These fruit bowl regulars make wonderful garden trees with plenty of character, and their crop is unlikely to go to waste in most households. As they age, the trees take on a wonderfully gnarled appearance, which sets off their spring blossoms perfectly.
Depending on the variety you choose, apples and pears ripen from late July to fall. You can choose pears with a soft, buttery flesh or a more solid texture. The taste of apples varies enormously between varieties, so read descriptions before buying. If you want a tiny apple tree, go for one on M27 rootstock. For a tree about 10 feet high, choose MM106. Pears grown on Quince A rootstock will reach 10–20 feet.
Fall and early spring are the best times to plant apples and pears. Bare-root trees become available at this time of the year, and they are less expensive and establish just as quickly as pot-grown trees. Plant bare-root types as soon as you can after receiving them. Dig over the area around the planting hole and add some organic matter. Plant at the same level as the trees were in the field (look for the dark stain on the stem). Firm in well. Water in, then insert a stake and tie the tree to it. Mulch with bark chippings or compost and keep well watered for the first two years.
Luscious and juicy, cherries and plums taste of summer. Both are grown as standard trees, but cherries can also be trained along a warm, sheltered wall.
You can grow sweet or sour cherries. Sweet are the best for eating from the tree and sour are ideal for cooking and jam-making. Cherries can grow into large trees, so select one grown on dwarfing rootstocks — Colt or Giselle 5 — and a self-fertile cultivar if you want only one tree. Some varieties of plum are particularly good for eating, some are better for cooking, and others are dual purpose.
Plums and cherries should be planted in fall or early spring, much like apples and pears. Once they're established and fruiting, it's important to protect cherries from birds, or they will quickly finish off the crop. A net thrown over the tree will provide some protection, but for best results, grow them in a specially constructed fruit cage. Plums and cherries should always be pruned in summer, not winter, because they are susceptible to silver leaf disease, which is more prevalent in winter.
Plums can be enjoyed straight from the tree or cooked in delicious pies, jams and puddings (Image 1).
Grow cherries for their eye-catching, sweet and juicy summer fruit, as well as their attractive spring blossoms (Image 2).
All fruit trees fare better if they are regularly pruned. Pruning encourages the tree to produce the best fruiting wood, and removes any growth that may lead to problems.
Prune apple and pear trees in late winter, and cherry and plum trees in summer. Start by removing any growth that is dead or diseased, or that's crossing the center of the tree: you want an open center to increase air flow and to allow sunlight in. It's important to create a main framework in the first few years, and to prune back to that. You can then shorten new stems by about one third to an outward-facing bud and shorten the side-growths that grow from them to about five buds.
Cut back branches that are growing in toward the center of the tree as these will reduce airflow and light and may lead to disease problems (Image 1).
Shortening the side shoots creates "spurs," which are lengths of thickened wood that are more likely to produce flower buds and fruit (Image 2).
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