The gardener’s guide to ordering fruit trees

It’s not too early to start planning for a backyard orchard.

It’s a new year and gardeners are already well into planning for the 2013 season. For those who plan to start a backyard orchard, here are some tips for smart gardeners.

Priority number one is to place your order as early as possible. Those who order early generally receive the best selection, especially if you are looking for something new. Order trees that are grafted onto dwarfing rootstocks. Examples include M 9 and Bud 9 for apples and Gisela 5 for sweet cherries. Since numerous rootstocks are available on the market, consult your local Michigan State University Extension fruit expert for recommendations.

Dwarf rootstocks are recommended because they produce a smaller tree and will be easier to manage. Dwarf trees require less pruning time per tree, are safer to pick from due to their lower height and should require less pesticides per tree.

Another way to reduce the need for certain pesticide applications is by selecting cultivars that are less disease prone. Trees can be selected that are somewhat resistant or tolerant to diseases such as fire blight, apple scab, cherry leafspot, bacterial canker and others. Reducing fungicide applications will reduce your costs in producing the fruit as well as limiting your exposure to the pesticides. Your local Extension fruit specialist can also recommend cultivars that will require less spraying.

It is also important to select trees with rootstocks that are adapted to the soils and growing conditions in Michigan. This is another area where the Extension fruit specialist can be helpful. Plants growing on rootstocks not adapted to the soil may not grow vigorously and may be more prone to pest problems.

When selecting cultivars to grow, choose one that fits your needs and skill level. If you are planting for the first time, Honeycrisp may not be a good choice from a management standpoint. Honeycrisp is more difficult to grow and store than many other cultivars. Do some research to determine what is best to grow in your area. Some of the criteria to consider for selecting cultivars include intended use (processing versus fresh), flavor, storage life, pest resistance, ripening date, cling or freestone seeds (for peaches and nectarines), resistance to cracking (cherries), pollination requirements, etc.

There are many nurseries that sell fruit trees. Companies will be more than happy to send you a free catalog filled with beautiful pictures of fruits. Everything looks so tempting, but you need to be a wise shopper. Compare prices and read everything about what you are getting such as the size of the tree. I like to buy from companies that specialize in the fruits I am interested in purchasing. Generally, there will be a greater selection at a lower price than general garden catalogs. Some catalogs have the option of purchasing semi-dwarf or dwarf trees. Read the information on how large the semi-dwarf will grow. Some semi-dwarf apples can reach 80 percent of a standard apple tree, which can exceed 40 feet.

Other extra charges that may influence your decision include broken bundle charges. This charge is levied when you purchase below the minimum number of a certain cultivar. This charge is usually found in commercial grower catalogs. Some trees may be patented and a royalty charge is added per tree. Compare shipping costs and try to buy from nurseries that are in a similar climate. I purchase the largest trees offered in the catalog. They are well -branched and tend to yield earlier.

Once you have decided to become a backyard orchardist, you can watch a variety of short videos on how to care for your trees.

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