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Posts Tagged ‘pear trees’

Prune Fruit Trees – 3: What and Why

Look to Learn

When you’re learning something, it’s useful to look at examples of what you’re trying to achieve. I encourage you to do that with pruning: find a local commercial orchard and ask for a tour with emphasis on the trees. Do this in March and you may get to see a professional pruner in action. If you can’t get a tour, at least get where you can examine some trees. Well-tended trees can be very distinctive when they’ve dropped their leaves. Seeing how professionals shape their trees may inspire your approach to pruning.

A most amazingly frigid cold descended on my small kitchen garden yesterday. That’s actually helpful because the last week of February felt like spring, and I need a few more weeks of winter; I’m still pruning and grafting in my fruit trees.

If you’ve been following Your Small Kitchen Garden blog, I’ve been sharing with you thoughts about pruning apple trees… and most other deciduous trees. In the past two posts, we’ve laid the groundwork for pruning. In the first, we talked about reasons to prune your fruit trees, and offered some very broad guidelines. In the second post, we looked at pruning tools, and discussed the basic technique for cutting branches shorter or altogether removing them. This post offers describes what to prune and why.

A Pruning Operations Checklist


A branch in my pear tree snapped under the weight of fruit. The scar is a portal for disease and insects, so I’ll prune it away this winter. Notice the many healthy branches that are competing to take the place of the broken branch. I’ll prune most of those away as well.

Here, vaguely in order of priority, are the guidelines I follow when pruning apple trees… or peach trees or pear trees. These guidelines will work as well with all temperate climate deciduous trees:

1. If your tree is a chimera (root stock and fruiting stock grafted together), don’t prune off everything above the graft. Root stock may grow into a viable tree that even produces fruit, but not likely fruit you’d want to eat. So, if any branches emerge from the root stock (below the grafting scar), cut them off; undesirable root stock growth will compete with grafted stock.

You almost certainly won’t be able to identify the original graft on an older tree, but if the tree puts out young branches within a foot of the ground, they should go. Sadly, new, young branches sprouting low on the trunk of an old tree are a clue that the tree is unhealthy.

Finding Tools

Visit the Small Kitchen Garden Store to find all the tools you need for pruning.

2. Prune all dead wood as closely as possible to live wood. If you find a live branch that has a lot of dead branches protruding from it, look for health issues with the live branch: Is the bark cracking? Is there obvious rot? Has the branch been bent severely? Are there holes in the bark? If there are a lot of dead branches on a live branch, the live branch is probably dying. You don’t need to remove it (yet), but do so if removing it fits easily with the rest of your pruning plan.

3. Prune away branches that have splits, cracks through the bark, peeling bark, or obvious rot. Fungus is a sign that a branch is only partly alive—but a healthy branch may have algae, moss, and even lichens growing on it.

Three branches of about the same diameter run nearly parallel. Branches that emerge from these intertwine, competing for sunshine. If these branches all emerge from the same “parent” branch, it makes sense to remove two of them. If they emerge from separate parents, removing competing sub-branches and shortening one or two of the larger branches shown may be the better choice.

4. Prune to rid trees of branches that touch each other—or that are growing into the same space as other branches. Touching branches rub in the wind, making holes in the bark. They might also trap water that promotes rot and attracts insects. Branches growing into the same space compete for sunlight. Generally, preserve the healthier branch, and remove the weaker one.

5. Don’t make one branch do the work of several. It’s an easy mistake to make: You find three or four main branches whose lesser branches grow into the same space. Removing all but one of the main branches would simplify the tree. However, it would be better to preserve the main branches and prune lesser branches from them. This encourages new growth from the main branches, and might produce lesser branches to fill the tree out in other directions.

6. Prune branches from above to let light onto the branches below… and to let light into the middle of the tree. A tree north of the equator may need more severe pruning of its southern branches as those shade lower branches on the north side of the tree. My apple trees are on a north-facing hill, so the lower, northern branches see little sunlight. While the trees grow generally up, newer growth tends to lean southward, and those low, northern branches curve around the rest of the tree.

Here’s my best apple tree with a six-foot step ladder for scale. The tree is out of control; I’ll never be able to reach apples in those crazy high branches. Notice that the tree seems to reach out over the stepladder with only low branches on the opposite side of the trunk. Yes: the stepladder is on the south side of the tree. New growth follows the sun, particularly when you don’t prune each season.

7. Prune off branches that offend your sense of aesthetics or practicality. What do I mean? Aesthetics: does the tree suite your eye? Does it fit into your small kitchen garden’s landscape? Does it block a view you wish you had? Practicality: I hate ducking under branches when I mow the lawn; I don’t want my fruit trees to branch in the first six feet of trunk. You may not care about ducking, but does the tree block a window or shade a planting bed? Once you’ve taken care of the big problems (which may require a season or two of pruning), move on to shaping the trees so they make sense to you.

8. Don’t cut really thick branches if you can avoid it, and especially resist cutting the tree’s leader. A big scar stresses the tree and makes it more susceptible to disease. Cutting large branches may start the tree into decline.

9. Don’t paint pruning cuts with sealant or paint. These may prevent the tree from healing properly.

10. Don’t prune within one-year-old growth. The last few inches of a tree’s branches are the previous season’s delicate growth. Cut off some of it, and the rest might dry out and die. To shorten a branch, cut farther down the branch in the 2nd or 3rd year’s section. If there are spurs sticking out from the branch beyond the pruning point, you’re cutting within older growth.

Breaking Rules

Especially when you’re recovering an old, neglected tree, all of these guidelines come into play. But guideline number 8 will give you the greatest challenge. Three of the five fruit trees that came with our house were simply too messy; I cut several large branches to limit their height and encourage spreading and enlarging of the lower branches.

Caution When Shortening

When you cut a branch shorter to promote new growth, leave at least three leaf buds or branches between the cut and the point where the branch is attached. This gives the branch more chances to thrive; if you leave just one bud and it dies, the branch will likely go with it.

I did the most severe pruning in a tree I didn’t like. My thinking? If I kill it, I have one more excuse to cut it down. In that tree, I cut out the leader and several side branches that had grown as thick as the leader and ran parallel to it. These were five- and six-inch diameter trunks.

Most of the large cuts I made have healed well. However, the most severe cut didn’t heal, and the wood is rotting a hole into the tree. The tree isn’t in great health, and I expect it won’t outlive me (knock wood)… though I’m trying to engineer it for longer life.

If you’re going to cut such large branches:

1. Cut side branches close to the tree’s trunk with the saw blade running parallel to the trunk.

2. Cut the leader just above several healthy branches that can compete to replace the leader once it’s gone.

3. When cutting a vertical branch—particularly a very thick one, cut at a bias so you don’t leave a horizontal surface; water should run easily off of the newly-exposed wood.

It’s best to shape a tree when it’s young and keep it under control so you never have to cut branches more than an inch or two in diameter.

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Prune Fruit Trees – 2: Tools and Technique

Leaf buds in first-year growth hug the twig from which they grow. Flowering buds appear on older growth on the ends of spurs. When shortening a branch, cut behind at least one fruiting bud so you know you’re not pruning in last year’s growth. it’s OK to make that cut at a leaf bud or a flowering bud.

I was out in my small kitchen garden this morning, pruning apple trees. For people in hardiness zones 6 and lower, pruning season is upon us: late winter ends in just 21 days! If you haven’t pruned your fruit trees this winter, you should get started.

Have you never pruned a tree? Follow along. I had planned this post to examine the tools you’ll use, and to lay out a strategy to get good results. The post got quite long, so I’ve divided it into two parts. This one introduces pruning tools and shows how to use them.

Tools for Pruning Apple Trees

Finding Tools

Visit the Small Kitchen Garden Store to find all the tools you need for pruning.

Shears—For young trees, or trees that you’ve managed well over the years, pruning sheers may be enough to do the annual job; they’ll cut through branches up to about the diameter of a pencil. Shears fit easily in a pocket, so you stow them when you’re climbing ladders or trees and pull them out when you’re ready to prune.

A bypass pruner has scissor-like action. That is, two cutting blades slide past each other, each cutting into the branch.

An anvil pruner has one cutting blade that pinches the branch against a flat metal surface until the branch separates.

Two blades of a bypass pruner (left) cut a branch from opposite sides, letting you get close to your work, and decreasing the likelihood of crushing the branch. The single blade of an anvil pruner pinches a branch against a flat surface. In my experience, this often crushes the branch, damaging the leaf bud I’m trying to leave behind.

Perhaps the greatest innovation in pruning shears is the ratcheting shear. When you’re cutting heavy branches, you might not have enough strength to get through with one squeeze. A ratcheting shear lets you start a cut, release pressure, and squeeze again with greater leverage—it’s astonishing how easily a good ratcheting action can complete a cut.

Loppers—When you need to cut through branches thicker than a pencil, use loppers. Loppers come in many sizes. Generally, the longer the handles, the larger the branches they can shear. My loppers easily cut branches the thickness of broomsticks, and I’ve used them to cut branches perhaps twice that… albeit with less-than-ideal results. You can find both bypass and anvil loppers, and there are even ratcheting loppers.

The long handles of loppers give you a lot of leverage to shear off large branches. The handles on this set are three feet long, providing welcome reach into my too-tall trees.

Loppers are too large to put in your pocket, but they extend your reach so you won’t have to climb as high for light-to-medium pruning jobs.

My pruning saw has large teeth on one side for fast cuts through thick branches, and fine teeth on the other side for precise, clean cuts through small branches. I use the smaller teeth when I do grafting; if you plan never to graft, get a saw with big teeth. You’ll get through your pruning quickly.

Pruning saws—For the very thick branches, a pruning saw is handy. You can use other saws—a bow saw would be my first choice—but you’ll find a pruning saw among the easiest to fit into tight spaces and awkward positions you often deal with when working in trees.

I have a pruning saw with very coarse teeth on one side, and fine teeth on the other. The fine teeth have almost no set, so they can cut only very small branches without binding (read the box about Saw Teeth for an explanation of tooth set).

A Pruning Cut

The “how” of making a pruning cut is simple. There are two types: One that shortens a branch, and one that altogether removes a branch. My next post provides guidance on which branches to cut and why. Here’s how to make pruning cuts.

Shortening a Branch

I wish I’d chosen a healthier-looking spur to leave as this branch’s new terminus. But what matters for the discussion is where I’m cutting relative to the spur. The blades roughly match the angle of the spur, but miss the slight bulge where it meets the supporting branch.

To shorten a branch, always cut just beyond a leaf or fruiting bud. Wood protruding beyond the last living bud will most certainly die, leaving a point-of-entry for rot, insects, and microorganisms. When you cut close to a bud, that bud assumes the “leader” role for the branch and grows vigorously in the coming season. Because no wood protrudes beyond the bud, the vigorous new growth quickly scabs over and protects the bare wood.

Note that a bud protrudes from a branch at an angle. Cut along that angle without nicking the wood that directly supports the bud (see photo).

Removing a Branch

Cut a branch off as close as possible to the branch or trunk from which it’s growing. Usually, there is a bulge on the parent branch where the smaller branch emerges from it. Cut flush against that bulge without cutting into it. Also, don’t nick or scratch the bark on the limbs you’re leaving attached. When sawing, lay the saw blade onto the branch you’re preserving, gently engage the limb you’re removing, then saw carefully without letting the blade rub against the supporting branch. Don’t force the blade into the cut, and don’t rush.

Get the loppers in tight against the anchor branch from which you’re pruning another branch. If the branch fits comfortably in the blades of the lopper, you should get a clean cut that heals over in a year or two. In the photo on the right, notice the obvious margin between the branch and the bulge in the branch from which it protrudes. Remove the branch flush with the bulge… but leave the bulge. NOTE: a reader named “Mo” pointed out that I should reverse the loppers for this cut; the thicker blade should be down away from the anchor branch. Please check out his comment for an explanation.

As you reach the end of a cut, support the branch so it doesn’t pinch the saw or splinter away from the tree. Measure your final strokes so the blade doesn’t slip through and accidentally gouge bark. If your saw has teeth on both edges of the blade, you need to be extra careful to keep the rear teeth from messing up the branch you’re retaining.

When using loppers or shears to remove a branch, get the blades as close to the base of the branch as possible, and try to make a clean cut without stabbing the anchor branch. I feel as though I can get a closer cut with bypass pruners than I can with anvil pruners.

Saw Teeth

Few sawyers keep their hands moving in a perfectly straight line as they cut, and every tiny deviation from a straight line flexes the blade against the cut it’s making. Flex it enough and the saw binds; you need to straighten it in the cut to continue sawing.

To give sawyers a margin of error, saw manufacturers build saws with tooth set. The tooth set of a saw is the distance a tooth bends away from the center of the saw blade. Generally, every other tooth’s set goes to one side of the saw blade while the intervening teeth go to the opposite side of the blade. This makes the cutting edge of the blade wider than the blade itself, providing some play as you cut through thick wood.

The width of the slot that the saw makes as it cuts wood is the kerf. The width of the blade plus the set of the teeth determines the kerf of the cut.

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Prune Fruit Trees – 1

When jumbled, leafless branches block your view in winter, it’s time to learn about pruning apple trees.

Admittedly, a fruit tree seems a bit large to be a component of a small kitchen garden. However, it’s inescapable: if you want to grow certain fruits, you must grow trees. Besides, many homeowners ended up with fruit trees when they bought their houses; my yard had three apple trees, a pear tree, and a peach tree growing out-of-control when we moved in.

To get the best crop of fruit from your trees, you need to prune them. This is a late-winter job; it’s best to prune while a tree is dormant. I prune in March; in hardiness zone 5b sap starts flowing in late March or early April. I’ve gotten an early start this year so I can explain pruning here in time for you to get your trees in shape.

An old hole in the bark has heeled around the edges, but the exposed wood is dry and cracked. The branch beyond this damage is still productive, but removing it will make way for new, healthy growth.

Advantages of Pruning Apple Trees

If apple trees did come with your house, or if you have some old trees you’ve ignored for a season or longer, your trees may be a bit wild. In just one season of neglect (which, typically means two seasons of growth), a tree can mess itself up pretty severely. In two or three seasons of neglect, a tree can turn itself into a three- or four-year reclamation project.

Unless a tree is rotting through its trunk, you shouldn’t have much trouble getting it under control. There are a number of advantages to pruning, and they define the guidelines I follow as I tackle this relatively pleasant off-season gardening task. In no order of merit, here are advantages of pruning:

  • Pruning limits the size of a tree. By pruning, you keep a tree from competing with surrounding plants; from shading out your living spaces; and from interfering with wiring, clothes lines, buildings, walkways, and driveways. You also keep fruit within reach—fruit that grows on very high branches may go to waste.
  • Pruning opens spaces for light to get to the lower and inside branches of a tree.
  • Pruning removes dead and diseased wood.
  • Pruning simplifies a tree and makes it easier for you to work in and around the tree.
  • Pruning encourages new fruit-bearing growth.
  • Pruning tricks a tree into producing larger, meatier fruits.

Before you Prune

Cracks ring a branch in a pear tree, indicating that the branch is either dead or dying. This should be one of the first branches to go during the winter’s pruning.

Before we get our hands on pruning tools, there are a few important points to stress:

Be patient—you can make significant changes to a tree’s appearance in a single season. However, a particularly wild tree may require several years of pruning to get it into top form.

Stop when the tree emerges from dormancy—even if you haven’t completed your pruning agenda, don’t continue into the growing season. Once sap is flowing, it can accumulate at a cut and drip onto lower branches. The moisture and nearly undetectable sweetness can attract insects and feed pathogens. Opening a wound during the growing season causes unnecessary stress.

Don’t overdo it—never remove more than 20% to 25% of the tree’s leafing branches in a season of pruning. If you’re not confident about estimating 25%, be light-handed.

A crease has begun to form in a live branch where a dead branch presses into it. Crossed branches can grow around each other as they thicken, providing places for moisture, insects, algae, moss, fungus, and bacteria to gather and weaken the tree.

Tools matter—use sharp tools that make clean cuts, and clean the tools before you start pruning. It’s also wise to clean blades periodically while you’re pruning. A wipe with rubbing alcohol will disinfect tools so they don’t carry disease from one plant to another or spread disease to healthy limbs of an infected plant.

Pruning Tools and Techniques

In my next post, I’ll show you the tools I use and I’ll list the guidelines I follow as I prepare my fruit trees for a new growing season. If you have specific questions you’d like me to address, please leave comments; I’ll either respond with my own comments, or incorporate your questions into upcoming posts. For the discussion, I’ll talk about pruning apple trees, but the information applies as well to nearly any deciduous tree.

Please check back soon, or subscribe to my RSS feed so you catch the posts as I get them up on Your Small Kitchen Garden.

Here are links to other articles with information about pruning apple trees:

  • Pruning Fruit Trees with Knives – by Jeremiah Wright. More apples are grown in Great Britain than any other fruit. The reason of course is that the climate suits this fruit particularly. Apples can he grown to start the season in August, and to end the season in June by …

  • Pruning Apple Trees – Each Little World. Pruning trees and shrubs is one of the few reasons we northern gardeners have for venturing into the garden in the winter. And even at that , pruning at our house is generally limited to our two full-size apple trees. These 50-year-old trees…

  • How to Prune Apple Trees – Today we’re talking about Pruning Trees. In the coming weeks this will be a job to done, if you’d like more fruit. How to Prune Apple Trees by: Paul Curran. In this article you will find out how to prune apple trees. …

 

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New Pear Trees in my Small Kitchen Garden

A mailing tube leaning next to my front door signaled it was finally time to plant fruit trees.

It seems a whole season has passed in my small kitchen garden since I started encouraging people to plant fruit trees in autumn. Then, I reported on the impending demise of my pear tree and my decision to add a new tree this fall. Autumn arrived very slowly, so the frost that sends trees into dormancy came late—the nursery didn’t ship my trees until early November.

The good news is: they arrived at the end of last week, and they look fine. What’s more, I planted them during the weekend, and documented the experience as-promised. Of course, autumn made itself known during the weekend, so tree-planting was less pleasant than I’d have liked: I don’t believe the temperature rose above 40F degrees, and a dusting of snow fell as I was packing my gear back to the garden shed.

According to instructions on Summerstone Nursery’s web site, I unwrapped the young trees and watered them from root to tip.

Kudos to Summerstone Nursery

A young bare root sapling may have very few roots branching off the main stem. This is the sour cherry tree’s root section lying against the back of a shovel. It’s easy to understand why someone might feel they received “sticks.” Young trees are sticks that haven’t yet grown into logs.

In one of my posts about the fruit tree saga, I explained that I first ordered trees, and then looked for customer reviews of the vendor from whom I ordered. Most reviews were negative, and I was a tad concerned. Later, I reported that I had ordered three trees via the vendor’s web site, then emailed a change request to add two more trees. When I received a shipping notice, it listed only the original three trees along with the charge for just those three.

Surprise, surprise: when I opened the package, I found five trees inside. All were clearly labeled, and all were apparently in good or better health. Assuming they are actually the varieties of trees I ordered, I have only a tiny complaint about the vendor, Summerstone Nursery: I wish they’d managed the change request accurately. Now I need to review my credit card bill and mail a check to Summerstone if they didn’t charge for the additional trees I’d requested. Still, based on this one experience with Summerstone Nursery, I’d buy from them again, and I’d recommend them to other gardeners.

To plant trees in a lawn, first remove the sod where you’re going to dig a hole. I’m planting two pear trees in the same hole. This simplifies a lot compared to spacing the trees out: Pruning two trees so close together is like pruning one tree. Watering and treating for insects is easier with the trees close together, and bees will work both trees as one, with luck, resulting in a high pollination rate. I dug a rectangular hole because I used this patch of lawn for illustrations in another blog post about cutting a garden bed into a lawn (including detailed instructions for how to cut sod). Eventually, I’ll mulch the area into an oval shape. For a single bare root tree of this size, you could dig a hole about the width of a shovel, and a foot deep… but I encourage you to dig broader and deeper so you loosen the soil where roots will grow a year or two down the road.

Bare Roots for a Small Kitchen Garden

With the sod removed, dig. You need to dig several inches deeper than the root section of the tree. Pile the sod and soil on a tarp or in a wheelbarrow; you’ll need it later (don’t bury the sod under the soil as you’ll need the sod first). Planting instructions from most nurseries tell you to set the tree so that the graft is above the soil line. In many cases, a layperson can’t identify a graft, so this information is useless. If there’s an abrupt bend or a bulge in the twig just above the root line, that’s probably the graft. If the twig seems continuous, embed the tree so that all roots projecting from the main twig are underground… but all tree branches or leaf buds are above ground. If you’re just not sure, planting shallow is safer than planting deep—the root stock will hold up better in contact with the soil, but anything above the root stock may suffer if it’s underground.

One recurring criticism of on-line nurseries is that the trees they ship are no more than sticks. For the uninitiated, I understand this concern: young trees are pretty much just sticks. Were you to buy a tree of this age already potted, you wouldn’t think twice about it; what few roots it had would be concealed by soil.

However, the trees I purchased were delivered “bare root.” This means they were removed from the soil in which they were growing at the nursery and wrapped in moist packaging for shipping. The leaders of my bare root trees (the leader is the top-most vertical branch with a terminal bud on its tip) looked like perfectly healthy branches on any of my mature fruit trees: thin, supple, and lined and tipped with healthy leaf buds. The bare root end of my trees had only a few thin roots—but certainly adequate roots to support trees of this size.

When the hole is six or so inches deeper than the root section of your tree, line the bottom of the hole with the sod you removed at the outset… but with the grass side down. You don’t need to do this, but why waste the great nutrition in that sod? Buried, the sod will break down over the winter, and make your tree happy when its roots grow down in the next growing season. (Don’t plant the tree with its roots in contact with the sod.)

Planting such young trees creates a few challenges:

1. When grass and weeds are under a blanket of snow, tender tree bark becomes particularly appealing to rodents. If you don’t take precautions, your young trees will be perfectly healthy one evening, then barkless and dying the next morning.

2. If prevailing winds perpetually blow on your young trees through the winter, the trees may dry out. Sometimes you’ll lose a leaf bud or two and the tree will remain viable, but if all the buds go, there’s little hope for the tree. Ideally, you protect the stick-like baby with a windbreak… and if you’re clever that windbreak can double as a rodent-excluder.

Some years ago, the industry invented tree tubes. These are rigid or semi-rigid cylinders that can surround your saplings, protecting them from rodents and deer until the trees are tall enough and woody enough to withstand furry pests. If you’ve driven through tree-planting country, you might have seen forests of these tubes springing up in fields.

Spread soil on the sod until the hole is the correct depth to accommodate the tree. Then hold the tree in place and gently fill with soil around it. Continue adding soil to cover the roots of the tree; stop when the entire hole is about an inch below the surrounding soil.

A tree tube might extend four feet above the ground, completely hiding a seedling whose crown is only two feet up. That seedling concentrates on growing up the tube to reach sunlight. Using a tree tube increases your tree’s chances of surviving its first years in your small kitchen garden.

I can’t tell you yet how easy these tubes are to find. I phoned a local garden store in search of tree tubes, and they suggested I consult a local forestry authority. I’m hoping a home improvement store might carry them, but if that doesn’t pay off, I’ll be back to ordering on-line. There are plenty of companies selling tree tubes, or tree shelters, or tree guards, or grow tubes on-line.

I wish I’d thought to track these down before my trees arrived. Now I have to fight off rodents hand-to-hand until I can acquire some tree tubes.

Add water. Don’t add a little water. Your job now is to flood the hole. Do so gently without washing away soil. Rather, let water trickle into the hole so it soaks in and eventually saturates the soil you dug out and added back; this may take ten or fifteen minutes (for a single tree in a much smaller hole it might take two or three minutes). When there are puddles around your tree, shut off the water and lightly press down the soaking soil with your foot. As you do this, gently adjust the tree so it points straight up (or at the angle you desire); the soil will be so loose and sloppy that the tree will move around easily, shifting often as you tamp down the contents of the hole. Add more soil on top to soak up excess water.

Erect some type of anti-rodent protection… and a wind block if the tree isn’t well sheltered. I fashioned a three-sided fence using sections from my planting bed; I won’t need them around the vegetable patch until spring. However, if I find tree tubes, I’ll remove the fence… What ho! I just got an idea for fashioning makeshift tubes from junk. I’ll experiment and let you know how it works.

Here are some other articles about planting fruit trees:

  • Peach Tree Guild | The Lazy Gardener – Luckily for me now is a good time to plant fruit trees: when they are dormant. The cultivar is Elberta, which seems to be a pretty reliable peach according to what I have read. With some of the species I already posses I threw together …

  • Vegetables Gardening Fruit Trees – Well the first thing that I want to talk about would be that fact that it is a great time to plant fruit trees in Winter this time is best because all the sap in the stems and leaves of the tree has fallen back down into the roots to …

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Update on Fruit Trees for my Small Kitchen Garden

The pear trees are in the mail. In just a few years I’ll be able to harvest some of these beauties right in my back yard!

Many blog posts ago, I stated intent to plant a pear tree this autumn in my small kitchen garden. I reported my efforts to find a pear tree at local garden stores and nurseries, and my eventual decision to purchase a tree via the internet. I ordered a tree five trees, and then discovered a lot of negative reviews for the nursery I’d selected. I waited.

While I was placing my order, I decided to buy two pear trees and a sour cherry tree. After I placed the order, I emailed the store and asked to add two pecan trees for a total of five trees. The person with whom I corresponded (via email) to make this change explained that they wouldn’t ship my trees until there had been a frost to send the trees into dormancy.

Apparently, the nursery has had frost. I received notice that my order shipped, and I’m anticipating its arrival within the week. Psych! But I have a minor disappointment: the shipping notification didn’t mention pecan trees. I’m confident that I won’t be getting those trees, and that I won’t be charged for them.

Honestly, I’m not upset; I had an inkling that my emailed change request might challenge the nursery operator. I’d added the trees more to honor a minimum purchase amount specified by the nursery to offset their “no shipping charge” policy. So, while my request got lost between then and now, the oversight won’t cost me anything, and the nursery loses only the profit from selling two pecan “seedlings.”

When the new pear trees and the sour cherry tree arrive, I’ll document their condition and the steps I take to get them planted and ready for winter in my small kitchen garden. I hope, if you have the space and the inclination, that you’re planting fruit as well!

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Pear Trees for my Small Kitchen Garden

This ancient pear tree stands about 40 feet tall. It’s loaded with pears, but all are way out of reach.

Many posts ago, I advocated that autumn is the time of year to plant fruit in your small kitchen garden. I laid out my plan to acquire and plant a pear tree this fall, and to share the process with readers of this blog. Things haven’t progressed as quickly as I’d expected, but I want to make it clear: I’m making progress.

Nothing Available Locally

I explained in two earlier posts (post 1, post 2) that I simply can’t find pear trees in local gardening stores and nurseries at this time of year. So, I’ve been prowling on-line for a nursery that suits me, and that carries a tree I want to own. To keep everything above board, here is the complete agenda for my search:

I’ve been seeking…

  • …a reasonable variety of trees
  • …a rock-bottom price
  • …an informative site with (good) enough instructions for gardeners of zero skill
  • …a nursery that will deliver my trees in autumn so I can get them planted
  • …a web site with an affiliate program in hopes I might establish a long-term relationship with them and make a little coin from this web site

I haven’t yet found what I’ve been seeking.

A Very Brief Overview of Nurseries

I found many nurseries that have on-line presences. In fact, one found my blog before I found them and they left a comment about an earlier post. That site also has an affiliate program… but here’s the problem: Their price for a single pear tree was staggering (to me). If I wait until spring, I can get a tree locally for half their price—and I won’t have to pay shipping.

Many other on-line nurseries offer young, bare-root pear trees for under $10 per tree (bare-root means there’s no soil around the roots of the tree when they ship it). One nursery even offered trees at various stages of development; the older the tree, the more you pay for it. Here are links to the most compelling of the nurseries I visited… though there were at least a dozen others:

 

My On-Line Nursery

I settled on Summerstone Nursery for several reasons:

  • They are used to shipping trees for planting in autumn.
  • They were amazingly responsive to emails—and were patient when I bollixed my order and asked to make changes.
  • Their prices didn’t cause indigestion
  • They offer a good variety of pear (and other) trees

Pollinators

Pollination is important to producing the best possible fruit. Many trees pollinate themselves so a single tree is enough to get a decent fruit crop. Some trees produce fruit wether or not pollination occurs, but the unpollinated fruits are inferior to the pollinated ones. So, it’s often necessary to plant two or more trees to get good fruit from any one tree. With pears, nearly every varity can pollinate nearly every other variety… but having two trees of the same variety is no better than having one (unless it’s a self-pollinator). Click this link to open an Excel spreadsheet showing which varieties of pears can pollinate each other: www.flowerworld.usa

But Summerstone isn’t a great site for inexperienced gardeners. There’s very little useful information about their trees on the web site. For example, the instructions for planting are terse and don’t differentiate between planting in the spring and planting in the fall. As well, the site identifies specific trees as pollinators for other trees but doesn’t explain that nearly every variety of pear tree can pollinate nearly every other variety (see the box for more about pear pollinators). Also, descriptions of the pear varieties don’t always reveal how tall and broad the trees might become—or which hardiness zones they’re best suited to.

The photo of cherries is from the Summerstone Nursery web site… I ordered a cherry tree along with the two new pear trees.

For my own needs, I visited several nursery web sites and jumped among them to gather the information I wanted before making a purchasing decision. It would have been great to find one on-line nursery that provided all the features I wanted, but technology being what it is, I was still able to muddle through.

My Small Kitchen Garden Tree Order

I was going to plant just one pear tree… and it was going to be Bartlett because Bartlett is a self-pollinating variety; you need only one. But a crazy thing happened (don’t you know): I got really pumped about Moonglow pears and wanted to try them. Moonglow needs a pollinator—a non-Moonglow variety. So, I ordered one of each (Moonglow and Bartlett). Oh, and a sour cherry tree… because I love sour cherry pies and preserves. For good measure, I threw in two pecan trees—I may be a little too far north to keep pecans happy, or I may not be… but that’s a discussion for another post.

I may not see my new trees until November. I’ll keep you apprised.

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