Getting started with fruit trees

gladahmae(5)September 8, 2013

Hi! I'm up in zone 5 Michigan (near lake Michigan, little finger area of the lower peninsula) and I'm attempting to make a start with some fruit trees.

2 years ago I planted a honeycrisp apple tree, which has grown a few feet taller, but not any fuller. I did get one clump of flowers on it this spring.

This spring I also planted a gala apple tree, which looks fine at this point.

My oldest son has been begging for a pear tree, and a local big-box store has one that is zone 4 hardy that I will probably pick up this week (Kieffer, although they also had Moonglow).

Here are where my questions start
Do pears also need a cross-pollinator like apples do? Should I just go ahead and purchase both, or will I be OK with just getting one?

Pruning. When do I do it, and what do I prune? Tips of the branches? What time of year? I've left them alone so far because they are so young, and I don't see the point in cutting off whole branches since none are crossing/rubbing.

Fertilizer. I'd like to keep things more organic, but if they aren't going to fruit for a few more years, I don't mind giving them a kick with fertilizer NOW.

Sprays. Neem oil? How often? Again, looking for more organically-inclined ideas here.

I've also seen comments about tying/training branches to grow horizontally rather than vertically. Some comments encourage it, others say no way.

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Its a general rule that pears should have a pollinator. I beleive the most common is bartlett (which is also good to eat). IF you have the russian pear hybrids, any russian seedling or hybrid should pollinate.

How ever, if you have a good spring, healthy soil , a healthy tree and a plethora of pollinators, you can in fact have pears that are "self fertile". The thing is, almost any "self fertile" tree tends to fruit better when pollinated by another kind of said tree (I think sour cherries may be the exception.....)

Only prune in spring just before the buds swell, or just when they swell. Some people advovate no pruning at all, but its a general rule that the center of the tree should have light to help flowering and fruit development

For fertilizer, my neighbor has only ever used manure. I use manure, compost, blood/bone meal and cover crops liek clover, comfrey and nitrogen fixing shrubs that I can "chop and drop" as mulch/fert.

I know in warmer zones you can top dress in fall, but I dont think that would the best thing to do in zone 5. Im across superior NW of you and the falls are anything but reliable and predictable. You dont want lush green growth being killed in the winter.

As for sprays...... I have yet to find information of decent organic sprays. Neem has been used in india for centuries, but the neem we get is processed different. ID look more into neem if i were you I would look up on what type of neem is best.

As for the branches, lots of fruit tends to eventually bend branches horizontally. Horizontal branches tend to make those branches produce fruit spurs (If i remember properly)

    Bookmark   September 8, 2013 at 10:59AM
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It is not necessary to prune a young tree, unless there is a diseased or broken branch. If you see what looks like a weak fork developing, then it would be better to prune when the tree is younger, rather than waiting. By weak fork, I mean the growth of two heavy central branches that form a fork that will likely lead to a split trunk when the tree matures. My experience is mostly with growing blueberries, which also are grown in Michigan. If there is drought conditions where you are located, be sure to water the young trees once a week or so, until they go dormant and winter weather sets in. This will help the tree adapt to winter conditions, and get off to a vigorous start in the spring. Fertilizing is generally done in the early spring into summer. I do not apply fertilizer to our blueberries after June 15.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2013 at 11:00AM
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My honey crisp got off to a slow start, I was thinking of just ripping it out, but after the 3rd year in the ground (so 6yo total) it is doing much better. There are much better trees for home planting. I always suggest that people plant what the organic orchards plant, like red free, Enterprise, Liberty, etc.

My experience with pears is get two, one should be a Bartlett.

pruning. this can take a lot of reading to get your mind around. most of what you read on the web or see on you tube is just how to clip off branches. You have to understand what you are doing from the point of view of what the plant will become with what you left behind. If you have a "competitive leader" you can cut off in the spring, that may give your HC a prompt to grow more. Otherwise branches getting too long and whipy should be cut back, then when they start to regrow, be sure you steer the new growth the way you want the branch to grow. This prompts growth and makes branches thicker vs length so they can support the fruit when you get that far. Same with the top, get rid of some top. Cut about 12" above the last decent branch and make sure the highest new shoot goes straight up, but no other do.

On my HC I used twine and bricks, or tied branch to branch to get branches growing in the right directions and angles. generally going for 45 degrees up, and fill space without competition. I did this most of the summer, typically leaving a branch tied in position for 30 days, but some were stubborn and needed more. Tie loose around the branch to allow for growth and watch for the twine to be sinking into the branch, move a couple inches if you see that. I am very happy with my results and I am expecting fruit for the first time next year on this one. A Harelred I planted at the same time has fruited the last 2 years. oh, one other thing I did on my HC that I am sure helped: I grafted a couple branches of Enterprise onto it so it would have some good foliage when every pest in town was attacking the HC leaves.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2013 at 12:00PM
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OK. So Pollinators. In addition to 2 apple trees, we also have a large (old) crabapple tree, and a Cleveland Pear. The neighbor's about 0.25mi away through the field have an old orchard of some sort, and there are various self-pollinating apple trees on the neighbor's property a few hundred yards from our house. When I bought the pear tree yesterday I also grabbed a Redskin peach tree.

Right now, I'm planning on putting the pear and the peach in the front yard, about 20ft from the crabapple, which is about 60ft from the cleveland pear. The apple trees are in the back yard. Will these other trees (the crab and the flowering pear) be adequate existing pollinators, or am I doomed to spend more money?

    Bookmark   September 9, 2013 at 11:23AM
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Crap apples can be great apple pollinators if they flower the same time as your trees. You definitely have enough pollination for apples!

Personally I would put the pear "in sight" of the existing pear. Its better for pollination. I think flowering pears can pollinate, but the standard seems to be bartlett. You can also try to graft other branches on both pears of other types.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2013 at 11:44AM
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Grafting scares the crap out of me. Seems so finicky and so much possibility to screw up. Maybe it's not though? I have several family friends with commercial orchards that might not mind if I clip a few branches to give it a try....

    Bookmark   September 9, 2013 at 11:55AM
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Nothing more easy to graft than a pear.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2013 at 3:14PM
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"Crap apples can be great apple pollinators " - My typos amaze me sometimes... I dont wanna know what kinda fruit you get from crap apple trees lol

I thought the same thing about grafting. The thing I need to know is timing up here, and that will just take some experience. There will probably be more information for you to find for grafting in your area then mine.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2013 at 3:36PM
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