Many people enjoy going to the market to buy local produce but what’s even better is growing your own fruit trees and vegetables at home if you have the space to do so.
Although you can easily buy fruit trees at your local garden centre, understanding how to properly plant and care for them takes a bit of research and sometimes trial and error.
Growing up on the farm I was lucky enough to enjoy eating homegrown fruit from fruit trees such as crab apples, pears, bushes of elderberries, grapes, blackberries, currants and raspberries.
They were all easily accessible and enjoyed by my family and our grandparents. My grandma made many elderberry pies over the years that we had the pleasure of eating. Having the opportunity to pick fruit from our own backyard is like nothing else and you certainly save money. The only drawback was the mess that some of them left behind, particularly the larger fruit trees.
The beautiful flower blossoms add some vibrant colour to the spring landscape but once they begin to drop their fruit and leaves the mess and clean up begins.
Cleaning up the fruit and leaves can not only benefit the growth by reducing the plants susceptibility to disease that may hang around in the debris but also not having to mow your grass over pears and apples that have fallen is easier on your lawn mower.
Growing your own fruit
Before making any plans to start planting fruit trees on your property one thing you want to do some research on is how the plant will be pollinated and how this will affect the development and the amount of fruit your tree may yield. The main concern is the flowers and what their requirements are for pollination.
Some fruit trees have what are referred to as ‘perfect’ flowers that contain both male and female reproductive parts allowing the tree to be self-fertile and pollinate itself. Some trees produce male and female flowers on the same tree which also allow them to self-pollinate. These trees along with many others in the plant world are referred to as monoecious.
While we don’t live in a perfect world there are a number of fruit trees that do not produce both male and female flowers so two trees from the same family are required in order for cross-pollination to occur.
These types of plants are referred to as dioecious. I remember learning about dioecious plants in college and our on campus example being the Ginkgo Biloba tree. A female Ginkgo tree will not produce fruit unless a tree bearing male flowers is planted in proximity.
In this case I would say no fruit is a good thing because the fruit from a Ginkgo tree smells, and not a good smell. If you have had the opportunity to see a Ginkgo tree bearing fruit you know what I mean.
If a second tree is required for cross-pollination the two trees should be planted no more than 100 feet away from each other, the closer they are the better. Both trees must also be members of the same family as an apple tree will not pollinate a pear tree nor will a cherry tree pollinate an apple tree.
While growing your own fruit is not only delicious and helps to save money in your grocery budget there are a few things that you need to consider when you are deciding what and where you are going to plant your fruit-bearing plants.
Making sure you have enough space is key especially if you are planting varieties that will require another of the same plant for cross-pollination. You can always see what fruit trees your neighbours have planted as you may be able to use theirs as the partner tree for the tree you plant in your yard.
In the city with properties so close to each other it’s usually not too hard to find someone in the area who is also growing their own fruit. Fruit trees require an adequate amount of direct sunlight. While most will say plant in full sun any area where they will get a minimum of 6 hours of sun daily will be ideal.
A well-drained, high quality soil is important when growing fruit. Amending the soil with materials such as peat moss, manure and compost will help to increase the soil integrity. Peat moss and pine needles can also be used to lower the soil’s pH level for fruit such as blueberries that require acidic soil.
Don’t let the temperatures hold you back
While most of us would think that we could not grow warmer climate fruit such as citrus trees in our Canadian climate, when in fact we can. To be successful you are going to most likely have to go the route of growing citrus trees in pots that can be moved inside during the winter months. Limes, lemons and even oranges can be successfully grown in pots as Mr. CBB can tell you with his homegrown lime and fig tree.
Pruning of fruit trees is an important part of not only maintaining the size and shape of the tree but also can be used to promote the growth of the tree as well as flower and fruit production. Removing any branches that appear to be dying, dead, damaged or diseased will be beneficial to the tree.
Pruning can also be used to train the growth of the tree which can be used to promote the formation of strong crotch angles. The crotch angles are found where the trunk branches into 2 more branches and if that angle is too big the crotch angle is said to be weak.
To form a strong crotch angle you want a smaller distance between the branches so you will want to take a look at your tree, preferably when it is young. Look where it starts to branch off and see if there are any branches you can remove to prevent weak angles from forming.
Any extra weight from fruit and even snow and ice in the winter can cause a weak crotch angle to break causing the tree to lose one or more of its main branches.
Removing any branches that criss-cross over other branches is also a good idea as it will open up the tree to allow air to move through freely. If possible the majority of pruning any tree in general should be done when the tree is young.
Having to cut off a branch that is only a couple of years old compared to removing one that is 10 years old will leave a much smaller wound on that tree. The smaller wound will heal quicker and there will then be less of a chance of an insect or disease making its way in and wreaking havoc on your tree. A smaller wound also looks better than if you have to cut off a massive branch years down the road.
Regular pruning can also make harvesting your fruit easier and even though citrus trees don’t typically require pruning they can still benefit from it. Trees that are left un-pruned typically yield a large amount though they tend to be much smaller.
While regular pruning is beneficial over pruning can also cause the tree to produce fewer larger fruits that lack flavour and will not last very long once removed from the tree.
As I mentioned earlier in this post that cleaning up the fruit on the ground is easier on your mower blades cleaning up the leaves and fruit at the base of the tree can also have an effect on the overall health of the tree.
Apple trees for example can become susceptible to a fungal disease called Apple Scab which will appear as black or brownish spots that appear on primarily the leaves and fruit and occasionally affecting the woody parts of the tree such as the bark and branches.
While Apple Scab is unlikely to kill the tree it can dramatically reduce the amount of fruit the tree will produce.
Apple Scab will overwinter on any leaves and debris that are left on the ground throughout the winter and as soon as the weather starts to warm up the spores will rise up and infect the susceptible tree.
There are fungicides that can be applied to treat Apple Scab but by making sure any debris is removed surrounding the tree you can greatly reduce the chances of it infecting your trees.
I used to say that if I ever owned my own property I would never plant fruit trees because of the mess.
How ridiculous a thought that was. After thinking back to my childhood and all the homegrown fruit I had the pleasure of eating why would I not want to continue that with my own kids?
As long I stay on top of the clean-up fruit trees could be a real benefit in our lives not only health-wise but also by reducing the amount for fresh fruit in our grocery budget.
Reducing our grocery budget is important but replacing what we don’t buy with home-grown organic fruits and vegetables saves us even more and gives us the best products.
At the moment I do have a patch of everlasting raspberries that my grandfather planted many years ago. After 5 years of living here I finally had the time this spring to get the patch cleaned out and pruned up a bit. I have had so many raspberries these last few years I can only imagine how many I will have this year having now paid some attention to the area.
An apple tree is next on the list of fruit I want to grow for my family, possibly next year.
While this is only a brief introduction to growing your own fruit some research on the particular fruit you would like to grow will be required. With the world at our fingertips you can find almost anything you need to know about growing fruit online.
What fruit do you grow yourself at home?
Any experiences growing your own fruit that you can share?
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Photo Credit: Apple fruit tree/Freedigitalphotos.net/ArvindBalaraman