Ordering fruit plants

Thinking about growing some fruits for your garden? Here are some ordering tips.

You have probably heard the phrase that the early bird gets the worm. It is also true that when you order fruit trees and plants, the early order gets the best selection. As the catalogs stack up in your mailbox with offerings of fruit trees and small fruits, it is easy to get confused with so many choices.

The first question that needs to be answered is do I have the proper conditions for growing quality fruits? Does the site have at least eight hours of direct sunlight? Does the soil drain well and have the proper pH for the fruit to be grown? Hopefully, you don’t live in the lowest area in the neighborhood, otherwise late frosts could be a problem. Take soil samples and have a test run to determine fertility levels and fertilizer requirements for each crop.

Let’s assume that all of those things have been taken care of and you are ready to order. Now it’s time to decide on what to grow. Some of your options in Michigan include various fruit trees such as apples, pears, peaches, plums or cherries. Small fruit options are strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries or grapes. Of course, these are not all of the options. There are nut trees, gooseberries, and hardy kiwi – just to mention a few.

What do you like to eat? That’s a good place to start. Are you a patient gardener? If not, try strawberries. Some cultivars such as the day neutral types will start producing the year of planting. Apples, pears, peaches and the others will take three to four years, while blueberries can be more depending of the age of the plant you purchase. Look for a minimum of three-year-old plants. When purchasing fruit trees, try to purchase dwarf trees. They are much easier to manage. A true dwarf should be 10 to 12 feet or less.

Just about all fruit trees are grafted. Apples are sold on standard, semi-dwarf and dwarf rootstocks. Check the tag to determine how large the tree will get. Although tart cherries can be kept reasonably small by pruning, sweet cherries can grow quite large. Select trees that are on Giesla rootstocks (especially #5), which will produce a smaller, more manageable tree. Cherries on Giesla rootstocks are hard to get. They will have to be ordered from commercial nurseries. When purchasing brambles (raspberries and blackberries), it is best to purchase from a commercial supplier. They have better prices and a large number of cultivars to select from. Purchasing strawberries is also beneficial in that new cultivars are available to try and they provide very useful information on disease resistance, plant vigor, comparative yields, flavor ratings, best uses and more.

If you need additional help, visit the Gardening in Michigan website to contact a fruit specialist, or view online classes on growing strawberries and grapes and view other gardening videos at the Ingham County MSU Extension website.

Related article: Growing fruit trees in the backyard,” Gary L. Heilig, Michigan State University Extension

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