposed to a very bright, sunny, southwesterly-facing sun exposure in the winter. That southwestern injury is a whole other thing, but it does impact young fruit trees, particularly the stone fruits. Having the protection of that white guard is important. Along those same lines, something that a lot of the commercial growers will do is actually paint the lower sections of the trunk with a white latex paint, sometimes watered down 50% with water. And that's for the same purpose: to reflect sunlight and prevent that bark from heating up too much in the winter time with bright sun, and ultimately causing a freezing injury when the temperature drops. It's not super attractive when you do that. Some people might not want to paint the trunk of their tree in their backyard situation. But it's another option.

Nate Bernitz  46:24  
In either case, you're doing that in the late fall, rather than at planting. Whether you're using the white guard or using white paint, you don't need to do that until,  and in fact you don't want to do that until the late fall. Thinking about that first year, I don't think we really need to be doing any spraying in year one because you're not expecting any harvestable fruit. That's really the primary purpose of spraying is, for fruit quality. But you might want to do some training in year one to really start to get that tree growing in the right way for for health and production down the line. Can you talk a little bit about that, and then we'll wrap up?

Emma E  47:06  
Absolutely. I'd actually push this out a little bit further than year one. The year you plant your tree, you probably don't have to do or I wouldn't recommend doing too much in the way of training or pruning, just because that plants already pretty stressed out just from having been moved and growing a new root system. But in year two, three, four, then you're really putting the work in to shape that tree into a form that's going to make it the most productive, the least disease-prone, and the most structurally strong going forward. There are different recommendations for each fruit tree and how these plants should be pruned for those purposes. The standard for apples these days typically is to grow your apple with a single trunk. So if you have a very young tree, you're ultimately going to want to choose one strong central trunk and prune out or prune back limbs that are competing or trunks that are competing. It's quite different, however, if you're growing peaches, plums or cherries, which are often grown in what's called an open center form. So instead of having one single trunk, you're going to choose three or four. Training goes into choosing which branches are going to ultimately be your three main trunks that are coming off of that tree so that when when it's mature, you end up with more of a bowl-shaped plant.

Nate Bernitz  48:42  
That makes sense. Well I'm looking forward to putting some of these strategies to use this coming spring. I'm planting some fruit trees myself. I've got an interesting semi-dwarf apple variety called Wealthy that I'm planning on planting as well as a sour cherry and a peach. So well see how that goes. But this has been really helpful for giving me a few tips. What about you? Do you have any fruit tree planting in your future?

Emma E  49:10  
I don't know if it'll be this year. But at some point, I do want to put in a peach or two on my property. My neighbor used to have incredible peaches and peach trees don't always tend to be very long-lived, and those trees aren't there anymore. But I have great memories of those incredible peaches off that tree. Otherwise, most of my efforts just going to be going into maintaining the few fruit trees that are already here. I have an apple tree that I'm working to bring back that hasn't been pruned properly, really in its entire life. So I've been working on gradually getting into more of an ideal form so that it is more productive.

Nate Bernitz  49:51  
You're probably in really good company there. I bet a lot of people listening have fruit trees on their properties or know people with fruit trees on their properties that are severely neglected and in need of rejuvenation. I hear you saying that's a multi-year process, and I think that's good to remember. But yeah, I'm super excited about the peaches and super excited about sour cherries, which I think of as pie cherries, and there's not many things I like more than cherry pie. So looking forward to that and of course, everyone's got to have apple trees. Well, with that, I think we can just move on to, well, do you have a feature plant for this episode Emma?

Emma E  50:31  
Sure do.

Since this episode is dedicated to the backyard orchard, I figured it was worth mentioning the Pawpaw Asimina triloba. Pawpaw is a small tree that's native to the southeastern United States that usually only grows 15 to 20 feet tall. In its natural habitat, it grows as an understory tree in low woods, often along streams. Pawpaw is a member of a mostly tropical family, the custard apple family, Annonaceae, and it's grown for its oblong, yellowish green fruits, which mature in early fall. With a consistency similar to soft bananas and a sweet flavor reminiscent of banana, pineapple and mango. Pawpaw fruits are very unique. It's possible to grow Pawpaws in Zone Five and warmer in consistently moist, organically rich soils and full sun to part shade. If a Pawpaw tree is happy enough to flower, making sure it's adequately pollinated may be the next challenge. Interestingly, Pawpaws are pollinated by flies and beetles. If the flowers don't attract enough of these insects, you may not get fruit set. An old recommendation of farmers was to hang carrion in Pawpaw trees to draw in beetles and flies. But if that sounds entirely unappealing to you, hand pollination will work just fine too. So if you're in Zone Five, and you want to try growing something unusual in your home orchard, order a Pawpaw or two for your garden this season.

Nate Bernitz  52:22  
I've had Pawpaw but I don't think I've ever had a perfectly ripe Pawpaw fruit, so I'm definitely adding that to my "to eat" list. Before we go, I want to plug a couple upcoming webinars and the Farm Forest and Garden Expo coming right up on February 4th and 5th at the DoubleTree Hotel in downtown Manchester, New Hampshire. And then for our webinars I've got three to tell you about. This coming Monday, we have a webinar on hydroponics at home, presented by Jonathan Ebba, a wonderful and supremely knowledgeable educator. If you're at all interested in hydroponics, I definitely recommend tuning in and make sure you pre register. I'll get a link for that into the show notes. And then two others I'm really excited about a little bit further out. One is Extending the Gardening Season, presented by Becky Seidman, who should be a familiar name and voice to listeners, as well as UMaine Extension educator and associate professor of agriculture and horticulture Frank Werthon. That one is on February 7. And finally an episode on propagating trees and shrubs in the winter months. This will really appeal to more advanced horticulture enthusiasts, I think. Dr. Brian Peterson for the University of Maine is presenting this one on March 7. Find all of those in the show notes and do pre register, you won't be able to watch the webinars without registering. Reflecting on this year, our most popular episodes were dealing with nuisance wildlife and actually our most recent episode on gardening with birds. The number of listeners has over tripled from early on. We couldn't have done it without the real star of the show, my co host Emma and our executive producer Dave Kellam, who certainly makes us sound better than we do in real life. Again, thank you for supporting us through an awesome first season of the Granite State Gardening podcast. Until we return for Season Two, stay warm and embrace this time for planning your spring gardening endeavors. We're aiming to empower you with this podcast to have the confidence and know-how to cultivate your greenest thumb. We'll talk with you again soon.

Granite State Gardening is a production of University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, an Equal Opportunity educator and employer. Views expressed on this podcast are not necessarily those of the University, its trustees, or its volunteers. Inclusion or exclusion of commercial products in this podcast does not imply endorsement. The University of New Hampshire, US Department of Agriculture and New Hampshire counties cooperate to provide Extension programming in the Granite State. Learn more at extension.unh.edu.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai. Transcript edited by Rebecca Dube.

 

Author(s)

Nate Bernitz
Public Engagement Program Manager
Extension Program Mgr
Phone: 603-351-3831
Office: Cooperative Extension, Taylor Hall, Durham, NH 03824