Are fruit trees worth the hassle?

clayfarmer(Zone 5 Illinois)May 1, 2012

This may be a stupid question, but with all the work that is required for fruit trees - spraying of pesticides, fungicides, etc it really worth it, or would I be better off just focusing on my vegetable and berries?

I've had a large vegetable garden for years, and added an assortment of blackberries, blueberries, and other berries a few years ago. Had great success. I'm now looking at adding some fruit trees, but I get the impression that they're a ton of work and and cause a lot of frustration. Just wondering if it's really worth it. Thoughts?

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megamav(5a - NY)

Take a look at paw paws, spraying isnt a requirement, and I've heard they're delicious.


    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 9:48AM
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Hi! You are right, fruit trees are not easy but they are not a hassle, they are simply a challenge since there is so much to read about each variety and it's care. A good spray schedule is in order; understanding which sprays to use on the individual tree; pollination, soil, exposure and rootstock, etal. A dear friend who was a 'true plantswoman' once said to me, "you are not a grower until you grow 'stone' fruit'". Fruit trees are very satisfying, gratifying and the fruit is incredible. There is a lot of trial and error for any beginner. I am a beginner going on five years of fruit trees (17 of them) and it has become a passion. Berries and veggies are far easier, for sure. But again, losing and caring for a tomato plant is not quite the same as caring for a European Plum. Just my thoughts, Mrs. G

    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 9:58AM
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I believe it all depends on your location and the type of fruit you are trying to grow. The need for sprays suggests that the cultural requirements are not being met exactly, in other words the variety is not well suited to the climate, soils, etc...

There are thousands of successful orchards around the world not using any pesticides or fungicides. Varieties are chosen for their disease resistance instead of shipping ability and appearance for example. Close attention is paid to soil humus content, proper pruning, cover crops, and such.

I guess what I'm saying is that it's worth it for things that can thrive in your area without the use of chemicals. I quickly lose interest in growing something if it requires toxins or is otherwise not suited to my climate and soils... I guess to me then it's not worth it.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 10:00AM
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I have had great success with 'organic' Neem Oil for a dormant oil spray and will use 'Surround' Kaolin Clay spray in August. Mrs. G

    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 10:08AM
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clayfarmer(Zone 5 Illinois)

I guess that's one of the main things that concerns me. I can grow my veggies and berries chemical free, done it that way for years. I lose some to pests, but just plant extra and no worries.
So, the constant spraying that (I thought) was required for fruit trees didn't seem to fit into my more natural way of gardening. But if I can do it with no or very little chemicals, I'd love to give it a go.
Can someone recommend specific varieties of apples, pears, and/or peaches that would thrive in central IL without much chemical treatment? Or maybe recommend a book or other resource that could give me some guidance? Thanks again.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 10:09AM
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ozzz(5b AZ)

Layfarmer..... Im just getting into fruit trees myself but Ive read and heard a lot about liberty apple being very disease resistant (Im sure theres others but this is just what Ive happened across).

Also Ive seen them on M7 rootstock which keeps them in the 12-15 range, making pruning and managing a bit easier. Also (again someone correct me if Im wrong), Ive read M7 is very hardy in different types of soils if you happen to have heavy soil... although it does sucker.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 10:55AM
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Yeah, if you pick trees that are suited for your area, you don't have to spray that much.

Megamav beat me to suggesting pawpaws. They have virtually no diseases or pests in the eastern US, and aside from some difficulties getting them going and tending to them as saplings, once they're established you can pretty much ignore them except for fruit picking time.

Mulberry is another good one for being pest and disease resistant. The mulberry in my front yard doesn't get sprayed and only gets watered when there's a drought, and its doing marvelously. My cherry trees get munched on more often and requires spraying and/or japanese beetle bait traps to keep happy, but its not like I'm going out there every weekend to spray them with poison or anything like that.

Mostly, an established healthy tree is not going to have a lot of pest problems to start with. Younger trees, fresh transplants, trees that are stressed, those are the ones that the bugs are going to zero in on.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 11:09AM
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It depends on the person. I have spent way to much time working on my small apple orchard. But when I get apples in late August and September I say to myself yup it's worth it. My neighbor who is also trying to grow apples said to me yesterday he was close to ripping out his apples because of many issues with spraying them. I told him we would work on his apple trees and see what happens next year. It's all in your personality.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 11:12AM
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Research disease resistant varieties that will grow in your zone.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 11:14AM
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blackrag(6A East PA)

This is a good question. It depends on how else you might be spending your time. I have 3 seasons invested in my small 50 tree orchard. I am hoping for some of my 1st fruit this year as long as I escaped the "late" spring freezes. Maybe I'll be able to answer this question come fall. I don't keep track of hours spent, but if I had spent those hours in a bar, I'd have spent the same money and been pretty hammered... I can tell you this, it is cheaper than restoring motorcycles and hotrods.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 11:34AM
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franktank232(z5 WI)

Depends on where you live...

These are my top problems here in southwest WI; Plum curculio, Rose Chafer, Japanese Beetles (just moved in a few years ago), SQUIRRELS!, theft (may or may not be a problem, was last year), Brown Rot (last year was bad).

Out of the fruit trees I would say that pears seem to be the easiest, although I've been fighting blister mites the past few years. Apples have a lot of issues, but even a couple sprays will get you through the PC period. Plums are tough...the bugs love plums...and they get brown rot and late in the season the wasps sting them. Peaches are probably the easiest stonefruit (bugs seem to lay off the peaches), but squirrels found them last year and did lots of damage. Sweet cherries are bug magnets and the rain can destroy and entire crop in a snap should it rain around ripening time. Apricots are somewhere in the middle...they are very early and get hit by frost/freezes... Any given winter up here could destroy a lot of what I'm growing if it gets real cold.

Someday I'll probably limit myself to 5 trees or less and use grafting to put multiple varieties on each one.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 11:37AM
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blazeaglory(10 SZ22/24 OC Ca)

Yes GRAFTING is the answer for the backyard grower! Proper hardy varieties appropriate for your area. That would be nice. I try to locate the odd 3-1 or 4-1 trees. I think that is the best way to go if you can train the trees so that no one graft over grows the other graft.

As far as "constantly spraying" that is not true. With a well informed grower with a "spray schedule" you can prevent most things from happening. In all, there are very few major sprayings per year. The only spraying during the in between applications would be for pests. But its not that bad. But then again some places are worse than others.

I will go through the challenge probably till the day I die because I like to see a tree grow to its full potential so that memories and learning experiences can be made. That and I believe in self reliance and a small "earth changing" footprint. Plus the fruit is a sweet bonus!

    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 11:58AM
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Fruit trees don't have to be a big hassle especially if you don't need perfect fruit. Take a look at Surround spray and bagging. Both are organic methods that don't kill insects and don't take a huge amount of time. Also, plant things you like to eat. Then you'll feel the time is worthwhile. I don't like Asian pears very much so I haven't planted any even thought they're supposed to be easy.

Stone fruit (peaches, apricots, plums) taste much better from the tree when they're actually ripe than those grocery store fruit does.

I'd recommend Honeycrisp for an apple and one of the cold hardy peaches - Reliance, Madison, PF24C, or Contender. You'll want a second apple too of whatever matches your taste. I haven't had much luck with pears. I have a multi-graft pear that hasn't fruited and might have died this winter. The rabbits ate off a lot of bark.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 12:14PM
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I have a Honeycrisp tree. It produced the most delicious apple I've ever tasted, but it's susceptible to various diseases. No problem, I cut off the bad branch and live with less-than-perfect leaves. I just bought a Liberty apple tree which is much more disease resistant, and reputedly very tasty.

I only have a small space, so I'm trying to grow things with little/no spraying. I'll net trees to keep birds/squirrels off fruit, and use bags to keep bugs out when necessary.

I want to grow my own to see what tree-ripened fruit can really taste like, and so my kids will have lots of fresh fruit around all the time. It's worth it to me.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 2:02PM
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Randy31513(Georgia 8b)

I think if you have to ask then no fruit trees are not for you. Spend the same money on gas and go to local orchards to pick your own. You might have to drive a ways but it will be worth it.

I have a passion for fruit, citrus and now bananas so all the problems are just problems for me to solve to satisfy the passion.


    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 2:21PM
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franktank232(z5 WI)


You are right. There is nothing that says you have to spray ANYTHING. When i first started, I used nothing and still got some fruit..especially peaches. The fuzz on those things protect them...PC even leaves them alone to some extent, give they have other choices. Something like plums? Good luck. I left my very large Alderman tree spray free one year. I had fruit with 10+ egg laying scars on them...not a single fruit.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 2:29PM
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I don't use sprays. Never had an issue on peaches. Some years have an issue on certain varieties of apples, but not to the point they're not useable. Other years I get a clean crop on them. The plum seems to take care of itself. The sour cherries...........well I seldom get a crop from it because the birds beat me to it.

I do pay attention yearly to proper pruning because that is an issue to impact trees for diseases. It only takes a few hours a year to do some selective whacking.

I grow my own brambles and veggies and have nut trees, but when push comes to shove in producing your own food, the biggest return on investment comes from the fruit crop. Peaches are up to $35 a half bushel here several years ago. I haven't looked lately because I have my own peaches. My quince trees........well if you can even get quince at farmer's market you're lucky and so high that you'd pay twenty dollars for enough to make a run of jelly. Our county used to be lousy with orchards but it's a dying vocation here with produce coming in from Africa and South America. That's why I keep adding more fruit trees and stopped playing with ornamentals. Absolutely nothing tastes like home grown fruit fresh off the tree. To me it's worth it.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 3:24PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

the God's honest shortest answer i can give you is:



the longer version.. poison the earth.;. poison the children.. the homestead.. the neighbors.. spend half your life spraying things [chemical or not] ... what the heck is the upside ... find a local orchard ... and go buy a bushel of whatever comes into season ... its cheaper ...

    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 4:15PM
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Randy31513(Georgia 8b)

I started growing apples simply because I could not get good apples locally. If I lived near an apple orchard I might not have started my orchard. But . . . I live in the middle of Vidalia onion country and still grow my own onions so, LOL that is a bad thought. Oh well.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 4:33PM
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franktank232(z5 WI)

Ken brings up a very valid point. If more people start growing fruit, you are going to get folks out there with backpack sprayers in 30mph winds spraying Carbaryl. Its bad enough with the lawn care companies and their weed killers. Its one reason that maybe fruit trees do belong in orchards. I sure wish I had an acre dedicated only to fruit so the yard could just stay grass/conifers and maybe a nice shade oak.

Its a balancing act. Without spray, its tough. If anything, I'd go with Surround WP and Neem and just deal with fruit loss. Back in they day they had nothing.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 5:34PM
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blazeaglory(10 SZ22/24 OC Ca)

I live in a tight pack of Southern California Suburbia and have never been poisoned, never heard of anyone getting poisoned and the soil samples taken from around the county can prove that chemical levels, although high, are not a worrisome factor.(I dont agree with the levels but Im not worried per say but if it was up tom me I could do without them)

Now do I condone over spraying and polluting the ground. No. But given the VOLUME of backyard fruit around here I would think that this area would be a good indicator of how polluted a place could become based on the sheer number of backyard trees. Ive been here for 33 years and my family since the late early 60's. Never had a problem with over polluting due to back yard spraying. Its the FRONT YARDS AND BACKYARDS WITH GRASS!! That I hate! Talk about over fertilizing and watering! That pollutes more than anything I would think.

But with a back yard orchard, with the right spray bottle or pressure sprayer, know when and how to spray, a good backyard grower and keep the spraying to a minimum and very localized.

So I say YES fruit trees are worth it for the enthusiast. But for the casual backyard gardener is say NO to MAYBE. Fruit trees take a little more effort and care but the payoff is worth is. The payoff is the years of semi-free fruit. If you add up the cost of gas and time and per fruit cost over the years to drive and BUY fruit, it will cost more than what I put into my trees every year. AND the fruit tastes 100 times better if grown yourself.

I do it because I love it and love the end result. I dont over spray and I try to keep my spraying organic, off the ground and very localized. I only wish more people would do the same.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 10:05PM
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Get some fire blight resistant pears and some citrus. Use the same spray on both and forget about everything else.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2012 at 10:09PM
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Yes it is worth it, as long as you enjoy working in the garden. Fresh tree ripened fruit is so worth it. I grow apples, apricots, plums. Pluots, peaches, nectarines, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries. They all taste so much better then what I can buy in the store.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2012 at 1:44AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

So I say YES fruit trees are worth it for the enthusiast. But for the casual backyard gardener is say NO to MAYBE.

==>> dont get me wrong..

a hobby is a hobby.. and if this all excites you .. then go for it.. and do it right.. and be happy ... [i am amazed at what some of the peeps here do for this hobby.. its why i come visit so often.. its totally foreign to me ... in a been there.. done that.. succeeded but came to the rationalization that it wasnt for me ]

but this aint little house on the prairie ... and in all reality.. w/o a significant investment of money/time/knowledge/chemical use .. you are not going to get a viable crop of apples e.g. ... just by pure luck ...

and by the time you realize this.. you have lost quite a few years on what is basically an ugly tree .. lol ... there are much better ornamental trees ...

that and growing a crop of ugly fruit.. which falls to the ground and rots and the fall wasp and bees stoned out of their minds eating rotting fermented fruit.. whats that all about ..


    Bookmark   May 2, 2012 at 9:06AM
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franktank232(z5 WI)

The best place to grow fruit is where there is no bugs or disease. Either in a desert (Israel) or under plastic (high tunnel)...

    Bookmark   May 2, 2012 at 11:08AM
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Ken, you are one simplistic dude. Leave it at a hobby is a hobby.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2012 at 11:10AM
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If you are willing to invest a lot of money, time, and effort and don't have unrealistic expections, then tree fruit could be worth growing. The battle though is constant. It seems that every single living organism is bent on destroying that fruit. Buy the tree, posts and fencing to protect it from deer, hardware cloth for voles and rabbits, mulch, pruners, saws, ladders, fungicides, insecticides, sprayers, protective clothing, electric fences, nets, fake owls,snakes,wolves,yetis, Christmas tree lights, greenhouses, bees, beneficials, baggies, booties, sprinklers, no trespassing signs, security systems, irrigation, refrigerators, presses, dehydrators, pitters, etc. Then, if you're lucky and the gods all smile upon you with acceptable weather and you beat every squirrel in a 40 mile radius, you just might occasionally get to enjoy that fruit.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2012 at 11:13AM
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blackrag(6A East PA)

Thanks Brook, I had to smirk. The Yeti and fake owl is the best.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2012 at 1:52PM
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blazeaglory(10 SZ22/24 OC Ca)

Ahh I think the problem lies in the area that you are trying to grow.

I am POOR. I have ZERO dollars most of the time. In the past 2 years I have spent in total, on all my tress and fungicides/pesticides, less than $200. The chemicals are concentrated so they will last a few seasons.

My area fruit trees almost NOTICE I SAID ALMOST almost grow themselves. I guess I got lucky that my family moved from Brooklyn NY in the early 60's to a boon dock called Orange County.

There are pests here but not so many that I would throw in the towel or have to constantly spray. I rarely spray for bugs. Disease is not very prevalent but can occur. Simply preventative measure can slow disease down alot around here. Now I can see trying to grow in other areas where it is colder with more bugs, then I could see some problems. Around here, the weather is awesome most of the time. The problem is the people and

But hey, I was never one to complain much or throw in the towel when things got a little tough. Then again, it is easier to grow around these parts than other pats of the country.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2012 at 2:07PM
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Thank you, Brook. You made me laugh out loud.

There are a lot of opinions here for Clayfarmer to ponder. Hopefully, someone from Illinois zone 5 can give Clayfarmer an idea of what the pest and disease pressure is like in that area.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2012 at 8:56PM
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clayfarmer(Zone 5 Illinois)

Thanks everyone. I never intended to "stir the pot", but I'm loving all of the different opinions. Giving me a lot to think about!

    Bookmark   May 2, 2012 at 9:57PM
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blazeaglory(10 SZ22/24 OC Ca)

Ask me in five years if I think its worth it and I might have a different opinion ;-)

    Bookmark   May 2, 2012 at 10:49PM
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megamav(5a - NY)

Im with blazeaglory, I just planted 3 trees in 2 years and its been fun planning it all out and getting things just right. Just like anything else in life, its a new adventure.
Keeps your mind busy and weekends occupied.


    Bookmark   May 2, 2012 at 11:00PM
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blazeaglory(10 SZ22/24 OC Ca)

Thanks mega! I know how you feel! Although I cant wait to see some good fruit I have a least harvested one(1) peach and two(2) oranges so

The thing is to keep your eyes on the prize and project yourself to 3 years into the future. And god forbid they dont fruit or the fruit tastes sour. Ill hang myself from my plum tree (Just kidding)

    Bookmark   May 3, 2012 at 12:03AM
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amadioranch(Phx 9a)

Wow, reading all you guys in the rest of the country go through finally gives me reason to appreciate good old Phoenix Arizona. I have a small 50 tree orchard here and other than nuisance stuff we almost never have much bug issues. Ive never sprayed any of my fruit trees for anything, knock on wood. Guess I will have to quit cursing living here from now on.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 12:08AM
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blazeaglory(10 SZ22/24 OC Ca)

Yeah Ive got my eye on AZ! Good for fruit and guns! Woo Hoo! I found a 10 acre lot in Prescott for $125k it looks pretty good with a septic tank and motor home already on site. The property is fenced also.

Cya soon! hehehe;-)

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 2:05AM
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amadioranch(Phx 9a)

I dont know much about Prescott as far as growing...but there are a couple of obvious things you should know. They are quite a bit cooler than here but still very dry with almost no rain. Water will be a big issue. Here in the Phoenix valley we have what called flood irrigation in certain areas that are farmed. Basicly we dammed our rivers and now send stored winter run-off through canals down into Phoenix. Every 2 weeks in the summer and every month in the winter we get a flow of water from the canal system that floods our land under 6" deep of water. Its a fantastic system that is the principal reason the Phoenix valley has seen the growth and fertility that we have here. Growing fruit here is simple simple simple. The only real challenges are the lack of chill hours (most of Phoenix only sees 300 hours, where we are sees around 500-600) and getting trees through the first hot summer. After the first summer they are pretty much golden. Our first harvest of the year starts next week with apricots. Oh and the real fun comes with being able to grow the tropical fruit here too. Along with all the typical stonefruit we also grow mango, papya, starfruit, sapotes, avacados, bananas, etc.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 10:51AM
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I just wanted to add that the worst thing that happens with a fruit tree you don't take care of is that you don't get fruit. You don't have a put a lot of work into preparing soil every year and constantly planting and replanting like you do with a veggie garden. If you stick the tree in the ground and don't do anything, the worse that happens is that you're out $20 and an hour of work, and you've got this tree you have to mow around. I find it worthwhile even though I lost my apricot crop this year to one of the late freezes, and I might not get much of anything else due to the weird weather, but the only thing I did this spring was prune and it didn't take long so I don't feel it was wasted effort.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 3:03PM
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blazeaglory(10 SZ22/24 OC Ca)

Amadioranch that sounds interseting. Are you a large grower or casual? I dont plant on growing very many trees, I just would like a place to escape to when the pressures of Orange County (or global collapse) get to me. The reason I want some acreage is just to surround myself with land. I dont plan on tilling all the acres but if things go well I might try to manage a small nursery with some plants being grown and others bought at wholesale. I dont know its just a little dream of mine to have some nice land in AZ to escape the strangling attitude of what our California government is becoming.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 3:25PM
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Ken,Your right, don't poison your yard, neigbors. Go to the orchard down the road, they don't use sprays! (Right)

    Bookmark   November 29, 2012 at 12:15PM
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I've spent my whole life (63 years) around fruit trees, so it's hard to imagine not fooling with them. At the worst, you get trees covered with beautiful flowers every Spring. Most are in the rose family, and many will fill your yard with fragrance.

When I lived in Urbana, I planted a mixed orchard out in the country, and a couple of apricot trees by my town home. Everything did well on that 18' deep topsoil, though the Russian Mulberry is a weed tree there. Delicious fruit, but considered undesirable because of the purple bird droppings.

Apricots, pears, and cherries usually make good fruit without spraying, and the apples, peaches, and plums can have a minimal schedule. Just a combination orchard spray after petal fall, then repeated only when rain washes it off. Not very many applications needed these last few years.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 10:26AM
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I find our fruit trees to be very little hassle and greatly rewarding.
Dwarf Peach: I don't think we ever pruned it. Maybe once. It bore great fruit.
Pears: Just finished eating our Winter Pears. Love them. We've pruned them like once in 12 years. Pick them when they're just turning and there aren't that many bugs. We just cut the bugs out. Ripen then inside on those fruit trays we mooch off the local grocery store.
Grapes: Very easy (suited to our warm dry Summers and the chain link fence they grow on). We can them last year, we dried them this year (very easy in hanging air dryer--gorgeous raisins). We don't prune them each year. The 2 vines cover about 40' each. Kinda wild looking, but it matches the rest of our back yard.
Apples. Need pruning, get lots of bugs. But we just cut the bugs out, same with the pears.
Strawberries: More work, need good weeding.
Apricots: Our neighbors have two big trees. They never spray them. They let us pick them. Best tasting apricots ever (although when they're that ripe, they're not much good for preserving).

My advice: Plant your trees. They'll be growing while you're figuring out how to take care of them. Our apple tree is 15 years old, and I only learned how to prune it a couple of years ago. Didn't prune it before that. Meanwhile it grew. It had apples. We didn't always use them (imho apples are the worst for getting bugs).
For a long time, I didn't know the thing about thinning enough to prevent apples going bienniel, getting big, sweet peaches and stuff like that. I learned.
We never spray anything.
We planted raspberries a few years ago. We are getting more each year.
We learn as we go. It's fun and rewarding. It's not much work.
I think fruit trees are EASY. But I guess it depends how much you are okay with not always getting a perfect crop.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2012 at 2:18PM
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Here (SEUS) you can grow without any special attention or spraying the following: fig, Japanese persimmon, native persimmon, pawpaw, Kiefer pear, muscadine grapes, at least one bunch grape ("Blue Lake"), rabbiteye blueberry (and southern highbush?), many mayhaws (some selections need spraying), elderberry, some jujubees, as well as some nuts (selections of pecan and chestnut). There may be a few I have overlooked.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2012 at 8:55AM
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