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One of the concerns our customers share is the fruit tree they purchase will grow to a size that will be difficult to manage. Today we have many easy solutions to temper the concern.
The ultimate height of the fruit tree will dictate your spacing requirement. The great majority of our trees ultimate height will reach 12-16 ft. This is due to the rootstock the tree is grafted which helps to insure a healthy fruit tree. If you decide to only winter prune for corrective measures, 12-16 ft. would be adequate spacing. The trees can be spaced much closer if you decide to summer prune for height control. Previous generations pruned fruit trees in winter because it was the one farming activity available during the frozen weather. Once spring rolled around, the chores on the farm never allowed us time to prune our trees. So it was left for the winter, but today that routine has begun to shift. Simply summer prune when the trees grow taller than desired. We often summer prune lightly in July. Pruning in the winter will stimulate more growth, summer pruning reduces the vigor and keeps the trees manageable.
Espalier is a fruit tree, shrub or vine that has been trained to a trellis, fence or wall. Espaliers are ideal for small areas because the training allows the plant to receive maximum air and sun to the plant and the fruit is within easy grasp. Espalier is an ancient training technique developed by Egyptians. Espalier arose from practical concerns;in cooler climates many fruits were not able to ripen before the onset of winter. Apple trees and Pear trees benefited from the heat generated off south facing walls, which extended the growing season earlier in spring and later into fall. Medieval Europeans popularized espaliers in their gardens by growing many varieties in limited spaces. Espalier became an art form "botanical architecture". Gardeners began to create interesting two dimensional structures, or living fences. The tier below is best for pome fruits (apples, pears) and the fan is used for stone fruits. (peaches,plums,cherries) Spacing will vary depending on design. When growing tip-bearers as highly trained forms (i.e., espalier, fan, cordon), these should be summer pruned in the same way as all cultivars.
The art of bonsai utilizing summer pruning to control the shape and size of the tree can be applied to fruit trees. Unlike Bonsai fruit trees are grown for fruit so they should be pruned to around 7-10 ft. Simply choose a size and don't let the tree get any bigger. Leave the winter pruning to corrective measures and summer prune for size control. Head back the new growth that has exceeded your preferred shape or size. That’s it! Small trees yield crops of manageable size and are much easier to thin, prune, net, and harvest than large trees. Reducing the canopy by pruning in the summer reduces photosynthesis, thereby reducing the capacity for new growth. Summer pruning also reduces the total amount of food materials and energy available to be stored in the root system in late summer and fall. This controls the vigor the following spring, since spring growth is supported primarily by stored foods and energy. And, obviously, pruning is easier (and more likely to get done) in nice weather than in winter. If trees are kept small, it is possible to plant a greater number of trees, affording the opportunity for more kinds of fruit and a longer fruit season.
Finally, planting three or four fruit trees in one hole is another example of high density fruit tree culture. (see image below).This allows you to have fruit throughout the season without surrendering the whole garden to fruit trees. Consider our Classic bundle offer. You can purchase six unique apple trees for the price of five, providing a myriad diversity of color and flavors, but you only sacrifice an area necessary for two trees. The method is straightforward: Plant the trees approximately 18” apart, leaning slightly outward with the inside limbs pruned away. Then, in the summer months to control the size of the trees, we recommend heading back some of the new growth. This will reduce the overall height of the trees.
Some apple trees fruit at the tips of their branches and are termed "tip–bearers" or "partial tip–bearers." These apple trees produce all or almost all of their fruit on the branch tips. Do not head back severely when pruning, as you will remove your crop. Tip-bearers are less productive than spur type trees. When growing tip-bearers as highly trained forms (i.e., espalier, fan, cordon), these should be summer pruned in the same way as all cultivars.
Example of planting three trees in one hole.
Deer prefer to browse the new growth on most fruit trees. The deterrents with noxious solutions to spray on leaves is often a temporary fix, but once new growth emerges reapplication is required. Fencing is often best. A few affordable and temporary fencing options for deer are using 5' concrete mesh ( 6" squares, 5' tall, a 150' roll goes for about $100 at home improvement center) formed into an 8' circular cage. Two or three 5' pieces of 1/2" Re-bar are driven into the ground and used to anchor the cages so the deer can't push them over. Alternatively, we'll place four stakes in a four 4 ft. square enclosure with 4' to 5' fencing. Deer are unwilling to hop into this tight of an enclosure so trees are protected. Once trees grow beyond the enclosure the deer become your summer pruning experts or they'll have moved on to greener pasture.