Selecting Dormant Fruit Trees

By Richard Flowers, ACCNP-Green Thumb Nursery-Ventura

It is that time of year again when dormant fruit trees are ready to be planted. Fruits such as Apple, Persimmon, Peach, Apricot, Plum, and other fruit trees that lose all their leaves during the wintertime are prime examples. During this time, you have the greatest selection to choose from. When you go into any reputable nursery (like Green Thumb) and want to get a fruit tree you will see an abundant selection to choose from.

Let’s say you want a red Plum for example. There are many types of red Plums. Some red Plums produce early while others produce later. There could be a red Plum that needs lots of cold (chilling) for it to bear a decent crop. It may need to have another type of Plum to pollinate (meaning it is not self fruitful) so it could bear fruit. Maybe it could be grown on a rootstock that does not like a clay soil. Fruit trees are an investment and something you are going to have for years to come. To be successful, it
is important to become familiar with important criteria before bringing home fruit tree(s).
Rather than wasting your time and energy struggling and wondering why the fruit tree won’t thrive or bear fruit after several years, you should do your research and ask the appropriate questions or tell the nurserymen so he or she could properly assist you.

What is it you are looking for? When do you want to harvest the fruit? What is the site like where you are going to plant the Plum? What kind of soil do you have? Where is your property? Below are important considerations that you should become familiar with when selecting fruit trees for your garden. I want to share with you specific criteria to take into account to help you select a beautiful fruit tree, that will thrive, and have the ability to produce delicious fruit so you can be more successful.

Drainage:
The first and foremost important criteria to take into account is how well does your soil drain. Peaches, Plums, Cherries, Apricots, and so forth must have excellent soil drainage. The trees can not sit in water or grow in a mucky soil, this is a for sure death.

It is recommended to perform a percolation test by simply digging a hole 1 foot deep and 1 foot wide. Fill the hole up with water. Let it drain. Fill it up again. You are determining how long it takes water to be completely drained from the hole. Ideally, the hole on the second filling of water should be completely drained in 3 – 4 hours. If the soil does not do this, then you have several options to choose from: #1 do not plant in that location, #2 construct a raised bed, #3 plant on a mound system, #4 plant them in containers or #5 choose a specialized root stock that preforms satisfactory in that drainage condition.

Rootstock:
The lower portion of the a fruit tree is called the rootstock. This is the portion of the tree that has been grafted over to a specific variety. Different rootstocks provide opportunities for everyone to enjoy the thrill of growing your own fruit. It is handy to investigate the type of rootstock you have a need for depending on conditions of the site. Certain rootstocks have a multitude of advantages such as disease resistance, vigor, fruit quality, soil conditions, and adaptability. All of our fruit trees from our grower Dave Wilson Nursery (a premier grower of potted and dormant fruit trees) have a root stock label attached on each of their trees that describes important and useful information. In addition, our grower also attaches fruit variety labels on each tree that tells about the attributes of each one that will aide in the selection process. Many fruit trees have picture labels attached on as well. It is recommended to not remove these labels because they can be used for future reference. It is wise to let the nurserymen know what kind of soil conditions the fruit tree is going to grow in so he/she will be able
to better assist you in your selection process. The most common root stocks available and their attributes are described below and will be useful in selecting a tree.

M-111 for Apple (semi dwarf)
This is by far one of the most vigorous and strongest for Apple growers. Most soils in our area are clay and this rootstock is excellent for this condition. M11 tolerates wet, dry or poor soil. Tolerates water-logging and drought. Resists woolly apple aphids and collar rot. Induces bearing at young age. Unpruned tree height 80-90% of standard, or about 15-25 ft.  If this too tall for you, feel free to prune it lower during summer to a height that is good for you.

Geneva® 935 for Apple (semi dwarf)
Trees on this rootstock are dwarfed to 8-10 ft, ideal for high density planting, small spaces in the garden, induces early and heavy bearing. Small root system, young trees may need staking and requires constant soil moisture. Good for container growing. A noted hallmark of this root stock is it is resistant to the serious disease Apples get called Fireblight.

Maxma® 14 for Cherries (semi dwarf)
This is a dwarfing rootstock for sweet Cherries; trees dwarfed to about 2/3 of standard or about 6 to 10 feet tall. Induces early and heavy bearing; Good tolerance to wet soils, also performs well in clay. Resistant to bacterial canker and nematodes. Well anchored and very little suckering.

Mazzard for Cherries(standard)
Full size tree for sweet cherries. Most Vigorous, tolerant of wet soils (but good drainage still required). Resistant to root-knot nematodes and oak-root fungus. Trees on Mazzard may be held to any desired height by summer pruning.

Citation for Peaches, Nectarines, Plums, and Apricots (semi dwarf)
This is one of the most sought after rootstock for Peaches, Nectarines, Apricots, and Plums because it is tolerant to wet soils like clay and bears fruit at a young age. Trees are usually dwarfed to 8 to 14 feet. If this is too tall for you, it can be trimmed to a height that is manageable for you during summer pruning.

Nemaguard for Peaches, Apricots, Plums, Nectarines, and Almonds (standard)
With this root stock trees can become large but not to worry because trees on Nemaguard may be held to any desired height by summer pruning. This is one of the most vigorous growing rootstocks out there and resists root-knot nematode but it requires excellent well-drained soils. In poorly-drained soil, plant on a hill( mound).

Myrobalan 29C for Apricots, Plums, and Prunes (standard)
This is another rootstock where the tree can become large but don’t fret, trees on Myrobalan 29C can be maintained to a much lower height by pruning in the summer.

Some of the great attributes of this rootstock include: shallow but vigorous root system, tolerates wet soils, immune to root-knot nematodes, and some resistance to oak-root fungus.

Pollination:
Another consideration to be aware of is pollination. Many times people complain that their Plum tree never produces a single fruit, one of the reasons for this behavior is that it could be from the fact that the tree needs a buddy so it could make fruit. It is wise to ask a nursery professional when you are selecting a fruit tree if the fruit tree is self fruitful? We will gladly supply you with the correct fruit tree provided you tell us the particular variety in question. Another note regarding pollination, it is wise to have a
diversified mix of Peaches, Plums, Apricots, Cherries, and so forth so more pollination can occur within the trees. In order for two varieties to pollinize each other, there must be substantial overlap of their blooming time.

Although it is not recommended that a variety listed as “early” be counted on to pollinize a variety listed as “late”. Late or early refers to the time of season when the trees produce flowers. Fruit trees that are self fruitful are trees that accept their own pollen, they will fruit but they will produce a larger crop with a pollinator, most will also provide pollen for other trees. Also to help pollinate your fruit trees, it is a good idea to have a mix of other flowering plants that attract bees and a wide range of pollinating insects because these are what pollinate the flowers so you can get fruit.

Chill Factor:
Chill Factor is important. This is the period of cold needed by Apples and other deciduous fruits to break their winter rest. Chilling refers to the amount of cold at a temperature below 45 degrees Fahrenheit between November and end of February.

This measurement is often counted in the number of hours between that time period. Some locations receive fewer winter chilling than other areas. Other areas attain much more cold. The fruit tree varieties are usually labeled by the chilling requirements. Many Cherries, certain Apricots, Peaches, and Plums don’t perform satisfactory in a coastal area where lack of chilling is evident. Something to keep in mind, some fruit trees are
widely adaptable to a range of temperatures and can produce fruit. Tell the nurseryman where you live so he or she will have a better understanding of what type of fruit trees may do well in your particular area.

Heat Factor:
Many dormant fruit trees require long hot summers, while others can tolerate cooler coastal conditions. It is important to choose the correct fruit tree according to how much heat you get. As an example, Pomegranates, Jujubes, Figs, and many varieties of Apples, Apricots love the heat and need a long hot summer.

Green Thumb Nursery specializes in fruit trees that will do well in your area and the majority of our trees are high quality. We do however have fruit trees that need more heat or cold because our customer base spans a large geographical area. I highly recommend to ask a nurserymen if you have any questions about selecting fruit trees.

Space consideration:
If space is of concern, consider planting multiple graft fruit trees. Multiple graft fruit trees have several varieties of Apples or Plums, some even have Plums, Apricots, and Peaches on one plant. Many of these are custom tailored to satisfy your particular chill requirements. Some combinations are specialized for consecutive harvest (where you can harvest the fruit for an extended period of time). Many are designed for cross pollination with one another. Additionally, you can plant multiple trees in one hole if you
have space constraints. Don’t forget, you could always prune the fruit trees to keep them smaller to allow space. Training certain fruit trees on a trellis is also a novel idea to maximize space.

Harvesting:
You may want to look at when you want to harvest the fruit. Some fruits come in earlier while others come in later. Do you want a Peach for baking, canning or fresh eating?

Indicate to the nurseryman when you want to harvest the fruit. If buying multiple fruits, it is important to note the harvest dates, do you want all the fruits come in at the same time or do you want the fruits to be harvested and enjoyed over 2 or 3 months (consecutive harvest)?

Selecting:
Finally, when deciding to select a fruit tree, there are a few other things to look at. Make sure the tree has healthy tissue and has a well developed root system. The roots should be well branched. Bear in mind, some fruit trees naturally have a shy root system at first, this is nothing to be alarmed about. The branches should be plump and strong and not withered. When you finally decide to buy your particular dormant fruit tree, it is wise to plant it right away because you do not want to have the roots dry out. If you are unable to plant it right away, it is best to acquire a container, put the tree inside it, and include potting soil then water it once initially and not again until it leafs out. And last but not least, be sure it is a fruit that you like to eat. Finally, make sure you document the exact variety or keep the label the fruit tree comes with. If your fruit tree is not fruiting for example and you ask the nurseryman why is my red Plum is not fruiting. The first thing the nurseryman will ask you is what variety the Plum is. If the variety of red Plum is not given then how will he/ she know how to better assist you. To overcome this issue I advise is you document the name of the variety of the fruit trees you bought and save that information in the event you need to refer back to it in the future because that name will provide critical information that will be useful later in the event you forget. What I
recommend to do is to use a tie on metal label and use a writing implement to write down the name of the variety of fruit tree and the date, that way the name of the tree is attached with the plant. I encourage you to stop by your favorite Green Thumb Nursery and our helpful nursery staff will lead you the right way in selecting an awesome fruit tree. Happy Planting!

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