This month’s Golden Spades event was all about fruits, the growing of them and just a bit about cooking and eating them, because that’s the whole point, right? Gene Sumi, Homestead’s education director (also known as our in-house guru) inspired us to think about tackling this plant group, something that most Golden Spaders confessed to NOT doing. Who knows – maybe Gene found some converts in his talk about the easiest and most ornamental of all fruits to grow.
Oh, and buy NOW before they’re picked over.
Back in the bad old days of fruit-growing, the trees were sold bare root and gardeners had to wait “a lifetime” before they fruited. Not so anymore, because now they’re sold in containers as larger plants that are ready to fruit in the next year (or so) after planting. You may be seeing small pots of fruit trees on sale at the grocery store? Gene says they won’t fruit for five years, or longer.
Another change? Thanks to our warming climate, we’re now growing plants we never did before, like the apricot in particular.
Growing Fruit Trees
All the types Gene showed us are easy to grow – as long as you give them full sun. With six hours of sun per day you’ll get a “decent crop”, so don’t despair if you’re lacking the 8+ hours we’d all like to give our sun-lovers. the other key is pollination – taking note of which plants need a second tree to pollinate, for examples, and which ones pollinate themselves. If you don’t have a lot of space, consider espaliered fruit trees in containers – they produce quite well grown that way. Conventional trees are simply turned into espalier form by pruning.
When planting or transplanting fruit trees Gene always uses Bio-tone Starter Plus with mycorrhizal fingi, a popular product from Espoma. Gene thinks it’s a hoot that this new “green” product is over 400 million years old”. Remember it must make physical contact with the rootball, which is why it’s used at the time of planting.
As for fertilizers, Gene recommends any good 10-10-10 or 5-10-5 product, but especially Espoma’s Garden-tone and Tree-tone.
Pests are something else to consider, especially preventing them – because orchardists know that once pests are on their trees, there’s no getting rid of them. So it’s important to kill the first generation of damaging pests by spraying at the right time with a dormant spraying with lime sulphur. That’ll kill wintering-over disease spores and insect eggs. Bayer Advanced Fruit, Citrus and Vegetable Insect Control is effective, though it must be used with caution on edibles. The active period of its ingredients is before the fruits appear, so if you follow instructions carefully and time application soon enough before harvest, it’s safe to use. Another option is use horticultural oil as a topical spray, not a systemic like Bayer Advanced.
The apple market used to be 82 percent ‘Red Delicious’ – anyone else remember those bad old days? That monotony was broken by the advent of ‘Fuji’ apples from New Zealand in our stores, and now we have dozens of varieties available to us. Homestead is selling ‘Honey Crisp’ this year for first time. We sell only dwarfs (to 8-10 feet fully grown) and semi-dwarfs (to 10-15) so that tall ladders aren’t required for harvest. The same varieties can grow in containers and will top off at just 6 feet tall or so. Apples require a second tree for cross-pollination. Learn more about growing applies from our supplier.
Peaches and Nectarines
Peaches and nectarines are genetically the same – who knew? They’re also grown successfully in containers, where they produce the same size fruit, just fewer of them than on full-size trees. We sell dwarfs, such as ‘Sensation Peach’. Learn more about growing peaches and nectarines.
European types of plums – both blue and purple – all self-pollinate, so only one tree is required. Learn more about growing plums.
Pears easy to grow, though be sure to get two because most types need another variety to cross-pollinate. Asian pears from Korea and China are particularly popular – you know, the round, crunchy ones. Learn more about growing pears.
These American natives bearing kidney-shaped fruit are enjoying a huge resurgence of popularity these days. People are discovering that they like their custardy, banana flavor and valuing home-grown pawpaws for their rarity. Because they spoil so quickly, they can’t be shipped, so are almost n ever seen in stores or even farmers markets.
Another reason for pawpaw’s popularity is that unlike almost every other fruit, they tolerate some shade. Also, they’re basically a large shrub, so fit in smaller gardens. Great fall color, too. Just be prepared to share the fruits with pawpaw-loving critters, or use netting to keep the fruits all to yourself.
Cherry trees can become so become massive – easily 50 feet tall – that Gene suspects that George Washington didn’t really cut one down when he was just a boy. He probably climbed in a few, though – they’re great for that.
Big sweet cherries , like the ‘Blackyork’ bing that we sell, are favorites of cooks like Gene. Yes, he confessed “I’m a pretty good baker” who’s baked more than his share of cherry pies over the years and has a tip: “Don’t forget the almond extract in your cherry pie – it’s a key ingredient. During cherry harvest season Gene bakes pies every two weeks or so, and predicts that pie -baking more than anything else will get people back into growing fruit. Learn more about growing cherries.
Persimmons are “naturally all gooey and mixable” and Gene recommends baking some persimmon bread.
Figs do very well in our climate, generally unbothered by pests except for the birds (again, netting is helpful). The most popular varieties are ‘Brown Turkey’ and ‘Celeste’ – because they’re the most cold-hardy. Figs don’t store well, but produce like crazy. Learn more about growing figs.
Blueberrys are the most popular berry to grow in our area, and there are lots of great choices, especially among species that are native to our area. The key to growing them is to give them soil that’s acidic enough – something often achieved by growing in raised beds, where soil can be better controlled than at grade. Growing blueberries in pure peatmoss works well, too.
Northern Highbush is the most common blueberry grown in our area. Grow two different varieties next to each other for best results. The Lowbush, despite its name, becomes quite large. We also carry the Southern Highbush, which self-pollinates and is smaller – great for pots.
Don’t chop blueberries down every year – just selectively remove nonproducing growth. Blueberries suffer no real pests, again except for the wildlife that love to eat them. Blueberries do NOT ripen after they’re picked. Learn more about growing blueberries from our local supplier.
Strawberries come in two types – ever-bearing, which will produce berries their first year – and June-bearing, which produce bigger berries, but not the first year after planting. Also, if you’re canning, it’s best to grow June-bearing so that you can get your canning done all at once.
Gene’s tip for growing blackberries is to grow them across posts or wires, rather than letting them bramble, and choose thornless varieties. Just let them get established for the first couple of years in your garden. And don’t prune new plants – they need food energy for root development; just prune out the dead branches. (They need as many leaves as possible.) Learn more about growing blackberries.