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Cass County Extension

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Fruit Tree Culture

1. Selecting a Site (minimum of 1/2 day of sun; more sun the better yield)

     A) Gentle north east slope
              -retards fruit tree budding out and flowering
              -decreases risk of sunscald and dessication 
              -good air drainage decreases late spring frosts damage
              -good drainage - plants don't like wet feet

     B) 12-15' North of a Building
              - retards early budding and flowering
              - almost eliminates risk of sunscald
              - may reduce the hours of sun too much

     C) Soil Type

                 - well drained loamy garden soil

     D) Within farm building site (fruit trees)
              - protection from the north and west in the winter
              - protection from south in the summer    
              - 50' or more from shelterbelts (moisture and snow damage)

2. Obtaining Nursery Stock

     A) When possible, purchase from local nurseries

              - normally carry hardier materials
              - more likely to be in good condition
              - can pick out and see what you buy
              - easier to resolve any problems which may develop

     B) Sizes (Fruit Trees)
              - sold according to height and diameter
              - 3-4', 3/8-1/2" easiest to get established
              - prune back larger trees more at planting; slower to establish
              - don't plant dwarf trees unless rootstocks can be well protected

     C) Bare Root, Containers and Potted

              - bare root should be planted as soon as possible
              - potted and container grown plants don't need to be planted right away
              - potted plants are bare root plants potted up by the nursery
              - container grown plants; grown for at least a year in the same container
              - if plants have leafed out; try not to disturb the roots when planting
              - always remove the pots and containers when planting

3. Care of Nursery Stock Before Planting (Bare Root)

     A) Upon arrival
              - unwrap plants and examine roots
              - if dried out soak in water for 2-4 hours
              - if excessively dried out or soft and mushy, contact the seller

4. Site Preparation            

       - firm well settled soil is desireable
       - if soil lacks fertility, add fertilizer, well rotted manure or compost
              - base on soil test, if possible 

5. Planning (especially for tree fruits)

       - draw up a plan; difficult to change a planting once planted
       - group species together for better pollination e.g. apples in a group

6. Plant Spacings

              - apples and pears                                    20' x 20' or 15' x 20'
              - stone fruits                                             10' x 15' or 15' x 15'

7. Planting

     A) Early spring as soon as soil can be prepared and before growth has started.

     B) Preplant treatment for bare root plants
              - keep roots moist, wrap in wet burlap or put in water; no more than 4 hours
              - prune off all damaged and injured roots

     C) Planting
              - dig hole larger than spread of roots
              - plant with graft just below the soil level
              - if rootstock is not hardy, place the graft 2" below the soil surface          
                 (e.g. cherries & apricots)
              - lowest permanent branch should be facing the southwest
              - put good soil into hole and work around the roots
              - if subsoil is poor, mix in top soil, compost or well rotted manure
              - fill hole 3/4 full of soil and fill with water
              - finish filling, leaving a shallow soil basin
              - remove or loosen wire fastened tags
              - prune bare root trees to compensate for root loss
              - remove all weak and poorly positioned branches
              - if not previously pruned, shorten the leader and branches by 1/3 to 1/2

8. Weed Control

     A) Immature Trees
              - clean cultivation during growing season
              - may mulch instead of cultivate (higher cost and mice problems)
              - grass and weeds around trees can be controlled by herbicides

     B) Mature Trees
              - permanent grass cover with area around trunk kept clean
              - may want to keep cultivated in drier climates

9. Fertilization

     A) When & How
              - usually in early spring
              - apply in root zone area

     B) Fertilizer Content
              - nitrogen - use ammonium sulfate or ammonium nitrate in this area
              - phosphorus - use a rate higher than nitrogen; stimulates fruit production
              - potassium - use a rate similar to the rate of nitrogen applied

     C) Iron Supplement
              - chelated iron may be used if iron chlorosis is a problem

     D) Rate
              - 1/2 lb times age of the tree; (10-20-10) or a similar fertilizer
              - 6-8 lbs maximum fertilizer per tree


     A) Immature Fruit Trees (before fruiting)
              - as needed at planting
              - in early spring after severe cold has past but before new growth
              - prune to train and shape tree (4-6 major limbs needed)
              - select scaffold branches in first few years
              - branch spreaders can be used to widen crotch angles
              - narrow crotch angles are weak and split easily
              - remove damaged, diseased and injured wood whenever necessary
              - treat pruning wounds of apples, crabapples and pears
              - use a wound dressing (pruning paint or a water base latex house paint)

     B) Mature Fruit Trees
              - remove waterspouts, suckers and inner fine wood
              - prune out crowded, diseased and dead limbs
              - apples and pears - produced on spurs on old wood
                   - prune back new growth
                    - remove fine inner wood for better sun penetration
              - stone fruits - produce fruit on relatively young wood
                   - fruit buds are short and rounded; between two pointed leaf buds
                   - prune by removing older branches; encourages greater new growth


     A) Apples and Crabapples
              - requires two different varieties for good fruit set
              - flowering crabapples will act as a pollinator

     B) European Plums
              - self fruitful

     C) Hybrid Plums
              - requires two different varieties for good fruit set
              - ''Toka' and 'South Dakota' are good pollinizers
              - hybrid plums and cherry plums will cross pollinate
              - wild plum will also work as a pollinator

     D) Cherry Plums
              - requires two different varieties for a good fruit set
              - 'Compass' is a good pollinizer
              - hybrid plums and cherry plums will cross pollinate
              - wild plums will also work as a pollinator

     E) Cherries (sour)
              - self fruitful

     F) Apricots
              - two different varieties are recommended for a good fruit set
              - some varieties are somewhat self fruitful

    G) Pears
              - requires two different varieties for good fruit set

12. Animal Damage (during the winter)

    A) Mechanical Barriers
              - large mesh hardware cloth 3' high with tin can around trunk
              - small mesh hardware cloth

    B) Chemical Repellant Paints and Sprays

13. Thinning Fruit 
              - hand thin after June drop or about July 1
              - decrease biennial bearing, improves fruit color and size
              - reduces limb breakage

14. Winter Protection

       - wrap with paper tree wrap or plastic tree guards
       - paint trunks with white latex paint

Todd Weinmann, Extension Horticulturist & Master Gardener Coordinator
Phone: (701) 241-5707

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