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Posts Tagged ‘plant fruit’

Small Kitchen Garden Fruit Tree Update

Back in November when I planted them, the roots of my young fruit trees looked a lot like this one. Still, all three tree, two pear trees and a sour cherry tree, are growing vigorously.

Last autumn, I reported in Your Small Kitchen Garden about my decision and subsequent effort to plant fruit trees in the fall. Only after ordering trees from an on-line nursery had it occurred to me to seek customer reviews of the nursery. The reviews I found made me a bit edgy, and I wrote about it in a post titled Aggravation in my Small Kitchen Garden.

Still, I was pleased with the arrival of my order, and with the condition of the plants when I unwrapped them. In a post titled New Pear Trees in my Small Kitchen Garden, I shared the story of planting them.

More Angst About Summerstone Nursery

My post about Summerstone Nursery (the Aggravation post) has drawn a few comments from obviously unhappy customers. I don’t doubt these people have had bad experiences, and I stand by my earlier comments: I suspect there are exponentially more satisfied Summerstone customers than there are angry ones. I happen to be one of the satisfied customers.

Consider the photograph from last November’s post (above, right), showing the bare root of the sour cherry tree I planted then. I imagine a large number of people would say that this tree has no roots; it looks, after all, like a stick. The roots of all of my new bare root trees were similar to this one.

The blossoms on my new moonglow pear tree are a beautiful soft pink. The leaves of the plant are a greenish purple. It will be a bit of a wait, but I’m looking forward to seeing this in bloom once it’s full-grown.

Now have a look at the gorgeous blossoms and purple/green leaves growing from my Moonglow pear this spring (left). The sour cherry tree and my Bartlett pear tree aren’t as sensational, but all three fruit trees have produced new branches and leaves and are growing vigorously. (I have no photo of the sour cherry tree because it’s inside a makeshift tree tube to protect it from rodents and cutworms.)

The pecan trees look dead, but I can’t blame that on Summerstone Nursery: a few days after I planted them, a wild animal gnawed several inches off of each one. My subsequent efforts to protect them from further damage stressed them, and I think they’re not coming back (though I continue to hope).

Summerstone or Not?

Based on my experience with Summerstone, I would buy from them again. Here’s my rationale:

  • Their prices are low; replacing dead plants at half price is inconvenient, but it would bring the total cost up to what you’d pay for your first purchase at other on-line nurseries.
  • They have variety that many on-line nurseries don’t.
  • All my interactions with them have been satisfying.

Would I recommend that you buy from Summerstone? No. Don’t buy from Summerstone Nursery unless you live near them and can pick up your plants in person. Don’t buy from any nursery unless you can pick up your plants from them in person.

You could learn a lot from visiting a nursery or garden store, and when you’re there, you can select specific plants with the help of experienced professionals. The advantages of buying locally in-person are so great that I can think of only one reason to buy plants on-line: Buy plants from on-line nurseries only if you can’t find what you want at a store near you.

My Fruit Tree Prognosis

I’m confident my two new pear trees and my new cherry tree will be fine… assuming I take care of them properly. I won’t be harvesting fruit from them for several years because they’re all under two feet tall. Still, I’m pleased with how this fruit tree project is going.


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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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Aggravation in my Small Kitchen Garden?


An anonymous visitor to Your Small Kitchen Garden raised concerns about Summerstone Nursery. In my last post (Pear Trees for my Small Kitchen Garden), I explained that I chose Summerstone from among more than a dozen web sites, and I explained my selection process. Admittedly, in researching these nurseries I made a classic blunder: I failed to research what customers of the businesses had to say about them.

I’m flabbergasted at the oversight as I’ve been shopping on line since the 1990s and I approach I thought I approached all information on the internet with a kind of “Oh, Yeah?” attitude. Not this time.

Problems with Summerstone?

Will I be one of the disgruntled few, or will I be happy with the vendor from whom I ordered pear trees? I may not be able to answer until next summer (and I don’t expect homegrown fruit for three or four years). In the meantime, I have visions of large, beautiful pears that are just out of reach.

So, a day late and about $36 short, I’ve read some consumer reviews of Summerstone Nurseries. The reviews aren’t all rosy (they’re also not all bad). I probably wouldn’t have bought from Summerstone had I read the reviews first… but I’m not sure. I also did belated due diligence on Willis Orchards, Raintree Nursery, and Nature Hills—the other on-line suppliers I mentioned in my last post. It would be wrong to say that any impress… though, perhaps, Raintree has the best ratio of positive to negative reviews… Summerstone’s ratio is the worst.

I’m not Thrilled…

When reading reviews, I always remind myself: If things go OK, I don’t go out of my way to tell the world about it. I expect things to go OK, so why bother reporting OK to a consumer watch organization? Businesses such as eBay make customer and seller reviews central to the basic sales strategy: you leave good review, I leave good review, we’re good eBay citizens… but a customer can really mess up a seller’s business by leaving a bad review. The dynamics encourage everyone to leave reviews whether good or bad.

For sales web sites, you can predict the behavior of customers: when things go well, they move on. When things go poorly, they complain. So, I’m sure you see mostly negative reviews of vendors who don’t participate in shopping communities or web 2.0 networking—even when the vast majority of shopping experiences with the vendors are neutral or positive.

Do I Feel Better Now?

Rationalization complete, I’m still bothered by the negative reviews of Summerstone Nurseries. It occurs to me that if left to their own devices, people are more likely to complain than to compliment (or simply move on), then a compliment on an independent consumer watchdog web site must carry substantially more weight than does a negative review. Sigh!

Well, I’m an optimist and I’m very patient. So, while I’m still not recommending a particular on-line nursery, I’m not denouncing any either. I’ll stay the course, and continue to report as the pear tree saga unfolds.

I feel I’ve learned what I thought I already knew: get your hair cut where the barber goes for a haircut; buy donuts where cops buy donuts; eat at the crowded restaurants… You know: seek other people’s recommendations before making a purchase.

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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


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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How to Make a Fruit Tree for a Small Kitchen Garden

I’m on a mission to plant a pear tree this fall in my small kitchen garden. In the past week, I’ve visited or contacted garden stores and nurseries within a half hour drive of where I live in central Pennsylvania—hardiness zone 5b. I’m ready now to concede that the local culture simply doesn’t believe in fall planting of perennials. That’s too bad for two reasons:

  1. Planting in the fall has many advantages (read about them here)
  2. I’m going to have to mail order my pear tree
A young fruit tree has a small section of root stock, grafted with a scion having several leaf buds and a terminal bud. Any of the leaf buds could develop into a branch, but if the terminal bud survives, in two or three years you can prune off the lower branches and promote branching higher up the tree’s turnk.

What I’d Look for at a Nursery

As I explained in my last post (click here to read it): Were I there to choose the tree in person, it would have a straight trunk running vertically up to a healthy leader—with, perhaps, a bump where the leader was grafted onto root stock. I would not buy a young tree whose main trunk made an abrupt change in direction, or had one dominant branch that was obviously thicker and reached higher than the main leader. I’d also be cautious of the distribution of branches.

Sometimes, it seems nursery operators prize low branches. Young trees often come with branches starting within a foot of the ground which is not a problem unless the tree’s main trunk makes an awkward diversion from vertical. When a tree has a vertical leader, within a few seasons, you can prune away the very low branches, and encourage growth on the higher ones.

However, when a young tree’s leader is at the end of a horizontal branch nearly as thick as the main trunk, it may take many years of aggressive pruning to train a new vertical leader that’s even vaguely in line with the trunk. If you’re growing a very small tree, then low branches make sense. But I want to be able to duck under my tree’s branches, so it won’t do to buy one that a nursery assembled with one or more main branches three feet off the ground.

It’s about Assembly at the Nursery

When you’re shopping for fruit trees, chances are you’re looking at chimeras. A chimera is an organism assembled from parts of several organisms. Especially in the cases of dwarf fruit trees, but often with larger trees as well, a nursery worker, through a craft called grafting, has combined two or more types of trees to make a single tree. The worker cuts a scion (a thin branch with several leaf buds and a leader at its tip), from a standard variety of fruit tree—say, a Bartlett pear. The worker also roots a variety of pear tree that has specific desirable characteristics, but that may produce unappealing fruit. The worker preserves the roots and cuts off most of the above-ground leader, replacing it with the Bartlett pear scion.

Over the course of a few months, the select root stock melds with the scion, and new wood and bark grow together to make a viable tree. The nursery worker makes sure no leaf buds survive on the root stock, so the only viable growth above ground is the good-eating variety of fruit.

Why the Grafting?

In grafting, the nursery worker is creating a tree with the best possible combination of features. Often, a desirable fruit’s roots are vulnerable to diseases, but the rest of the plant is hardy. It makes sense, then, to graft the desirable fruit onto a different root that won’t succumb to disease.

Grafting Against Disease and Pests

All the great wines from Europe come from the juice of vitis vinifera grapes. These grapes didn’t exist in the Americas until brought here by Europeans. American grapes, vitis americana, were not acceptable substitutes for vinifera grapes.

Crisis befell the European wine industry in the late 1800s when an insect called phylloxera arrived in Europe on vitis americana grape plants. European grapes were vulnerable to phylloxera, and it spread rapidly, nearly wiping out the vineyards throughout Europe. To save the wine industry, growers grafted vitis vinifera scions onto vitis americana root stock, and now virtually all wine grapes in Europe come from these chimera plants.

Your fruit trees may have been assembled similarly to provide hardy roots for otherwise less-hardy (but more delicious) fruit varieties.

To make dwarf fruit trees, a nursery worker selects a “dwarfing root stock,” and grafts a desirable fruit onto it. The dwarfing stock simply passes water and nutrients to the rest of the plant more slowly than the plant would like… acting, in effect, like a bonsai tree master who cuts roots off of plants so they’ll grow up small though proportioned just like normally-grown trees.

Grafting can result in trees with undesirable shapes—especially when the nursery grafts two or more scions onto a single root stock (this is advantageous for fruits that require cross-pollination and is also necessary if you want two or more varieties of fruit from a single plant). Only one scion can be the tree’s leader… others must be branches—and when you graft a branch onto a three-foot tree, you have a tree that wants to be in your way when you do yard work.

What’s my Next Step?

I want to order my new pear tree soon so I can add it to my small kitchen garden in October. I’ll browse on-line nurseries, make a list, and share it with you in an upcoming post. When I select a nursery, I’ll explain why. I’ll also order a tree and explain my thinking about it.


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