Gardening with Mother Evelyn: fruit tree tips

January is the best time to plant fruit trees like peaches, apricots, etc. When it comes to citrus, wait for spring. You don’t want Jack Frost to freeze your new orange tree! Every garden, no matter how small, can have some fresh fruit.

Tip No. 1: Begin with the right variety

Because you live on our warm coastal area choose low chill fruit trees. What is low chill? It’s the number of winter hours of less than 45 degrees that your tree needs to produce fruit. For all that information, plus pruning and planting, go to davewilson.com. The website is easy to understand with real practical help.

Small garden? Choose multi-variety trees or some of the dwarf varieties. Remember dwarf varieties are cute, but you won’t get much fruit and we assume you do want fruit!

Tip No. 2: Cut your tree back when you buy it

The training for a successful backyard fruit tree begins at the time when you buy your tree. If you want your tree to be short so that you, and not the birds enjoy the fruit, cut it back when you purchase it. Cut it back to about 4 feet. I can already hear you, "I just bought a tree that is 6-foot high and you want me to cut off almost half?" It’s scary but trust me, it will eventually sprout leaves and branches and your tree will be short enough for easy picking.

Tip No. 3: Plant it right

Check for drainage before you plant. Dig a hole 1 to 2 feet deep where you plan to put your fruit tree. Fill it with water, see how long it takes to drain and then fill it again. If it takes longer than three hours your drainage is not good enough. If not enough, make a raised bed, or an above ground box.

Tip No. 4: Choose a sunny spot

Plenty of sun gives fruit good flavor. Plant in good slightly amended soil so that the bud is at least several inches above the ground. The bud is that big bump near the roots. What grows above the bud will give you good fruit. Any growth below the bud needs to be removed — watch and remove this growth all year long.

Tip No. 5: Make your watering count

Make a well or build a berm around the tree to be sure the water goes where it is supposed to go. You can mix in a cupful of any good organic or traditional fertilizer into your planting soil. It’s important the first summer not to let your trees dry out.

Water at least every two weeks if the upcoming summer is hot. Next year a monthly deep watering will do. If you planted your tree right this watering schedule is well within the drought guidelines. After your tree is well settled in, then you can begin to water every other month until late August.

Tip No. 6: Key to a short tree.

Remove any branches that grow on the main trunk lower than two feet. This is forming that short trunk. Ideally your trunk should end up about 3 feet high with the fruiting branches growing above that.

Hint: You want your tree structure to end with 3 to 4 of the strongest branches shaped upwards like a vase. As you prune and shape you will be making those choices and taking off any little branches or branches that go straight out.

Don’t expect fruit the first year. This is the training year. With second year trees, expect some fruit, but you will still do a pruning after producing fruit, and additionally in the winter.

Tip No. 7: Backyard planting is different. Try planting three trees close together in one large hole. Small garden? Buy one of the four-in-one trees that will give you four different fruits on one tree. Buy true dwarf and keep it in a large pot.

Tip No. 8: If you have older fruit trees right now, it’s time to prune. Clean up first, then spray with horticultural oil spray. Add in good copper spray if you had peach leaf curl last summer. It’s too late to spray in the summer.

Here is the challenge this rainy winter: Ideally you want several dry days after spraying. Sunny dry period? Get out and spray!

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