Bill Starr: Choose fruit trees with care
This time of year, our office starts to get lots of calls about planting fruit trees. Fall is probably the best time to plant trees, but now will be a close second if you can get trees. It is tempting to buy everything in the catalogs because the descriptions all sound so wonderful, and they are, if planted in the right area of our state. I enjoy looking through all the fruit tree catalogs; I only wish all the trees pictured would do well in our area.
Before you place that million-dollar order for fruit trees there are a couple of things you should know. Before planting fruit trees, you should decide if you are willing to commit yourself to the work that is necessary to produce quality fruit. First select varieties that are adapted to our area. The fact that a local nursery or a mail order catalog promotes a specific variety doesn’t mean that it is adapted to your area. Chilling requirements, disease and insect resistance, and weather conditions must be considered before you make your choices as to type and variety. Variety selection is extremely important. There is not much you can do to make up for a poorly adapted variety. Next you will have to decide if you are willing to work for the benefits of having homegrown fruit. This work includes fertilizing, pruning, thinning, spraying for insects and diseases, and supplying water if needed. Some fruits — such as apples, peaches, nectarines, and plums — require much more spraying for pests than pears and figs. When selecting a site for your trees, select a location where trees will receive sunlight most or all of the day. All fruits do best in full sun. Sunlight, and plenty of it, is a key to increasing fruit production. When you decide to purchase fruit trees, select healthy trees approximately 4 to 6 feet tall with a good root system.
A small tree with a good root system is more desirable than a large tree with a poor root system. Do not purchase trees that appear stunted, poorly grown, diseased or insect injured. After you have selected your trees and planted them, it is desirable to apply sufficient water to thoroughly soak the soil in the area of the tree roots. This watering will help to bring the soil into closer contact with all sides of the roots and eliminate air pockets around the roots. After watering, be sure to place mulch around the tree to conserve moisture and control weeds. Although apple trees will grow well in a wide range of soil types, a deep soil ranging in texture from a sandy loam to a sandy clay loam is preferred. Apple trees will not thrive in soil that is poorly drained. Roots will die in areas of poor drainage, resulting in stunted growth and eventual tree death. Conversely, apple trees will also perform poorly on droughty soils.
One last thought when selecting fruit trees, especially apple or pear trees, is to buy trees that have the same pollination code. What is a pollination code? Most apple and some pear varieties are self-unfruitful (requiring pollen from another variety to set fruit). When planting apples or pears make sure you plant two or more varieties that have the same pollination code, so fruit set will result. Pollination codes are divided into three categories: A, B or C. What all this really means is that you would have to buy at least two varieties with pollination code A in order for the trees to set fruit.
Fruit trees can be a valuable addition to your landscape, if well adapted types and varieties are chosen and the plants are well cared for. Please be sure to select varieties that are adapted to our part of the state.
Bill Starr is Sumter County Extension agent. University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. Contact him at 229-924-4476.