Garden Variety: What to keep in mind when planting fruit trees
If you want to plant an apple, peach, pear, cherry or other fruit tree in your yard, early spring is the best time to do so. You should keep a few factors in mind when you plant: site conditions, pollination requirements and which varieties are well suited to Kansas’ climate and pests.
Fruit trees need at least eight hours of sunlight per day. More sun equals more fruit. In a shaded yard, a fruit tree will be under stress that makes it more susceptible to pests, and it will have sparse fruit production.
They can also be picky about soil conditions, with slightly acidic, well-drained soil being best. If soil in an area in which you wish to plant holds water or appears to have a high clay content, have the soil tested through the local K-State Research and Extension office and add compost to it prior to planting. Avoid low spots that may hold cold air in early spring and make trees more susceptible to damage from late-spring freezes.
Pollination requirements may make a difference in what type of fruit you are able to grow. Some fruit trees, including apples, cannot pollinate themselves very well. This applies to multiple trees of the same variety, since they are genetically identical. To remedy this, you will need to plant two apple trees of different varieties. Crabapple could serve as a cross-pollinator.
Most pears, sweet cherries, and plums also require at least two varieties for good pollination. Tart cherries and peaches can pollinate themselves, so only one tree is needed.
Variety selection is a bit more challenging. Some garden centers do the research for you to select varieties that are resistant to common Kansas pests, while others simply sell what is cheapest or names you will recognize, whether they grow well here or not. If you’re ordering online from nationwide retailers, the varieties they offer may also be better suited to other locales.
K-State Research and Extension and the Kansas City Community Gardens both offer guidance about varieties that are well suited for Kansas. K-State Research and Extension has not had a fruit specialist for several years, so the varieties it recommends may be older but are still selected for performance and pest resistance. KCCG tries out varieties in its Giving Grove gardens and may have more familiarity with newer varieties.
When planting, make soil amendments as needed from soil test recommendations. Otherwise, plant trees without changing the soil and ensure that the flare root is at the soil surface. Use mulch to keep grass away from the base of the tree and reduce temperature and moisture fluctuations in the soil. Water the tree well and continue to water it deeply and infrequently throughout the entire first growing season.
Fruit trees should be pruned annually in late winter or very early spring. Some trees, even if selected for disease and insect resistance may need preventative sprays to produce quality fruit. Once trees are old enough to produce, the fruit will have to be thinned each year after initial fruit set. Branches may need to be propped in summer when fruit becomes heavy. Trees may also need netting or other protection from birds and insects when the fruit is ripening.
— Jennifer Smith works in regulatory horticulture and has worked as a horticulturist for various government entities. She has experience in landscape design and maintenance and as an educator.
Recommended varieties for Kansas
• For apples, K-State Research and Extension recommends Gala, Lodi, Ozark Gold, Redfree, Empire, Red and Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Jonagold, Jonathon, Rome Beauty and Winesap. KCCG recommends Pristine, Liberty, Enterprise and Sundance.
• For peaches, K-State Research and Extension recommends Cresthaven, Early Redhaven, Glohaven, Harken, Intrepid, Redhaven, Redskin and Reliance. KCCG recommends Harrow Diamond and Contender.
• Asian pears are recommended by both agencies over European pears. K-State Research and Extension notes Nitaka and Shinko while KCCG prefers Chojuro, Yoinashi and Shinko. For those preferring traditional varieites, K-State Research and Extension suggests Duchess, Seckel, Moonglow and Magness. KCCG suggests Sunrise, Blake’s Pride and Warren.
• Sweet cherries can be difficult to grow overall in Kansas, but if you wish to try, go with Black Tartarian, Stella, Windsor, Yellow Glass (K-State Research and Extension recommendations) or BlackGold (KCCG recommendation). Stella and BlackGold are capable of pollinating themselves, but the others need a second variety for pollination.
• KCCG also recommends jujube (Chinese dates) as an easy-to-grow hardy fruit tree variety. They produce marble- to golf-ball-sized fruit, and you will get better pollination with two varieties.
• Apricots often lose their blooms to late freezes in Kansas and are generally not recommended. If you do choose to grow them, keep expectations low.