Guest Column: Growing, maintaining fruit trees

Mike Rauh, member
Stow Urban Forestry Commission

Growing fruit trees in Stow is definitely doable and extremely rewarding. Imagine growing and eating your own peaches, plums, apples, cherries, and pears. You can also grow persimmon and paw paw trees in this area but, we will talk about those in a later edition. With some guidance to get you started, you can do this! I will always cherish the moment several years ago when mowing around my peach tree on my riding mower, I reached out and grabbed a peach. The juice was streaming down my chin and was oh-so-sweet. This too can be yours!

All of the fruit trees discussed in this article require full sun. If you have overhead trees or buildings on the south side of the planting site, it would be better to find another location that offers more sun or make one. Next, check the soil. Most of the trees in this area require slightly acid soils (PH below 7). The soil should not stay wet into late spring or after a healthy rain. In Stow, we have a mix of soils that vary in clay and gravel content. Heavy clay soils that puddle or hold water for a long time will not work.

The trees mentioned above reflect the types of fruit trees that can be grown in our area. You can select from many varieties within each family of trees with Zone 5 compatibilities. A visit to the Stark Brothers website is a good place to start (starkbros.com). Stark Bros. offer bare root seedlings, which work great. You may also be able to find a variety of container trees that you like at local garden centers. These tend to be slightly further developed in growth and transplant well from container to ground.

When planting, be sure to dig your hole wider than you think you need. Don’t be in a hurry and rush this step. Make it twice as wide as the diameter of the root mass you are moving. Have your fill dirt ready at the planting site to be added in right away. Do not use wood chips in the hole, but instead look for rich soil that is loose and will let the first roots sprout easily through the soil. Sand, while loose, will not add nutrients or value to the tree. Heavier clay soil contain nutrients, but is so dense that roots will have a hard time pushing through. A loamy soil (composed mostly of sand, silt and a small amount of clay) is best.

The depth you plant the tree is vital. Too deep and you will compromise the graft. Too shallow and the roots may be exposed. Both situations will either kill the tree or stunt its growth. Try laying your shovel handle or other straight edge across the hole. The location where the root mass comes together into the bole of the tree should be just at the straight edge. Make sure the hole is filled sufficiently under the root ball in order to maintain this height. Fill the hole with the loamy fill dirt and soak it with water. After the first soaking is gone (just a couple minutes), gently push the soil down into the hole with your foot, gradually applying your body weight, and walking around the tree. The intent here is to compress the soil by removing large air pockets yet, not compact the soil or damage the roots. Flood again.

Your tree will be off to a good start if you follow these simple guidelines and keep it well watered. Assuming it is growing well, the next problem may be deer. Deer can be extremely destructive to your new tree. They tend to eat new growth off the tree and scrape the bark, which WILL eventually kill it. The best way to protect your tree from deer is to maintain a circle of fencing around it to restrict the deer from ever reaching it. I typically start with a two-foot radius out from the tree and expand the fence as the tree grows. You will need some wire fence from the hardware store and a couple fence posts.

Once the tree is thriving, usually after the first year, the following steps are essential. Depending on the tree, you will need to train it to have an open center (ex. peaches and cherries) or central leader (apples, pears). Training and pruning your fruit tree is increasingly laborious as the tree gets larger but, is vital for good quality fruit and plentiful yields. I will cover this in a later edition along with pest management. Bugs and fungus can be very harmful to young trees but, there are simple steps you can take to maximize the healthy growth of your tree and the fruit you eat.

I will cover other topics in my next edition, such as: trimming/pruning basics (essential to fruit trees), spraying to prevent bugs and fungus (which is a must! Mike’s 80% rule explained), Plum Curculio, and growing persimmon and paw paw trees.