By Steve Boehme
Many people dream of having a home orchard but keep putting it off.
One reason is that there can be such a long time (and a lot of work) between planting and your first harvest of delicious fruit. Another reason is that so many things can go wrong in the meantime. Fear of the unknown discourages many homeowners from planting fruit trees.
It’s true that raising fruit at home takes effort, but probably not as much as you think. The key is doing things the easy way instead of wasting time and effort. It’s possible to have edible fruit the same year you plant, or the next year. The key is starting with real, living container-grown fruit trees instead of ordering “sticks in an envelope” from mail order catalogs. Mail-order trees are unlikely to succeed for many reasons. Instead, start with the biggest, healthiest fruit trees you can find. They’ll cost more initially, but they are more likely to thrive and you’ll have fruit years sooner. Many of our container-grown fruit trees are already bearing fruit!
Choosing newer, disease-resistant varieties is another key to success with less effort. Modern hybrids reduce the maintenance required for healthy, delicious fruit. Everyone knows the familiar grocery store names, but the best apples for home orchards probably have names you never heard of, like “Freedom” and “Zestar”. These newer apples have been carefully bred to require less spraying to produce healthy fruit.
“Semi-dwarf” fruit trees, which grow 12 to 15 feet wide and perhaps 10 feet tall, make harvesting easier. Tree size, hardiness, and clay soil tolerance are determined by the rootstock, not the variety.
Most apple trees we sell have semi-dwarf rootstocks ideal for southern Ohio.Look for “Certified Virus Indexed” (CVI) fruit trees, grafted from certified virus free mother trees. CVI means you’re not bringing someone else’s fruit tree viruses into your orchard.
Don’t waste time and effort trying to start an orchard “on the cheap.” It will ultimately cost you more in time and effort, and probably in dollars also.
Each tree should be securely staked, fertilized, mulched, and protected from deer. If you budget about $75 per tree, you’ll have enough for everything needed to make your orchard a success, including good-sized quality plants. In the long run you’ll be money ahead.
If you already have fruit trees, you should be doing some maintenance right now. Dormant oil spray kills many fruit tree pests before they even hatch, but you need to do it before the buds open.
Remember to feed your trees each year. Simply scattering some Espoma “Tree Tone” under the trees will give them a boost and improve fruiting. Do it now.
After bud break, professional orchardists spray their trees every two weeks. The early-season spray applications do the most good; once summer comes you can relax a bit more. We have an all-purpose fruit tree spray that controls most insects and funguses. Mark your calendar to remind yourself about the two-week cycle, and keep the spray concentrate on hand. It only takes a few minutes to spray a young orchard.
Steve Boehme is the owner of GoodSeed Nursery & Landscape, located on Old State Route 32 three miles west of Peebles. To e-mail your landscaping questions click “Contact Us” from their website at www.goodseedfarm.com or call (937) 587-7021.