Producing Tree Fruit for Home Use
AG-28

Growing tree fruit in the home garden or yard can be a rewarding pastime. However, careful planning, preparation, and care of the trees are essential for success. This publication tells you what to consider before planting, how to plant your trees, and how to take care of them to ensure many seasons of enjoyment.

Part 1: Planning Before Planting

Fruit Selection

Selecting the type of fruit to grow is the first step in tree fruit production. To begin, you need to know which tree fruit can be grown in North Carolina.

Your region's climate determines the type of fruit you can grow successfully. The climate must be compatible with the growing requirements of the selected fruit crop. To take an extreme example, a tropical fruit such as the banana simply cannot survive in North Carolina. Bananas require a warmer climate and a longer growing season. Other tree fruit that may look promising in the glossy pages of mail order catalogs are also destined to fail if grown in incompatible climates. Climatic conditions vary greatly from one region to another in North Carolina, so make sure that the fruit you choose can grow successfully in your area.


Table 1. Potential Tree Fruit Crops for North Carolina

Fruit

Location

Varietal Considerations

Management

Apples

Throughout North Carolina

Most varieties will grow in North Carolina.

Moderate

Asian Pears

Throughout North Carolina

Plant fire blight-resistant varieties only.

Moderate

Chestnuts

Throughout North Carolina

Chinese and Chinese-American hybrids.

Low

Figs

Eastern North Carolina and southern piedmont

Select varieties that set fruit without pollination.

Low

Nectarines

Throughout North Carolina except at higher elevations

Select varieties that require at least 750 hours of chilling.

Very high

Peaches

Throughout North Carolina except at higher elevations

Select varieties that require at least 750 hours of chilling.

High

Pears

Throughout North Carolina

Plant fire blight-resistant varieties only.

Moderate

Pecans

Eastern North Carolina and southern piedmont

Select varieties suitable for North Carolina conditions.

Low

Persimmons

Eastern North Carolina and southern piedmont

American and Oriental are suitable.

Low

Plums

Eastern North Carolina

Use late-blooming varieties.

Moderate


Fruit crops that can be grown in North Carolina are listed above in Table 1, along with additional information that will help to ensure success. Tree fruits that are not included in the list may grow in North Carolina, but few consistently produce quality fruit. For example, apricot and cherry trees can grow in certain areas where the climate is favorable, but they must be carefully managed and usually do not bear fruit consistently.

Note also that different crops require different levels of management. Low-management crops such as pecans, figs, and persimmons require little attention to training, fertility, or insect and disease control. On the other hand, peaches and plums require intensive management.

Site Selection

Selecting a good site for your fruit trees is crucial to their success. A number of factors should be considered (Figure 1a and 1b).


Selecting a site.

Figure 1a: Poor site selection. Fruit trees should not be planted in areas shaded by houses, buildings, or other trees. They also should not be planted near fences or hedges, as these keep cold air trapped around young trees.

Figure 1b: Well-selected site. All fruit trees are planted away from barriers and in areas that receive sufficient light.


Soil Type and Drainage

Plant fruit trees in well-drained and fairly fertile soil. Avoid poorly drained soils. A tree's root system grows throughout the year. Water that remains standing in the root zone (18 to 24 inches deep) at any time during the year can drown the tree. During the growing season, standing water can drown some types of fruit trees in just three days. Poorly drained soils also promote the growth of root rot organisms.

When poorly drained soils cannot be avoided, problems may be alleviated by planting the trees in raised beds. (See Figure 3.) The beds are formed by shaping well-drained topsoil into beds 18 to 24 inches high and 4 to 5 feet wide. Raised beds have been used successfully in both backyard and commercial orchards. Trees grown in raised beds must be irrigated more frequently during the growing season because the beds present a larger exposed surface area from which water can evaporate.

Soil Fertility

It is also important to consider soil fertility and acidity. Ideally, the soil pH should be around 6.5, but North Carolina soils are more typically acidic. Acidic soils reduce the amount of nutrients available to the trees. When this happens, fertilization does not benefit the trees but results in runoff or leaching. To alleviate the problem, it will be necessary to add lime to the soil to reduce the soil pH.

Before planting, collect soil samples for analysis. Soil samples should be taken from two depths; the first from the top 8 inches of soil and the second from the 9- to 16-inch depth.

Soil fertility analyses are free in North Carolina. Contact your county Cooperative Extension agent for instructions on collecting and submitting soil samples and for the necessary forms and sample boxes. Test results will be returned to you with recommendations for fertilization and liming. Once the test results have been received, the soil should be amended with the recommended materials, which should be worked into the soil before trees are planted.

Air Drainage

Adequate air drainage is as important as proper water drainage. In North Carolina, spring frosts and freezes are common, and a small difference in elevation can mean the difference between a full crop and no crop at all. Remember that cold air is heavier than warm air and settles in low areas, so choose a site that allows cold air to flow downhill away from the trees. Select higher sites with an unobstructed, gradual slope. Avoid low sites, which are commonly known as frost pockets.

Sunlight

Plant fruit trees in areas that receive full sunlight. Avoid areas shaded by taller trees, houses, or buildings (Figure 1).

Most fruit tree buds require 30 percent sunlight to produce high-quality fruit. Although the exterior of a tree may receive full sun, sunlight can be reduced by one-half just 12 inches inside the canopy of the tree. Eighteen inches into the tree canopy, light may be reduced nearly 75 percent, which is below the level needed for successful fruit production. Partially shaded trees can also have increased disease problems.

Nematodes

Nematodes are microscopic worms that live in the soil. Several types of fruit trees, including peach, plum, and figs, can be damaged or destroyed by nematodes.

An inexpensive soil test can be conducted to check for nematodes. For information, contact your county Cooperative Extension agent. The test results will be returned with recommendations for your crop. Avoid soils with high nematode populations. Soils with unacceptable nematode populations can be treated with a soil fumigant. However, most fumigants must be applied by a licensed pesticide applicator and can be costly. Contact your county Cooperative Extension agent for specific recommendations.

Variety Selection

After selecting the fruit and the planting site, you must choose the variety of fruit to plant. Novice growers often try to plant the same varieties that they see at their local grocery stores. Many times, however, these fruit are produced in areas with different climatic conditions from those in North Carolina. The result, at best, is fruit that looks much different than expected. At worst, the variety will fail to produce a crop. Plant varieties that are known to grow well in your region. Check temperature requirements and chilling factors before purchasing your trees. Table 2 lists some of the fruit varieties recommended for North Carolina.




Table 2. Variety Recommendations for North Carolina

Fruit

Recommended Varieties

Pollination Notes

Disease Notes

Other Considerations

Apples

Gala, Ginger Gold, Jonagold, Empire, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Crispin (Mutsu), Stayman, Rome, Fuji

Requirements vary. Some varieties are self-fruitful. Others require pollination (see note 1).

Summer rots are the most serious disease problems and can destroy an entire crop. No varieties are resistant. Some varietiesare resistant to apple scab, powdery mildew, cedar apple rust, or fireblight. These include Redfree, Prima, Priscilla, Jonafree, and Liberty.

In warmer regions, red varieties may not color well.

Asian Pears

Twentieth Century (Nijisseiki), Nititaka (pollen source), Shinseiki (New Century), Chojuro.

At least two varieties are needed to ensure adequate pollination.

Fire blight is the biggest concern.

Asian pears are very crisp and juicy.

Chestnuts

Chinese: Nanking, Meiling, Kuling, Abundance, Crane
Chinese-American Hybrid: Revival, Carolina, Willamette

All require pollination from another variety. Plant at least two varieties of the same type to assure optimal nut size and production.

Most Chinese and hybrid chestnuts are highly resistant to the chestnut blight fungus.

Many people prefer the hybrid chestnut varieties, citing superior quality over the Chinese varieties.

Figs

Celeste, Brown Turkey, Brunswick/Magnolia (for preserves), Greenish, Marseille.

Only varieties that do not require pollination can be grown in North Carolina.

No serious disease problems except nematodes.

Fruit may drop prematurely as a result of drought or excessive shade, moisture, or fertilization.

Nectarines

Summer Beaut, Sunglo, Redgold, Flavortop, Fantasia, Carolina Red (see note 2).

Self-fruitful. Do not require pollination by other varieties.

Nectarines should be planted only on Lovell or Halford rootstocks to avoid premature death. The lack of hair on nectarines makes the fruit more susceptible to diseases than peaches, and a multipurpose fungicide and insecticide spray program will be required.

Many varieties were developed in California and may not do well in North Carolina.

Peaches

Redhaven, Norman, Carolina Belle (white-fleshed), Winblo, Contender, Summer Pearl (white-fleshed), Cresthaven, Encore, Legend. (Many varieties are the result of a peach breeding program at NCSU and have been developed for North Carolina (see note 2)).

Self-fruitful. Do not require pollination by other varieties.

A multipurpose fungicide and insecticide spray program will be needed during the growing season.

Only varieties that require 750 hours of chilling are recommended.

Pears

Moonglow, Magness (not a pollen source], Kieffer, Harrow Delight, Harrow Sweet, Harvest Queen, Seckel.

At least two varieties are recommended to ensure adequate pollination.

Plant only fire blight-resistant varieties.

Pears bloom earlier than apples and should be planted on higher sites.

Pecans

Type I: Cape Fear and Pawnee. Type II: Stuart, Forkert, Sumner, Kiowa, Gloria Grande

Pollination by another variety is essential. One variety from each of the two groups must be used for pollination.

Scab is the most serious disease in North Carolina. However, a fungicide spray program is usually not practical.

Careful variety selection is essential to avoid frost or freeze problems and to allow a long enough season for maturation.

Persimmons

Fuyu, Jiro, Hanagosho (very good pollen source). (Only large-fruited Oriental persimmons are recommended for North Carolina.)

Pollination is not required for fruit set but is recommended.

No serious disease problems.

If nonastringent varieties are planted, fruit may not be suitable for eating until they are fully mature and their flesh is soft.

Plums

Japanese: Methley (self-fruitful), Byrongold, Burbank, Ozark Premier (may bloom early). European: Bluefre, Stanley, Shrophire (Damson) (see note 2)

Some varieties are self-fruitful, but planting two varieties is recommended.

A multipurpose fungicide-insecticide spray program will be needed during the growing season.

Later blooming varieties should be selected to avoid damaging spring temperatures.


Note 1. Pollination requirements for apples vary with variety. For varieties requiring cross-pollination, it is recommended that at least two varieties with overlapping bloom periods be planted together. For self-fruitful varieties, pollination by another variety will increase yield and quality.

Note 2. To break bud and grow properly in the spring, peaches, nectarines, and plums must be exposed to temperatures in the 40oF range for a required number of hours during the dormant season. This period is referred to as the chilling requirement. In North Carolina, varieties with chilling requirements of at least 750 hours are recommended to prevent trees from blossoming too early in the spring, which increases the risk of freeze damage and resultant crop loss.




Rootstock Selection and Tree Spacing

Almost all commercially available fruit trees have been budded or grafted; that is, the top portion, or scion, of the desired fruit variety is attached to the root system, or rootstock, of a different variety. Trees are grown this way because some popular varieties grow and crop better on rootstocks other than their own. In some cases, the rootstock is more resistant to certain troublesome diseases. In the case of apple trees, the rootstock can be chosen to limit growth, producing trees that crop well and are easier to manage than full-sized trees. The choice of rootstock is very important for some fruits, such as apples, but not of much consequence for others.

Apple trees are grown on a wide variety of rootstocks. These are called size-controlling rootstocks because they control the size of the tree; however fruit size is not reduced (Figure 2). In general, the smaller the tree, the sooner it will bear fruit after planting. Table 3 lists the rootstocks commonly used for apple trees and indicates their effect on tree size, using the "seedling" or standard rootstock as the basis of comparison. Thus, for example, the M.9 rootstock will produce a nonspur-type tree that is only 35 percent as large as it would be if grown on a seedling rootstock. The table also lists the time required for the trees to reach bearing age and the degree of rootstock resistance to two important diseases.


Figure 2. Tree size shown as a percentage of the size the tree would reach if grown on a seedling, or standard, rootstock.



Table 3. Commercially Available Apple Rootstocks and Their Characteristics

Rootstock

Tree Size as Percentage of Seedling (Nonspur)a

Tree Size as Percentage of Seedling (Spur)a

Fruit Bearing Age (Years)

Resistance to Crown Rot

Resistance to Fire Blight

Seedling

100

80

6 - 10

Medium

High

MM.111

85

70

4 - 6

Medium

Low

MM.106

80

70

3 - 4

Very Low

Low

M.7a

70

60

3 - 4

Medium

High

M.26

50

40

2 - 4

Medium

Very Low

Mark

45

35

2 - 3

Medium

Low

M.9

35

20

2 - 3

Medium

Low

aSee Figure 2.


Two categories of growth habit are included in the table: spur and nonspur. Trees with a spur-type growth habit bear the majority of their fruit on very short branches called spurs. Nonspur varieties produce fruit on longer branches. Since spur-type varieties have fewer long branches, the trees are more compact.

Because the choice of rootstock affects the size of the trees, it also affects the optimum spacing between the trees. Table 4 gives the recommended distance between trees for both spur and nonspur varieties. Note that very vigorous varieties should be spaced farther apart.


Table 4. Recommended Planting Distances for Apple Trees Grown on Size-Controlling Rootstocks

Distance Between Trees (feet)

Rootstock

Nonspur Varieties

Spur Varietiesa

Very Vigorous Varietiesb

Seedling

18 - 25

12 - 16

25 - 35

MM.111

14 - 18

9 - 12

20 - 25

MM.106

12 - 16

8 - 11

17 - 22

M.7a

10 - 14

7 - 9

14 - 20

M.26

8 - 12

5 - 8

11 - 17

Mark

6 - 8

4 - 5

8 - 11

M.9

4 - 8

3 - 5

6 - 11

aFor spur-type varieties such as Redchief Red Delicious, Starkrimson Red Delicious, Lawspur Rome, and Oregon Spur.

bFor very vigorous varieties such as Rome Beauty, Granny Smith, and Jonagold.


Apple trees on rootstocks of a size class smaller than M.7a bear fruit while they are still very young. They should be supported by stakes to promote optimum growth and to help support the fruit load in the early years. Use 10-foot stakes and drive them 2 feet into the ground. Stakes are commonly made from 1-inch-diameter aluminum electrical conduit or 3-inch-diameter wooden posts. Tie the tree loosely to the above-ground portion of the stake. Strips of plastic or heavy-duty canvas or cloth can be used as ties. Do not use materials that will restrict tree growth or girdle the tree.

Peaches, nectarines, and plums are also affected by choice of rootstock. In the Southeast, trees are susceptible to peach tree short life (PTSL), a condition that causes sudden death of the tree after only four or five years of growth. With proper rootstock selection, nematode suppression, and cultural practices, the threat of this condition can be minimized. At present, only trees grown on Lovell or Halford rootstock are recommended for use in North Carolina. Trees grown on these rootstocks should be spaced 20 feet apart. Spacing recommendations for other fruit trees are given in Table 5.


Table 5. Spacing Requirements for Other Tree Fruits

Fruit Crop

Minimum Spacing Between Trees (feet)

Asian Pears

20

Chestnuts

40

Figs

10

Pears

20

Pecans

70a

Persimmons

15
aAt maturity, approximately 20 years.


Part 2: Cultural Practices