Home Is Where Your Trees Are

Your Own Fruits And Nuts. Part 2

Since 1952, American nurseries have sold dwarf apple trees called Mailing Mertons - obtained by crossing EM strains with the Northern Spy. MM strains are pest-resistant, well anchored. They yield early and heavily. They are numbered from 101 to 115, with Nos. 104, 106, 109, and 111 so far the most promising. All dwarf pears are grown on quince roots, preferably the Angers quince, but the popular Bartlett pear needs a Beurre Hardy interstem below its scion for best results. Dwarf peaches and nectarines are grown on roots of the smaller plums. Americana and myrobalan are the usual plum rootstocks. St. Julien or mazzard are even better if you can find a nursery that uses them. Dwarf plums are worked on myrobalan stocks. Americana dwarfs plums smaller than myrobalan and transplants better, but since the scion tends to overgrow the rootstock it becomes top-heavy and blows over more easily. Sand cherry, a wild plum, produces the smallest dwarfs of all.

Planting fruit trees, standard or dwarf, begins with the careful selection and preparation of their ground. Full sunlight and adequate space are the prime requisites. Next come proper soil acidity, reasonable fertility, good drainage. Organic material (manure or sod) should be worked into the ground a year before planting. Weeds or cover crops should be turned under in subsequent spring cultivations. Do not put manure or fertilizer into the holes at planting time, which comes in October-November or before growing time in spring. All fruit stock is planted bare-root as whips one or two years old. Dig a hole overlarge for the root system and plant to the same depth as the tree grew in the nursery, making sure that the graft union is above ground. Put topsoil in the bottom of the hole, sift more in over the roots, and fill with a mixture of topsoil and manure or compost. Gently soak the soil over the roots (don't sprinkle the tree) and keep it moist through the first growing season. A saucer depression around the trunk will help keep moisture in place through the summer, but mound the soil for winter, adding mulch, to guard against deep frost and heaving.

To help young fruit trees reach maturity, in March-April broadcast a "complete" fertilizer (5-10-5 or 8-8-8) two feet away from the trunk and well out beyond the branch spread. On poorer soils, repeat this in June-July. One pound of fertilizer per year of tree age, up to five pounds, is your rule of thumb. A supplementary ration of high-nitrogen may be given if the tree's new growth is much less than twelve inches by August. But too much nitrogen will make fruit trees grow more wood than fruit, and it causes dwarfs to overgrow. Good mulching materials (to be turned under or raked away in spring) are straw, sweet or salt hay, lawn clippings, leaf mold. Pruning of apples and pears begins on the branchless whips you buy at planting time. Cut these back to about 36 inches and remove any injured roots. If your whips are two-year-olds they may have started branching. Retain and shorten the best sideshoots. Leave a single top leader untouched. After the first growing season, in late autumn or just before spring, take off all spurs and branches below 24 inches. Remove also any branches angling upward from the trunk at less than sixty degrees. At the top, retain only one central leader, removing any that form Y's.

After the second growing season, prune only for structural correction. Upon your moderation will depend the arrival of fruit. When it does arrive, its weight will open and spread the tree's top, especially in apples. Pears are more upright in habit, so don't try too hard to make them expand. After bearing has begun, annual growth will lessen and with it the necessity to prune. Taking off whole branches to prevent too-dense heads is better than fussy twig-whittling. A trick to hasten bearing in woody branches is to girdle them with a knife-cut about one-eighth inch wide, made full-circle or spiral around the branch. This impedes the downward flow of enriched sap, forcing it back into outer fruit wood instead of deeper xylem. Yearling peach, nectarine, and apricot whips will already have small branches. Cut all these to spurs^ leaving only two or three buds on each. After this an open-center "wine glass" habit will develop naturally, which you can encourage by removing any suckers or branches that grow inward. These stone fruits produce on wood that grew the previous season. They therefore can and should be cut back, after their third year, more severely than apples or pears. Standard trees should be kept below fifteen feet in height. Dwarf peaches can be kept below six feet. Sour cherries are pruned like peach trees except that some side branches are left on yearlings to become permanent, and the lowest tier, of three or four limbs, should be eighteen inches or less above the ground. They grow slower than peaches, taller and more twiggy. These characteristics call for corrective pruning, but, on the whole, far less work than peaches require. A main object is to keep sour cherries' heads open so that fruit will ripen. More than any other fruit, cherries are stolen by birds. The lower you keep your trees, the more easily you can protect them with netting. Sweet cherries tend to grow big and upright. Prune them as you would apples or pears, but let the lowest branches start at eighteen inches from the ground, the highest at not more than four feet.

Remove all central verticals except the main one, which you can keep heading back to fifteen feet or less. Plums grow upright or spreading, according to variety, and can be pruned like peaches in general. The stone fruits need more careful cultivation around them than the pomes do, but never use weed killers near them (or near any valued tree). All young fruit trees are prey to mice, rabbits, and other rodents. Screen them around with hardware cloth reaching four inches underground and up to the lowest branches, two inches away from the trunk. Thinning their fruit is necessary on all hardy (northern) fruit trees except the cherries to obtain the best size and texture. This should be done after the trees have made their own natural drop of excess immature fruit. Thin plums to four inches apart, peaches and nectarines to six inches, apples and pears to eight inches.