Now that spring isn’t far off, fruit trees will soon be appearing in local garden centers. Here are a few points to consider when picking out and growing trees.
Northeast Washington and North Idaho are colder and have a shorter growing season than the central part of Washington. That means we can’t grow the range of fruit they can. Apples, pears, cherries and most plums do well here. Peaches, apricots and nectarines are iffy and success will depend on just the right site. There are a few peach varieties rated to minus 25 degrees.
All fruit trees need full sun, good soil and water through the growing season. Trees should not be planted in low spots where cold air can collect during the winter. Spring frosts that settle in such spots can kill blossoms and your fruit crop for the year.
When purchasing trees, keep in mind that most fruit trees are grafted onto a root stock that will determine its ultimate size so ask how tall it will get to be sure. Most trees sold to homeowners will be 8 to 15 feet.
Many apples, pears, cherries and plums need another tree close by to provide pollen to help set fruit. Without cross pollination, fruit sets are iffy. Selection of the proper pollinator will depend on the variety of tree you want as there is no single variety that will pollinate everything. A way around this is to buy combination trees that have several varieties grafted onto the same tree. You can also take your chances that there are the proper trees somewhere in your neighborhood to do the job.
When buying trees, look for those with straight trunks topped with a strong leader. The tree should have well spaced branches all around the trunk. The bark should be free of scrapes and cuts. If you are buying bareroot trees in a bag, look for those in larger bags. Buy bagged trees as early as possible. If you are buying in late spring, the trees should be in pots. Check both bagged and potted trees for water when you get them home. Because our ground may still be too wet to dig in, trees can be stored in a garage for a few weeks.
When you plant your trees, dig a wide, dish shaped hole, a little deeper than the height of the root system. Set the tree in the hole so that the point where the trunk flares into the roots will be just below the soil. Back fill the hole with native soil without amendments. If possible put the trees on a drip irrigation system. If not, plan on watering the trees deeply once a week. The lawn sprinklers aren’t going to be enough.
Lastly, take care of your trees. Learn how to time and apply the needed organic or conventional pest controls. Too often untended home orchards create problems for our commercial growers by harboring bugs and diseases.