Getting to Know Your Fruit Trees

by Don Trotter

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Hello fellow Earthlings, and welcome to summer in the fruit orchard. We are going to take a couple of columns on growing fruit crops successfully, so let's get to know some vocabulary.

Growing fruit crops without the use of synthetic chemical pesticides and plant foods is as rewarding an endeavor as any other gardening project. Juicy and flavorful fruit that have no chance of potentially harmful chemical residues on them or in them just seem to taste better. I think it is because of the abundance of minerals and natural sugars provided to the plants via natural organic matter and natural plant foods allow fruit trees to reach their full potential. Eating an apricot that is so sweet and tasty that you can't imagine anything even coming close is the goal of we natural gardeners. The fact that these fruits can be eaten with confidence that you are eating nothing but the fruit makes them taste even better. In this chapter we will be discussing some details about fruit growing that are specific to each of the more commonly grown fruits and some of the exotics as well. We will be touching on general care, feeding, pruning, dormant care and a few special traits each type of fruit tree has. There are some terms that are used when describing fruit trees that will come in handy when you are buying new trees or just gabbing with the neighbors about your fruit crop. Let's look at a few of those definitions.

Compatible Cultivars: This is a description of tree varieties that can successfully cross-pollinate. Good examples of compatible cultivars are Santa Rosa and Satsuma plum trees.

Crotch: The angle of emergence of a branch from the trunk of a tree. Crotches are those joints where a branch connects with a larger branch or the main trunk.

Dwarf and Semidwarf Trees: These are terms given to describe fruit trees grafted on to size controlling rootstocks. Dwarf trees usually reach a height of 8 to 10 feet. Semidwarfs mature at 12 to 18 feet in height.

Genetic Dwarf: These are fruit trees that appear to have a genetic propensity to stay quite small. They often mature completely at a height of 4 to 5 feet tall.

Graft and Bud Union: A graft or bud union is where the tissue of one type of tree is joined with another. Often the position of the graft or bud union is marked with a pronounced scar. Grafting and budding are methods used to join vigorous rootstocks to fruiting varieties.

High-Chill: High-chill trees require more hours of cold or cool weather the break dormancy. This means that a high-chill tree requires many hours of chilly weather before it will come out of dormancy and begin to grow in the spring. High-chill trees do not perform well in mild climates. Many apples, pears, cherries and deciduous fruit and nut trees are rated by the number of hours of chill they require.

Low-Chill: Low-chill deciduous fruit trees require fewer hours of cold or cool weather in order to break dormancy. These are the types of deciduous fruits and nuts that do best where winters are mild.

Pome Fruit: Pome fruits are fruit types that have cores that contain more than one seed. Apples and pears are representatives of the pome fruits.

Rootstock: A rootstock is normally a very vigorous growing variety of compatible plants that a fruiting variety of plants are grafted on to. Rootstocks are selected for their vigor, or for their capability to keep plants small or dwarfed.

Scaffolds: This is a term used to describe the main or structural branches on a fruit tree or any tree for that matter.

Self-Fruitful: Self fruitful trees are trees that are capable of producing pollen that is able to pollinate its own flowers. Another term for trees of this type is self-pollinating.

Spurs: Spurs, when used in describing fruit trees, refer to a type of wood where a majority of the fruit comes from. They are also called fruiting spurs. They are short branches that appear to have lots of growth buds on them, giving them a rather knobby appearance. Spurs only grow a few fractions of an inch in length per year. As spurs form on you apple, pear, apricot, or plum you will recognize them. They are where you will see most of your spring blossoms coming from. And where the blossoms are, that's where the fruit will be.

Standard: This is a term used to describe full-sized trees. Standard trees usually mature at a height of at least 20 feet tall.

Stone Fruit: Stone fruits have a single large pit or seed in the middle of the fruit. Peaches, plums, and apricots are representatives of the stone fruits.

Suckers: Suckers are shoots that sprout out of or near the base of a fruit tree. Suckers are found lower than the graft union and should be removed as soon as they are noticed.

Watersprouts: Watersprouts are upright shoots, often vertical, that sprout from the main branches and trunk of the tree. These are energy users and should be removed each dormant season at the time of pruning.

Whips: This is a name given to young trees or first year growth from a graft or a bud union.

These terms are useful when discussing fruit trees and will come up a few times during this book and in just about every other gardening book that discusses fruit tree care. These words are good words to know.

One of the wonderful things about growing fruit in the home garden is that since the advent of the dwarf tree gardeners do not need to have acres of land to cultivate a tantalizing selection. Here in California land developers and homebuilders carve the tops off of mountains in order to develop more land for home sites. The resulting lots are often quite small with large sloping sections that have become very popular spots for growing fruit trees. These "slopes" have become major garden space due to the lack of open, level ground on the postage stamp lots where they build the oversized houses we have become so accustomed to. People with desires to garden have had to move onto these slopes to satisfy their gardening urges. Fruit trees are uniquely suited for this uneven terrain, and if planned nicely, a fruit orchard on a slope can be a very attractive addition to the overall beauty of one's outdoor space.

Got questions? Email the Doc at Don Trotter's natural gardening columns appear nationally in environmentally sensitive publications. Check out Don's books Natural Gardening A-Z and The Complete Natural Gardener at bookstores near you and at all on-line booksellers, both from Hay House publishing

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