The best way to succeed is to plan before you plant. Let’s discuss location: Do you know where you want to plant your new trees? Avoid many future problems by considering all aspects of the planting spot, such as:
Is a pollinator variety present? Cross-pollination by a different variety, of the same type of tree, is key to the success of many fruit trees. In most cases, its absence is why trees don’t bear fruit or produce poorly. Since insects and wind carry pollen from one blossom to the other blossoms the trees should be planted fairly close together, within 50 feet.
Your tree would love a sunny place with well-drained, fertile soil. But it will be quite satisfied with six to eight hours of sunlight. Good drainage is required to keep your trees “happy.” If your soil has high clay content, use our Coco-Fiber Potting Medium or add one-third peat to the soil at planting time. We do not recommend planting fruit trees in heavy, pure clay soils.
Even if your yard isn’t the most ideal location, take heart. Fruit trees are very adaptable and respond well to fertilizers, so they can get along well even where the soil is nutritionally poor. Just steer clear of sites with extremely heavy soils or very poor drainage.
If you’d like your tree to become a landscaping asset, choose the planting place with this in mind. Imagine it as a full-grown tree and check everything out: Wires overhead? Sidewalk underneath? Does it obstruct something you want to see? Can you keep an eye on it from the house? Will other trees be in the way, allowing for their additional growth in the meantime?
Even a year or two after planting, your tree will be very difficult to transplant. So take the time to plant it in just the right place.
First-time fruit tree growers often ask about recommended planting distances from patios, sewer lines, water pipes and so on. Ordinarily, patios will not be a problem because the soil beneath them will be dry and compacted. Therefore, the roots will not grow into this area as much. It’s still recommended, however, that you plant at least 8-10’ away from patios, water pipes and sewer pipes. You might not expect sewer and water lines to be affected since they are buried so deeply. But, since sewer and water lines tend to be wet, roots will grow to them and around them if the tree is planted too close. By planting your trees far enough away from these items, you can avoid this problem.
Once you’ve found out about fruit growing goodness firsthand, you’ll want to expand your home orchard. It’s important to plan for tree spacing so that the future growth areas will be ready when you are.
Successfully establishing a young fruit tree in your yard starts with your planting site and method. Once a fruit tree is established, it needs little assistance to grow and bear fruit; but you’ll want to make sure you give your trees the right foundation.
Fruit trees require fertile soil for good growth, so before you plant, check your soil pH. Contact your local County Extension Office for information about soil testing in your area, or purchase one of our digital meters for quick and accurate results. If the soil pH where you plant your tree is 6.0-7.0, you’re in good shape. Take a look at the established trees and plants around the site. If they look healthy and are growing well, just follow the recommended fertilization program for your fruit trees. Steer clear of soils that are extremely heavy or poorly drained.
Grafted trees need special planting attention. All Stark Bro’s fruit trees are grafted or budded, the only methods for growing true-to-name planting stock. You can see where the fruiting variety on top is joined to the root variety on the bottom by a bump in the bark, change in the bark color or a slight offset angle. For certain dwarf trees, it’s very important to keep this graft above the ground. Otherwise, roots could develop from above the graft; then your tree could grow to full size by bypassing its dwarfing parts.
Most Stark fruit trees are budded to specially selected clonal rootstocks. For dwarf, semi-dwarf and colonnade apple trees, the bud union should be planted 2-3” above the soil line. Standard size apple trees as well as our Custom Grafted trees should be planted 1-2” deeper than the soil lines from the nursery row.
For dwarf pears, peaches, nectarines, apricots, cherries and plums trees the bud-graft line should remain at or above the ground and for standard size trees they will do better with a slightly deeper planting.
Stark trees that are grown and shipped in bottomless pots are part of our continuing quest for producing better and stronger trees for the home grower. By following these simple instructions, you will be assured of getting your young tree off to the best possible start.
One final point: Please be sure to remove the name tag from your tree. As the tree grows, this small piece of plastic can choke off its circulation, damaging or killing the tree. If you’d like to keep the tag on your tree, retie it loosely with soft twine.
Preparing your soil before you plant will greatly improve your plant’s performance and promote healthy, vigorous growth. It is a good idea to have your soil tested to determine if it is lacking in any essential minerals and nutrients. This can be done through your County Extension Office or with one of our digital meters.
The goal of soil preparation is to replenish vital minerals and nutrients, as well as break up and loosen any compacted soil.
Soil preparation can be done at any time that the ground is not too wet or frozen. Your trees may be planted even when temperatures are quite cool. If a hard frost is expected, it is advisable to delay planting for a while until temperatures become more moderate. Generally, as long as your soil is workable, it is fine to plant.
Your lawn can provide you with ideal organic materials such as grass clippings and shredded leaves. Not only will the grass and leaves break down to provide soil nutrients, but they will help loosen the soil as well. You can gather these in the fall with spring planting in mind.
Adding organic materials, such as our Coco-Fiber Potting Medium and compost will improve most every soil type. Organic materials bind sandy soil particles so they retain moisture and nutrients better. They also break apart clay and silt particles, so that water can infiltrate and roots can spread.
Fertilizing is an excellent way to replenish the natural nutrients in your plant’s soil, especially nitrogen. Nitrogen encourages hardy green growth, which is exactly what you want to promote before your tree reaches its fruit-bearing years.
Every fruit tree has the future potential for disease and insect damage. Factors such as location and weather will play a part in which issues your tree encounters. Disease-resistant trees are the best option for easy care; and for all trees, proper maintenance (such as watering, fertilizing, pruning, spraying, weeding, and fall cleanup) can help keep most insects and diseases at bay.
Trees appear stunted and slow growing; leaves may be reduced in size, little or no fruit. If tree is dead, inspect roots for hard, woody ‘tumors’. Note: many things can cause stunted trees.
Usually on bark of young twigs and branches, encrusted with small (1/16”) hard, circular, scaly raised bumps with yellow centers, may also be on fruit. Sap feeding weakens the tree.
Yellow-brown winged insect may have black spot or red stripes. Injects toxins into the buds and shoots causing ‘dwarfed’ shoots and sunken areas (cat facing) on fruit.
Pale yellow or ‘dirty’ green worms. Leaves are rolled and webbed together where insects feed. Eventually becomes ‘skeletonized’.
Spots on young leaves are velvety and olive green turns black; leaves wither, curl and drop. Fruit also has spots, is deformed, knotty, cracked and drops.
Small, pale yellow spots on upper leaf surfaces, that will soon enlarge and become orange with black specks in center. A mass of orange/yellow spikes on undersides. Orange gelatinous growths in cedars or junipers in spring.
Whitish-gray powdery mold or felt like patches on buds, young leaves and twigs. Leaves may crinkle and curl upward. New shoots are stunted.
Olive green smudges and tiny black dots on skin of apple usually appear together. Fungus diseases that survive on infected twigs and are spread by rain in spring and early summer. Appears as early as 2-3 weeks after petal fall. Little damage is done to the flesh. Sometimes can be rubbed or washed off.
They are the size of a pinhead and vary in color depending on the species. Clusters on stems and under leaves, sucking plant juices. Leaves then curl, thicken, yellow and die. Produce large amounts of a liquid waste called “honeydew”. Aphid sticky residue becomes a growth media for sooty mold. Dormant Oil will kill eggs, use next dormant season, also during 1/2” green kills newly hatched except Rosy Apple Aphid.
Bluish-gray moth. Larvae are 1” long, usually green or brown with white spots and body stripes. Feeds on young leaves and young fruits. Disfigures fruit.
Blossoms and fruit spurs withered; looks as if ‘scorched’ by fire, with dark brown or blackened leaves; tips of leaves curl under. Twigs and branches die. Cut back affected branches 4” below infestion. Disinfect shears between cuts with 1 part bleach and 10-part water solution. Dispose of prunings. Reduce nitrogen fertilizer. Fall clean up is essential; including all mummified fruits and leaves hanging on the tree. The above steps need to be done exactly as stated.
Adult is brownish-gray 1/5” long, had shelled beetle with long snout and 4 humps on back. Cuts a crescent shaped hole under fruit skins and lays eggs. Worms hatch and tunnel. Fruit drops.
Hairy caterpillars that enclose large areas in webbing and feed on enclosed leaves. Remove web with rake and burn. Caterpillars are pulled out with webs.
Adult is moth, gray with brown patches on wings. Worms about 1” long. Fruits have holes from side to core.
Small, brown sunken spots on fruit. Rapidly enlarges and deepens until fruit is rotten to the core.
Pinpoint size, many different colors. Found on undersides of leaves. Sap feeding causes bronzing of leaves. Severe infestations have some silken webbing.
Adult similar to housefly but smaller, larvae are yellowish-white worms. Eggs are laid under fruit skin, larvae tunnel making railroad pattern. Small pinpoint sting marks visible on fruit.
Leaf symptoms begin 1-3 weeks after petal fall as small purple flecks. These enlarge into lesions with purple margins and tan to brown centers, resembling ‘frog eyes’. When heavily infected, leaves may fall. Fruit infection can begin as soon as bud scales looses and appear on young fruit as red flecks that develop into purple pimples. These do not grow much until fruit begins to mature. Spots on mature fruit are irregular. Black with red halo. As they enlarge a series of concentric rings form alternating from black to brown. Lesions stay firm and are not sunken. Fruit mummifies and stays attached to the tree. Rot in seed cavity or around core may be caused by early infections, but these usually fall within a month after petal fall with no surface symptoms. May be reddish-brown sunken cankers on limbs.
Appears as a thick, gummy substance (sap) leaking from round holes on the trunk or in a crotch of the tree. Worms with brown heads and cream-colored bodies tunnel thru trunks that will kill the tree. Once infested, use a fine wire to try to mash or dig them out.
Adult is a metallic green beetle, which skeletonizes leaves. Larvae are a grub, which feeds on turf roots. Check turf product labels for timing of control of grubs. This is more of a problem east of the Mississippi river.
Various colors and similar to aphids this small, active, slender-winged insects usually found on underside of leaves, similar to aphids. Retard growth, leaves become whitened, stippled or mottled. Tips may wither and die. This insect carries virus of certain very harmful plant diseases.
Beetle with ½” long, tan wings with reddish-brown edges. Long, thin hairy legs. Skeletonizes leaves and flowers. Present in large quantities in June and July. Worst on sandy sites near grassy areas.
New cankers appear on bark as small circular spots that are red or purple when wet. When they enlarge they become sunken orange to brown areas in the bark. As the cankers age, bark sloughs off exposing wood beneath, or disintegrates exposing fibers that give the area a ‘fiddle string’ appearance. Cankers usually do not grow larger after first year’s growth. Brown spots appear on leaves and fruit. At harvest the fungus can infect the fruit. Fruit lesions are circular, brown and sunken with gray or cream centers (Bull’s Eye rot). Disease rarely kills tree, usually confined to small branches and twigs.
Small elevations appear on surface of 1-2 year old wood. If the outer bark in the area(s) where these elevations occur is sliced away, dark dead areas will be revealed. May cause stunted terminal growth and in extreme cases, death of small terminal branches. This is a physiological disease, not one caused by bacteria or virus, and has been related to boron deficiency or the toxic effects of manganese.
The adult female moth is around ½” long, male being slightly smaller. Color varies from a mottled gray to brown. Full-grown larva are around ¾” long. Pupae are brown and about 3/8” long. They feed along a leaf midrib and fruit, create shelters by rolling leaves, tying leaves to other leaves or fruit. Damage appears as tiny holes, irregular scarring, areas of rot, generally found around the stem. Rot or corking around the stem occurs usually after the larvae have finished feeding and have pupated.
Tiny, slender, fringed wing insects ranging from 1/25 to 1/8” long. Nymphs are pale yellow and highly active and adults are usually black or yellow-brown, but may have red, black or white markings. Feed on large variety of plants by puncturing them and sucking up the contents.
Insects are small (1/4 to 1/3-inch long) and red with a brownish mid section and black legs. Adults make small holes in leaves and feed on developing fruit. Leaves become distorted and apples rough with dimples or a series of small rust spots. Produces one generation each year with hatching occurring before blossoming.
Pruning is a very important part of proper fruit tree care, but many people find the task overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be! Keep these things in mind:
When your tree is dug up from our fields to be shipped to you, the root ball loses many of its tiny feeder roots, which are needed to absorb moisture and nutrients. Pruning helps balance the top growth of your tree with the root system, giving the roots time to re-establish in your yard before spring growth.
When your Stark Bro’s bare root tree arrives, our professionals have already pre-pruned your tree for you. Because of this, you DO NOT need to prune them again when you plant. The only pruning done at this time would be any broken branches or roots.
Plan to prune your fruit trees during every dormant season. In Zone 6 and farther north, you should wait until late winter. A good reference book, such as Pruning Made Easy, can be invaluable for answering questions and guiding you through the pruning process.
In addition, cutting the tree back stimulates stronger, more vigorous growth from the remaining buds. After a single growing season, a tree you prune will be bigger than a matching unpruned tree.
Even more important, your fruit tree needs to be shaped. The natural shape of a fruit tree is not always the best for maximum fruit production. Trees you receive from Stark Bro’s have been pruned in the nursery row for proper shaping, but correct pruning must continue at home. If you keep up with your pruning and shaping each year, you’ll make mostly small, easy-to-heal cuts.
Fruit trees develop better if they’re pruned at the right times in the right ways. Here’s how:
Remove weak, diseased, injured or narrow-angle branches, the weaker of any crossing or interfering branches, and one branch of forked limbs. Also remove upright branches and any that sweep back toward the center of tree. You want to keep your tree from becoming too thick and crowded; some thinning is necessary to permit light to enter the tree and to keep its height reasonable. All these objectives promote improved bearing, which is your overall aim. You’ll be pleased with the results.
Trees do best when pruned and trained to a central leader tree. This type of tree has a pyramidal shape with a single upright leader limb as its highest point. This leader is the newest extension of a long, upright growing trunk from which all lateral branches arise. As with all strong growing branches, the leader should be headed at approximately 24-30” above the highest set of scaffolds branches. The uppermost bud on the leader produces a vigorous new leader, and no other shoot should be allowed to grow taller. Lateral limbs should be selected from shoots growing out from the central leader. These should be spaced vertically 4-6” apart, have growth that is more horizontal than vertical and point in different compass directions from the trunk. Any unbranched lateral branches should be headed back by approximately ¼ of their length to encourage side branches and to stiffen lateral branches. All laterals should have a wide branch angle.
Prune back to 28-36” above the ground at planting time. After the new branches have grown 3-5”, select a shoot to become the leader and scaffold limbs.
Sometimes pruning needs to be done even when the season isn’t the best. If a branch is broken by the wind or by a heavy load of fruit, emergency treatment is necessary. Prune back the ragged edges; making a smooth cut that leaves no stubby stump. Fast-growing “water sprouts” can be removed as soon as you see them rather than waiting until winter.
Do not prune a spur tree as aggressive as a regular tree. Spurs allow fruit to form on each limb and bear from the trunk out. Spur type trees grow slower and develop many small spurs rather than long shoots, so fewer should be removed. Sometimes too many fruit spurs grow along a branch and will need to be thinned out to encourage bigger and better fruit on what remains.
There are several reasons to thin fruit:
Home gardeners thin fruit trees by hand. During May and June, many fruit trees will drop or abort fruit. This is a natural process that allows the tree to mature the crop load.
Trees may bear biannually, that is bear fruit every other year, bear heavy one year, then light the next year. Thin the heavy crop to correct bearing habit.
The best time to thin apple trees is within 20 to 40 days of full bloom. Space each apple 6 to 8 inches apart on the branch. In clusters, leave the king bloom (the center bloom in the cluster of five flowers) as it will develop into the largest fruit.
On spur type varieties many fruit spurs grow along a branch and will need to be thinned out to encourage bigger and better fruit on what remains.
Pear trees seldom require thinning. Remove small or blemished fruit as soon as they are seen. Leave two fruits per clusters to improve size.
These fruits are not thinned.
A proper and consistent spray schedule is important to the survival of your fruit tree. From diseases to pests, many potential issues can be prevented with spraying before they even begin! To reap its benefits, spraying should be done consistently and thoroughly following the guidelines below.
Before you begin, read and follow all instructions on labels.
Spray every 7 days with Bonide® Fruit Tree Spray as a preventative measure. Cease spraying 14 days before harvest. No more than 2 applications per year.
Spray every 7 to 10 days or after rain with Bonide® Citrus, Fruit & Nut Orchard Spray as a protective spray for fungal diseases. May be used up to day before harvest.
Unless you’re in an area where irrigation is usually needed for normal plant growth, you probably won’t need to water after the first growing year. Until then, follow these guidelines to get your new trees off to a great start.
Are you ready to enjoy delicious homegrown fruit? Harvest is the time to enjoy the results of your hard work. Keep a few things in consideration as you reap the fruits of your labor: the best time to pick the fruit from your tree, and how to store the fruit.
Apple trees will start bearing fruit in 2-5 years under normal growing conditions with proper maintenance and care.
It’ll be best if you wait until just the right time to pick the fruit off your trees. Apples tell you they’re ripe by losing the last traces of their green background color and developing full, bright color. Most important, they become less tangy-tart and sweeter in taste. You’ll also notice the seeds turn from white to brown. When picking, just lift them upward quickly. If they’re ready, they will come loose without damage to the tree.
Harvest season begins July thru August, depending on the variety and location. Annual average yield per tree:
Cool storage preserves apples for winter enjoyment. Fresh fruit is a special treat during the bleak winter months; fortunately, many varieties of fruit keep their fine eating qualities for a long time, with proper storage. If you’re planning to store them, pick them a bit early, just as they start to ripen. Handle them carefully to avoid bruising that could develop into spoilage.
The ideal storage spot is humid and cool, from 32-40°F. Place them in perforated plastic freezer bags and keep them in your refrigerator. Any cool area in your house, the basement or an unheated porch might also be fine for a while. Bring them out to ripen at room temperature when you’re ready to use them.
It’s best to inspect stored fruit every week or so to check for any spoilage. That way, you can remove any that are developing soft spots or brown areas. This keeps spoilage from “spreading” to nearby fruit.
Espaliering is the art of training a fruit tree to grow flat up against a wall, trellis or other support frame. It is an excellent way to grow fruit trees in small spaces, or just enjoy the beauty that this two-dimensional pattern creates.
Most varieties of standard, semi-dwarf and dwarf fruit trees can be used to espalier, but if given a choice, go with a dwarf or semi-dwarf tree.
You often hear the term cordon with espalier types, which means “single, stem-like arm”. In some styles of espalier, you could have multiple cordons or arms. Use 12” between cordons when you have a small space and 18” when trying to cover a large area.
In some cases, specific fruit trees naturally do better with certain espalier styles. Here are some popular styles that do well with apple trees: hedges, double cordon, vertical cordon, palmetto, and Belgian Fence. If this is your first experience, you might want to start with a simple pattern like a double or triple-tiered cordon before moving on to the more advanced styles.