Grow Your Own Fruit
Searcy, Ark. –
Growing tree fruit in your backyard can be a rewarding hobby. However, it is important to plan and be prepared prior to planting. Mid to late winter is the time to plan and plant for those future harvests. Nurseries receive fresh shipments of fruit, nut and berry plants in January and February, ready for planting.
Before rushing to make that purchase, you first need to do some homework. Make sure that the fruit variety you select will grow and produce for you - and that you are able to provide the attention required to ensure you'll have something to harvest. For further information on adaptability to your area, contact the County Extension office in your location.
Type and Variety Selection.
Fruit Types. Not all types of fruits and berries will grow well in Arkansas. Some are easier to grow than others. A few popular grocery store fruits and nuts may appear in catalogs that provide tempting pictures and descriptions, but are not adapted to our region. Reasons could include temperature-related problems (early/late freezes, not enough winter chilling, summers too hot), plus humidity and disease limitations.
Varieties. Proper variety selection is a key ingredient for a successful harvest. Make sure the varieties you select are adapted to our climate, have a proven track record and offer the most disease resistance possible. A Fruit and Nut Variety List is available at every County Extension Office with varieties specifically adapted for your county.
Pollination. Several fruit types require more than one variety to ensure proper pollination and fruit set. These include apple, blueberry, pear, plum and some muscadine grape varieties. When selecting these types, be sure to include more than one named variety in your yard or orchard. Pecans also benefit from having more than one variety close by. However, since the pollen is carried on the wind, if there are pecans in the neighborhood, you could rely on those if orchard space is tight.
Peaches, the most popular backyard fruit, do not require a second variety for pollination.
Harvest Dates. With careful selection, you can extend your harvest season by planting more than one variety. For example, you could harvest peaches from late May through early August by choosing the right varieties. On the other hand, you might end up with fruit rotting on the ground by planting too many trees with similar ripening dates.
Rootstocks. Peaches, plums and apricots should be grafted onto Nemaguard rootstocks to help prevent root knot nematode damage to your trees. Apples may come on dwarfing rootstocks that keep the trees to a smaller, more manageable size.
Site Selection. Picking the best planting spot is very important. All fruits, berries and nuts need full sun for the best yields. Less than maximum sunlight means a reduced harvest and more pest problems.
Well-drained soils are crucial for the success of every fruit and nut species. Few fruit types thrive in poorly drained soils. Mayhaws are an exception to this rule and tolerate poorly drained soils, although they also do best in moist, well-drained soils. Poorly drained soils lack the oxygen necessary for the roots to function at their peak potential.
Here's a simple test to determine your soil's internal drainage. Dig a hole 3 feet deep with a posthole digger and fill it up with water. If the water is gone within 24 hours, you'll have no trouble growing fruit and nut trees. If the water is gone within 48 hours, the soil is acceptable but can give problems. If water is still in the hole after 48 hours, grow vegetables or flowers instead.
If you are planning a home orchard, pay attention to spacing between plants. Give your trees enough room to grow to their full size without crowding. Crowded plants compete for light, water and nutrients, and eventually yields are reduced and disease and other problems occur. Nearly all fruit and pecan trees are grafted or budded. When planting a tree, do not confuse the graft union (a slight bend in the lower trunk) with the original soil line. The original soil line is indicated by a transition from brown to grey on the trunk. Dig the hole and plant the tree no deeper than the original soil line.
Keep at least a three-foot diameter circle around the tree free of competing grass and weeds. This will not only speed the growth and development of your new tree, but will help provide a little spring frost protection for flowers on older trees.
After planting, water your trees (in the absence of a good, soaking rain) every 4 days for 2 weeks, then every 5 days for 2 weeks, and so on until you can water the tree every 10 to 20 days without placing the tree under stress. The key to watering established trees is to water deeply and infrequently. Lawn sprinklers set for 15 minutes every other day will not wetting the soil sufficiently for producing trees.
Newly planted trees should be pruned back rather severely to compensate for loss of roots during transplanting and to begin the process of training the new growth into a good form for that particular type of tree or vine.
Fruit trees should be pruned every year to maintain their health, e n c o u r a g e balanced growth and productivity and control their size and shape. When you plant a fruit tree, you should be dedicated to giving the tree proper care and pruning to maximize both fruit quality and quantity throughout the life of the tree. Understanding the principles of pruning and practicing them are important. The objectives of tree pruning are:
Develop strong tree structure. This should begin when trees are planted and continue each year thereafter.
- Provide for light penetration. Good light quality throughout the tree increases fruit bud development for following years and increases the quality of the current crop.
- Control tree size. Most fruit trees require pruning to control branch spread as well as tree height. This also serves to encourage new growth that will result in new fruit-bearing areas.
- Remove damaged wood. Some wood damage occurs almost every year from such things as wind damage, fruit weight, winter injury and disease and insects.
Pruning is a dwarfing process and may result in a slight reduction in yield compared to an unpruned tree, but the size, color and quality of remaining fruit will be improved.
When to Prune
The best time to prune is during late winter or early spring just before the beginning of active growth. If large blocks of trees are to be pruned, time it so that you finish just before bud break. It will not harm trees if sap is beginning to flow at the time you prune. The main reasons you should prune during the late dormant period are:
Wounds heal quickly when growth starts.
- Undesirable branches and other wood to be pruned can be easily seen since there are no leaves on the tree.
- The bark is less likely to tear when cuts are made.
- Trees pruned in early winter may be damaged by low winter temperatures that occur after pruning. Summer pruning may also be used to control growth of young trees, improve light quality in the fruiting z o n e; thin heavy fruit loads or remove water sprouts and other undesirable wood.
Information for this article was taken from the Texas Cooperative Extension Service and the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service publications
The University of Arkansas System, Division of Agriculture is an equal opportunity/equal access/affirmative action institution.
For additional information on horticulture questions, contact the White County Cooperative Extension Service at 501-268-5394, or visit the website at https://www.uaex.edu/ .
By Sherri Sanders
County Extension Agent - Agriculture
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture
Media Contact: Sherri Sanders
County Extension Agent - Agriculture
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
2400 Old Searcy Landing Road Searcy AR 72143
The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service is an equal opportunity/equal access/affirmative
action institution. If you require a reasonable accommodation to participate or need
materials in another format, please contact your County Extension office (or other
appropriate office) as soon as possible. Dial 711 for Arkansas Relay.
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