By Charles Claus
Here are a number of basic considerations to think through before buying that lovely little fruit tree and adding it to your yard.
1. One of the first and most basic questions to ask is if you have adequate space for a fruit tree. Fruit trees can take up a lot of room. A mature cherry tree can grow to be 25 feet wide and 30 -35 feet tall while some apples trees can easily become more than 20 feet wide by 15-20 feet high.
2. A second basic consideration is to evaluate if you have adequate sun for a fruit tree. Quite simply fruit trees need full sun to grow properly and to properly ripen fruit. Here it is important to not only look at current sun levels but to also anticipate if future growth of surrounding trees will restrict sun levels. Also evaluate potential future building plans if they will also potentially restrict direct sunlight.
3. Realistically think through who will do the ongoing maintenance required of a fruit tree. Contrary to some lines of thinking, fruit trees are actually the most high maintenance tree you can add to your yard. Regular maintenance involves annual pruning each late winter to remove diseased, criss-crossed and damaged branches. Pruning also helps control the tree shape and allows sunlight to reach fruiting branches.
4. Another basic dimension of regular fruit tree maintenance is to regularly spray lime sulphur and dormant oil to kill overwintering fungi and potential disease problems. This is done in the late winter when you get at least 48 hours of at least 2 degrees above freezing and no rain. Dormant oil applications also help control overwintering caterpillar eggs and militate against black knot in plums and cherries as well. Tent caterpillars and leaf rollers, two other regular pests, can be controlled organically by spraying applications of BTK as the caterpillars start to show up.
5. If you are interested in cherry trees, be also mindful of the fact that cherries in the greater Terrace area now typically get cherry fruit fly. These little flies burrow into the immature green fruit and deposit eggs that hatch into a white larva that shows up in the ripe fruit. Controlling these little guys is not easy or cheap. If you want to control cherry fruit fly organically, you can put yellow sticky traps around the tree that can help some. The cost for these sticky traps should run around $15- $20 per full-sized tree.
6. Probably the biggest ongoing challenge to fruit growing in this area is the high potential of having bears in your fruit trees. While some areas that are more densely populated receive less bear pressure than others, these hungry animals can show up anywhere. Some people in high pressure areas who have grown weary of regular bear visits have reluctantly resorted to taking their fruit trees out. The most reliable method of controlling bears is to properly install an electric fence. Unfortunately that option does not always work for many people.
7. Fruit trees can make a lovely addition to many yards and if properly managed can bring years of enjoyment. Think through some of the potential challenges and if you conclude that fruit trees are a good choice, by all means plant and enjoy them.
Charles Claus is a local businessman with several varieties of fruit trees at his residence, River Mist Farm.