What’s Growing On: Starting fruit trees

Robert Fisher photo Tomato seedlings at five weeks of growth.

Most people with a backyard have thought of planting fruit trees to get some truly fresh fruit in the autumn. This column should give you a few ideas.

The most common fruit to try are apples, plums and cherries, and most of the column will be about apple trees. Apples originated in Kazakhstan, with trees migrating their way to Europe and Asia, finally making their way to North America in the 1800s. Most of our apples originated from this migration, by hybrids or grafting.

You need space for apple trees; ensure you get a tree that is semi-standard or semi-dwarf, which means 40 to 60 per cent of normal height. That could mean 20 feet high, with an equal diameter. With potted trees, ensure the hole you plant it in is larger than the pot so the roots can spread into loose soil. Add some manure, lime and rock phosphate to the hole, but not too much or you’ll burn the roots. Stake the tree solidly, add a bucket of water and continue watering regularly. Put fencing around the tree when you plant to keep deer away.

What variety of apple to get? Be aware that all manner of diseases and insects love apple trees and apples. You want trees that are resistant or immune to apple scab and fire blight – you probably don’t want to spend considerable time spraying chemicals. Disease-resistant trees that produce nice apples include NovaMac, Liberty and Freedom. Others, which are desirable but do get scab, include Honeycrisp, Cortland and Delicious. If you want a pie apple that’s crisp, try the New Brunswicker, developed in Woodstock over 100 years ago. There are hundreds of apple varieties, although only a few varieties are in the produce department of grocery stores.

Canada Green has a nice selection of trees and Corn Hill Nursery near Sussex has a lot of different varieties. You may have to order trees in advance. Check out their websites, they provide nice descriptions.

Plum trees grow to 10 to 12 feet, have many less enemies in terms of diseases and insects, but one that is nasty is black knot. Avoid it by buying Asian plum varieties because you need two as they’re not self-fertile; a European variety called President, which is resistant black knot, or a European/Asian hybrid called Toka. European plums, oval in shape and purple in colour, are self-fertile and one to consider is Mount Royal, which came from France to Montreal at the time of the fur trade.

Cherry trees come as sweet or sour. The common sour one is Montmorency, which is great for pies. The most common home garden sweet cherries are Bing and Stella. All cherry trees are smallish, 10 to 12 feet high and our climate along the Fundy coast allows us to grow them all. Cherries have one main pest, birds, which will eat the ripe cherries. Cover the trees with netting if you wish to get the fruit yourself.

You don’t need to prune first-year trees, just let them grow. We’ll discuss pruning in a future column later in the year, including those old, neglected trees you may have already in your backyard.

Next time, we’ll go back to the garden and talk about mulching, protection and watering. Hope your seedlings are growing well.

By-the-Sea Gardeners is a community group that provides a forum for gardeners in the Saint Andrews area to share their interest and enthusiasm in gardening. To learn more about us, follow By the Sea Gardeners Club – St. Andrews on Facebook. Contact:Richard Tarn at 506-529-3110 or Mike Hutton at 506-529-3629.