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Yes, you can enjoy a backyard bounty even in an urban setting. Here is what you need to know to get started?
Yes, you can enjoy a backyard bounty even in an urban setting. Here is what you need to know to get started.
Do you long to grow your own tree fruits on your city lot but worry you don’t have enough space in your garden? Does growing fruit trees sound too complicated? It’s not. But you do need to know some basics. With the help of experts across B.C., here’s a quick rundown of what you need to know to get growing your own mini orchard.
The single most important requirement for growing fruit is sunshine. Plants get their energy from the sun, and producing good crops of fruit consumes a great deal of energy. The sun’s warmth dries leaves and helps to prevent foliage diseases. And it makes the difference between sweet and flavourless fruit. Before getting your heart set on growing fruit trees, ensure that you have a spot with sun from at least 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Expert tip: Espaliered fruit trees should be planted against a sunny surface, 3.6 m (12 ft.) apart from centre to centre. –Gord Nickel, Cannor Nursery Victoria president
Soils are much easier to alter than the amount of sun a garden area gets, with one notable exception: poor drainage. If the rain pools in your garden and takes hours to seep away, stick to growing fruit trees in containers; otherwise, their roots will die in the soggy soil.
Generally fruit trees like soil pH (acidity versus alkalinity) that is neutral between the two extremes. Test your soil’s pH (easy with a soil test kit) and add the appropriate amount of dolomite lime to get the soil to neutral. Mulch with organic material—such as compost—each year to increase the soil’s organic content.
Watch your garden after a heavy rain to be certain the water drains away within an hour. ?Note: ‘Damson’ plums and pears are more forgiving of poor drainage, as long as the top 45 cm (18 inches) of soil is well-drained.
Expert tips: Fruit trees mature successfully with a high amount of phosphorous and potassium, and a lot of micronutrients. Fertilizing with a proper fruit-tree food is important. A granular 4:20:20 fruit-tree food of high quality with a lot of micronutrients will do a good job. Apply in March, May, July and September, and you will never ever have fruit drop. –Alan Reid, GardenWorks horticulturist ?
Do not plant grass around your fruit trees! Grass grows vigorously and will take all the nutrients you have given the tree. Commercial orchards have no grass or weeds for a 69-cm (27-in.) radius around the tree. You can certainly plant bulbs and annuals, but take this into account when fertilizing and watering.” –Derry Walsh, derrysorchardandnursery.ca
Most urban gardens are relatively sheltered from strong winds. Chilly temperatures vary depending on where you live, but remember that cold air tends to run downhill. If you live in a northern climate, plant your fruit trees out of the wind and above low-lying areas where extreme cold may collect.? The ideal spot for fruit trees has full sun, screening from strong winds, and level-to-high ground to avoid cold pockets.
Expert tip: In Northern B.C.’s climate, the hardiness of the rootstock is the important thing.
–Barbara Rayment, author of From the Ground Up: A Horticultural Guide for Northern Gardeners
Hundreds of years ago, people grew fruit trees from seed. When one stood out, due to appearance, flavour, vigour or health, the urge to get more of that exact fruit clone was irresistible. By tucking a bud of the desired type of fruit tree into a slit along the trunk of a young sapling, a genetically identical clone (or cultivar) was created. This process is called budding (sometimes called grafting), and the root-providing part is called the rootstock. In this way, a desired fruit tree can be produced by the thousand.
Next came research on various rootstocks and how they affect the fruit-bearing part. Rootstocks control the vigour and therefore height of the mature fruit tree; rootstocks vary in cold hardiness and tolerance of dry or wet soils. One particular clone (cultivar)—’Gala’, for example—is grown on different rootstocks for different situations. Rootstocks have their own cultivar names, too, such as ‘M27’.
If you have a small urban garden, you’ll need dwarf or semi-dwarf rootstocks to keep your trees in bounds.? Dwarf fruit trees need more staking than those on vigorous rootstocks.
Expert tip: With apples there are some very dwarfing rootstocks available. The most dwarfing rootstock available is ‘M27’ and it will produce an apple tree that is about 1.5 m (5 ft.) tall at maturity. –Kent Mullinix, Institute for Sustainable Horticulture at Kwantlen Polytechnic University
You probably know that some plants have male and female flowers on separate plants (kiwis are noted for this). This is not the case with most fruit trees. They have female and male flower parts in the same flower. But nature is cunning and knows that inbreeding weakens the genetic line. So many fruit-tree flowers will not produce fruit from their own pollen (self-sterile). This is why they have a cozy relationship with bees—to get pollen from another tree. Bear in mind that all trees of the same cultivar (‘Gala’, for example) are a clone, so two ‘Gala’ apple trees only count as one in terms of pollination. You’ll need two or more different clones of the same type of fruit (apples to pollinate apples, pears to pollinate pears) to get fruit. And there are a few more hitches you don’t need to worry about, such as triploids and bloom times. Also, some orchardists use pollinators only for pollinating insects and refer to the tree that provides the pollen as a pollenizer.
Almost all apples and pears are self- sterile, so you will need to plant at least two cultivars. Good garden centres and nurseries have reference lists that tell you what cultivars to combine to get fruit.
Expert tip: If your neighbours are planting fruit trees also, that often takes care of the pollination issue. Basically if you’ve got more than three apple varieties in the immediate area then hopefully that’s covered your pollination. Crabapples are also an excellent pollinator. –Bernie Dinter, owner of B. Dinter Nurseries Ltd.
Different types of fruit trees have differing habits of growth. This fact is critical in planning what to plant and how to prune it. First there is the overall shape of the tree: pears are more upright in shape, so they take up less room. More important is the way they bear fruit: on old wood or previous-year wood. Let me explain!
Expert tips: Know your limitations when choosing trees. We have some dwarf trees that are maybe only going to grow 3 m (10 ft.) high, which would be much better in a smaller environment. Plant trees far enough apart from centre to centre to accommodate their width—semi-dwarf trees grow up to about 6 m (20 ft.) wide so should be planted that far apart. –Miles Hunter, general manager of David Hunter Garden Center
Pruning is generally more structural than anything else. It’s easier to see if there’s canker or disease and you do have to thin or head back branches when you get your growth in the summer. –Michael Lascelle, nursery manager of Amsterdam Greenhouses
Pay attention to the hygiene of your pruning tools. It’s good to bleach and disinfect them between trees because bacterial canker spores can be crossed over from one tree to another from using dirty tools. –Niall Wimsey, Cedar Rim Nursery horticulturist
Dwarf apples can grow in containers, provided they are hardy to two zones colder than that of the area, as trees in pots are more susceptible to the elements. There are rootstocks designed for container growing, such as ‘M9 NAKB’ and ‘M27’ for apples. Figs also do well in containers. They seem to appreciate contained roots and can be pruned hard and still bear.?Expert tips: The pot must be the correct size, such as a half wine-barrel, and the tree should be planted in a good potting mix. I use about 40 per cent organic Sunshine Mix, 40 per cent Sea Soil and 20 percent lava rock and it seems to work quite well. –Clay Whitney, B.C. Fruit Testers
“Fruit trees in containers usually suffer from lack of water. A drip system is best on a timer. In a good-draining potting mix, a gallon of water every third day should do. –Derry Walsh, derrysorchardandnursery.ca
While your local nursery or orchard can advise you about what cultivars grow best in your area and planting situation, here are a few recommendations to get you started…
Expert tip: Peaches do okay in the Lower Mainland if they are grown in a southern exposure under an overhanging roof. Yes, they may get peach leaf curl but still produce peaches. There’s one small espaliered peach tree near my home – it produces hundreds of peaches. –Sharon Hanna, co-owner of Hotbeds,?growsomefood.ca