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Volume 16, Issue 1 ~ January 3 - January 9, 2008

Backyard Orchards: Pie in the Sky

Raising fruit trees isn’t a bowlful of cherries

A former member of the Annapolis Horticulture Society asked me to recommend peaches, nectarines, plums, pluots, apriums, apricots, cherries and apples for the garden of her new home on the lower Eastern Shore. She wanted to harvest homegrown fruit.

As I suspected, she had been eyeing the 2008 nursery catalogs. All those pretty pictures of attractive women or young children picking ripe fruit from trees had caught her interest. Many gardeners dream of the peaches and cherries they will harvest, but the reality of maintaining fruit trees is more than the average gardener wants to take on.

Nursery catalogs don’t tell you the whole story. They are in the business of selling plants, and they will do their best to make it look like growing fruit in your backyard is easy and cheap. The truth, however, is that it’s cheaper — and easier — to purchase fresh fruit in season than it is to grow your own.

Regardless of which fruit tree you grow, trees must be planted where they will receive maximum full sun and in well drained soil. If it’s a dwarf tree, it needs to be anchored and staked to prevent it from falling over.

Fruit trees must be properly trained to maximize light penetration into the center of the tree to maximize fruit growth. They must be severely pruned each year to minimize crowding and to allow better penetration of pesticide. After the fruit has formed, they must be thinned to develop to marketable size. Unless the fruit are properly thinned early, the tree will likely only produce golf ball-size fruit of inferior quality.

In Maryland, there are no tree fruits — other than persimmons, pawpaws and Asian pears — that can be grown without spraying. To produce edible peaches, nectarines, plums, apriums, pluots, apricots and cherries, the trees must be sprayed at least every other week beginning two weeks before the flowers open until harvest. Brown rot and rusts are the two most severe diseases that affect these species due to our hot, humid climate. To prevent the stinkbugs from cat-facing the peaches and nectarines and to prevent the Japanese beetles and Hercules beetles from eating the fruit, growers must also apply insecticides. Borers, too, can kill a tree if trunks are not sprayed at least thrice yearly.

A few varieties of apples can be grown with minimal spraying, but if you compare those with apples purchased at a farmers’ market or the grocery store, you may not want to eat them.

Save money and effort by purchasing your tree fruits when they are in season.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.

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