March 1, 2012 in Washington Voices

Five months of fruit possible with right care


Last week I talked about finding the right place for your backyard orchard. This week I want to talk about selecting and caring for the trees you put in it.

Apples, pears, plums and cherries do well here and can usually handle our coldest winters with little damage. Peaches and apricots will need protected areas and can suffer significant twig damage during a cold winter.

A well-planned orchard will give you fruit for up to five months. Cherries start in early July followed by apricots in late July, then peaches and early season apples in August. September brings the first of the mid-season apple, pears and plums. October and early November bring the last of the apples.

Most fruit trees will come as dwarf or semi-dwarf. A dwarf tree will grow 6 to 8 feet tall and as wide while a semi-dwarf will grow 12 to 15 feet tall and as wide. The dwarf category also includes small columnar trees that can easily be grown in a large pot on a patio. If you have the space and want lots of fruit then semi-dwarf trees are the way to go. If not, stick to the dwarfs.

Dwarf and semi-dwarf trees are created by grafting the top of a tree of a particular variety to a rootstock with a propensity to grow small. The roots impart their genetic tendency to stay small to the top of the tree. Grafting can also create a straight, narrow upright tree with short branches that will grow in a small space. Several varieties of fruit can be grafted onto the same tree, creating a small tree with two, three or even four varieties of say, apples on it. This can also be done with cherries, peaches and pears so you don’t need a bunch of trees.

To be productive and pest-free, fruit trees do take more care than landscape trees. Because we live in a fruit-producing area, it is important to think about our commercial growers before we plant and to have a maintenance plan in place. Pest- and disease-ridden trees that are uncared for pass their problems on to nearby commercial orchards and affect how that grower cares for his trees.

Most fruit trees will need weekly deep watering for the first couple of years. The only pruning that is needed the first year is to trim broken twigs and to remove crossing branches and limbs that attached to the trunk with a narrow V. In subsequent years, trees will need to be shaped to keep them open to light and the fruit within easy reach.

The only spray needed the first few years is a dormant oil spray in the late winter each year. Once the tree starts bearing, it probably will be necessary to treat for chronic bugs and diseases such as codling moth and apple maggot in apples, cherry fruit fly in cherries and peach leaf curl in peaches. The most pest-free fruit trees are pear and plum.

Pat Munts has gardened in the Spokane Valley for more than 35 years. She can be reached at pat@

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