Let’s start at the beginning–how to properly choose your trees.
Your local Ag Extension office, mom and pop nursery or university could be a good resource for fruit tree varieties that grow well in your area. Here is my shortlist for Central Texas, Zone 8a:
- Belle of Georgia (pretty shaped tree, firm fruit, good for eating and baking);
- June Elberta (small pits, good to can or eat)
- Methley (early to ripen, red flesh)
- Bruce (early to ripen, yellow flesh, large fruit)
- Kieffer (crispy yellow-white flesh)
- Leconte (similar to Asian pear)
- Moonglow (a fast grower)
For a more extensive list and details on the best fruit and nut tree varieties for Central Texas, here is a great resource.
Now let’s talk about how to properly plant fruit trees:
- Most fruit trees need another of its kind or a tree with similar bloom time in order to pollinate. Although some fruit trees are self-fertile, I encourage people to play it safe and buy fruit trees in pairs.
- Space trees approximately 12 feet apart.
- The best time to plant is winter or early spring. (Just don’t plant during the hot summer!)
- Dig a hole that is 2 1/2 times the diameter of the root ball and almost to the depth of the root ball. Aerate the base of the hole by poking a few holes into the soil (the best tool is a spading fork–it’s a great way to release any anger–just don’t turn the soil. You want the bottom of the hole to be firm). The flare of the trunk should sit just above the soil level. No sinking trees!
- I’ve heard mixed reviews on adding compost at the time of planting. I personally mix some compost with the native soil as I plant. Water thoroughly as you go to prevent settling or air pockets around the tree.
- Again, there are mixed reviews about staking young trees. I only stake a tree if it looks like it needs it. If you choose to stake your tree, drive a 2″x2″ stake deep into the ground a foot away from the tree trunk. Wrap 18″ of garden hose around the trunk, about 6″ above the base trunk flex. Run 3′ of No.9 wire through the hose and secure to the stake, making a figure 8 loop. Leave the support up for only a year or two.
Now that you’ve chosen your fruit trees and planted them properly, let’s talk about annual care.
There are two main things to remember for proper fruit tree care: watering properly and keeping your tree (relatively) free of pests.
- Water trees deeply when planted and deeply once a month May through October (a little more while the tree is establishing roots or if it’s unseasonably dry).
- Adjust for rainy periods (if November-April is especially dry, water deeply a few times.)
- Pomegranate and fig trees require less water than peach, plum or pear trees.
PEST CONTROL: For the first year of planting, here is Howard Garrett, the Dirt Doctor’s recommended program. I have not added all of his suggested items because they are hard to find in my area. I am, however, (trying) to follow his spray maintenance advice. Erath Earth Compost Tea is my local favorite. (Make sure the tea you use has garlic and one ounce of apple cider vinegar per gallon in it). Here is his spray schedule (with a few of my notes):
1st spraying: This is usually in February! Spray compost tea all over the tree when it has buds, but flowers have not yet opened. Also, drench it throughout the root system at 1 gal. per 1000 sq ft.
2nd spraying: Apply compost tea after the flowers have fallen.
3rd spraying: About June 15th (later in northern locations)
4th spraying: Last week in August through mid-September. Use additional sprayings (every 30 days) as time and budget allow.
The last thing to know about fruit trees is how to prune. Prune in late winter. This is an excellent video on how to do that. My condensed version:
- Remove any upright growth in both the center of the tree and on the lateral branches. You want the shape of the tree to be like a vase, or cup, with the main branches at a 45-degree angle.
- Clip any small suckers, especially ones growing down or back into the tree. Leave as much of the redwood / new growth as possible.
- Clip the tips of each branch so the fruit won’t set on the very ends.
- Once the tree starts setting fruit, picking off a few from the clusters will produce larger fruit. It’s so hard to do! I know!
Now that you have a happy, healthy tree, there is one more thing. The VERY last thing to do with your fruit trees is to ENJOY THE FRUIT!