Fruit tree care questions

MiaOKCApril 5, 2012

Hello - I've searched the archives for answers, and found a few tangential discussions about fruit trees, but couldn't puzzle out the exact answers to a few questions. Also tried OSU fact sheets, but in general, they seem to say "spray, spray, spray" and while I'm not opposed to some spray intervention, it's not the default choice for me to try first.

Sooooo... we have a plum, peach and pear tree at our new house. I've heard tell of a pecan tree, too, but it may have either been cut down before we moved in or it is still dormant-ish/dead. For the plum and peach, we had great flowering and have tons of small fruits now. I read something in an old thread that mentioned "thinning" the fruit. Can someone explain the process to me?

Do I have to begin a spraying schedule if I hope to have any fruit? The fact sheet says I needed to start spraying before blossoms even appeared (that ship has long since sailed).

The trees are not in great shape, the peach being nearly horizontal from some kind of disaster earlier in life, but looks like it is producing just fine anyway. The plum has several large dead branches and just a few good viable ones. Should I get a book on pruning and follow that to try and trim these up to be their best? Do fruit trees have different pruning needs than a regular tree?

We found out earlier this spring we have a young pear (if the stink from the flowers was any judge) but I was guessing it was a Bradford or something. However, the owner told my husband that there was an Asian pear (I think) that gives actual pear fruit, and later, we had a different tree bloom white flowers all over and I began to think THAT was the edible pear and the stinky one was just for cross-pollination. Do edible pear blooms smell? The limbs are rather high up so I didn't get much of a whiff, and I wonder how we will actually get to any pears that form. That tree is being swallowed by the bamboo grove, so I'm going to try and beat back the 'boo, but even so, it's still very high.

Any input from the home orchardist contingent would be much appreciated!

Here is a link that might be useful: This was the OSU Fact Sheet

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I inherited an apple/pear/peach orchard when we bought our house and although I've pruned and used some systemic insecticides I've been squeamish about spraying. That was a mistake! I'm losing apple trees left and right. We are to the point of cutting out and planting new trees, it's awful. But you live and learn, I'll be interested in what others say about this thread because I'm up for trying new management practices.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2012 at 6:50PM
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I'd like some advice too. I bought some almost dead fruit trees clearanced at Walmart last year for $6 each and low and behold. They have tons of leaves & bloomed this year. The pear has several pears on it (neighbor has one in his back yard). The plum has a single plum. I'm so excited about them, but since I've never had fruit trees before, I'm kind of clueless.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2012 at 7:23PM
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Glad to know it's a topic of interest... and now, we wait for the experts! *rubbing hands in gleeful anticipation!*

    Bookmark   April 5, 2012 at 8:26PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

I'm not an expert at growing fruit, but do manage to keep plum and peach trees alive and producing.

Fruit tree pruning is not like regular tree pruning, so you need to research and learn what type of pruning is needed and how it is done for each different kind of tree fruit you want to grow.

Fruit thinning is necessary for several reasons, with the main one being that in a good year you'll have 3,000 tiny peaches or plums that are the size of a grape and almost all pit and no flesh if you don't thin fruit. It is better to thin and have 300 nice big juicy peaches or plums. Another reason is that too many fruit will break the limbs as it enlarges, and yet another reason is that if a tree is allowed to set too much fruit, it can go into an alternate-bearing pattern where it only bears fruit every other year.

In a good year when it seems like every single flower was fertilized and formed fruit, I remove about 94-96% of the fruit from the peach and plum trees. I normally thin the plums to between 2 to 4" apart and the peaches to about 6 top 8" apart. With peaches, 10" is even better if you want really big peaches. Sometimes I thin all at one time, and sometimes I do it in two stages. One of the most frustrating things about growing fruit here is that, often, just after you've spent hours thinning fruit, a hail storm will come along and thin it out some more.

As for spraying, I just won't do it. I made the decision when we moved here that I would garden organically or not at all, and I never spray my trees with anything. It works for me. It may not work for everyone depending on the level of pest and disease pressure in any given area. Not spraying means I will lose peach trees to borers after 7 to 10 years, but I just plant replacements and move on. The plum trees last longer. My current plum trees are about 10-11 years old, my peach tree of the same age is on its last legs, and we planted two replacement peach trees this spring.

I get a great fruit harvest once every three years, a so-so harvest once every three years and no harvest once every three years. For me, the harvest varies based on when the plants bloomed and how much damage late freezing or frosty weather did to the flowers or fruit. So far this year, there's been little to no damage to the flowers/fruit even though the trees bloomed insanely early.

I would love to grow apples and pears here but just cannot force myself to plant them. I have avoided apples because of their issues with Cedar Apple Rust. I don't want to plant them and then have to spray them with Immunox every year. I have avoided pears because of their issues with fire blight. Most of the people who live around me who grow fruit also grow peaches and plums. Some have cherries and apricots. A couple have pie apples and they do have some pest issues I don't have with peaches and plums. One has a pear tree, but mostly they just let the pears fall to the ground every year. I don't know if they don't like the pears, or if they don't spray them so the pears are pest-infested.

With any kind of fruit tree you plant, if you do not follow a regular spray program, you may have lots of problems. Really, though, the biggest pest on my fruit is birds and the borers on the peach tree are the only real insect issue. If you do not harvest your fruit promptly and let it get overripe, moths will arrive in huge numbers to eat it. I generally don't have fungal issues, but there are some organic sprays that will take care of that if you do have it.


    Bookmark   April 6, 2012 at 11:03AM
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I'm not an expert but I do raise some fruit trees and this is what I know. First...Mia....I have never been able to raise wormless peaches or plums without spraying. I don't much like pears so someone else will have to talk about them. More than likely most of your peaches are hosting codling moth larva. Any plums you might have too. Same for apples. I once walked outside, on a warm spring night, with a flashlight, just to see if I could see any moths on my fruit trees because I had never noticed any during the day and always wondered where the worms in my fruit came from. It was about 10pm and as I shined my light on an apple tree about 12ft. tall I was shocked to see hundreds of codling moths. They were everywhere. Id always wondered how every fruit could have a worm in it and now I knew. Spray the first time at what they call petal fall. This is the stage where most of the petals have fallen from the blooms. Not every petal has to be gone to do this. Spray early in the morning so the spray will be dry before the honey bees are up and around. Spray again in 5 to 7 days. These 2 sprays are the most important to me. The pro's say to spray at 2 wk. intervals after that but a 3rd. and final spray has always worked for me. I forgot to mention dormant spray. In the spring, while the tree is still dormant, it really helps to spray the tree with a dormant spray like lime sulpher or dormant oil. These sprays coat any bug eggs deposited the year before and suffocate them. Dormant oil smells better. Now about the thinning. A full grown peach tree can have as many as 25,000 flowers on it. If 80 percent of them get polinated thats still way to many peaches so the tree will handle some of them on its own. Some will drop at the pea size stage,some will drop at the nickel size stage,and then theres what they call june drop which is the trees attempt to take some of the weight off its limbs by dropping part of the crop. Usually, you still have to thin them if you've had a good fruit set. To get greedy and think you will leave more fruit on the tree and you will get more is a mistake. The reduction in quality and taste can be dramatic. I personally thin mine a little everytime I walk past them. It's like my down time after a hard days work. The recommended spacing is about 4 to 6in. apart and even further if the weight of the fruit is about to break the limb off. Two things to watch out for with peaches. One is peach leaf curl. This is when the leaves start to curl up and get a pink color. A dormant spray should take care of this. If you allow it to happen year after year it can eventually kill the tree. The second thing is borers. Inspect the trunk occasionally for sappy spots and look for a small hole. If you spot one get a stiff wire and poke it up the hole to kill the borer. I lost a 10ft. peach tree because I did'nt know this. I said two things to watch out for but I just remembered a 3rd. Twig end borers. If you walk past your tree in late spring or early summer and notice the very end of a limb is wilted you need to cut it off back to healthy foliage because theres a borer in there eating his way down the branch. There are of course other things to know about raising fruit but in my opinion these are the main ones. I'm sure someone else will come along and fill in on what I've missed.Bye the way, I've never had to spray a cherry tree and I don't know why but I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. These spraying instructions work on all prunus varieties. Hope this helps.


    Bookmark   April 6, 2012 at 11:29AM
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Glad you brought this up. Have a very nice volunteer nectarine that came up in a former compost pile. Never has had any fruit on it before this year. Imagine my surprise when I found out it was loaded. Spent quite a lot of time thinning yesterday. Seems like a lot of the fruit have some faults in them. I didn't think of spraying earlier, since there has never been any fruit on it.
I would be interested to know what kind of cherry trees anyone has. Tried some years ago without success, I think they were Montmorency and possibly Early Richmond. They were pie cherries. Well- they were pie cherry TREES. There never were any actual cherries on them before I lost them. Also any peach recommendations would be appreciated.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2012 at 9:29PM
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This isn't my thread but I'm learning a LOT. I never knew why my peaches didn't get any bigger than grapes. I'll be out thinning our little peach fruits with my morning coffee tomorrow. Fire blight is killing my apple trees right now. From what I understand the only solution to blight is to plant resistant varieties. I just got some great looking trees from okios and fedco that I'm replacing the trees I've lost with. This year I planted American plum, Chickasaw plum (I'm a fan of natives) and I just received a gravenstein apple (not blight resistant, so it'll not be planted near the others) and Superior hybrid plum.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2012 at 10:59PM
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justsaymo, cherries are my favorite fruit and i've been trying to figure them out for 30 yrs. You could make a bonfire with the cherry trees I have killed. Every spring my children would say, well there goes dad to buy his annual cherry tree to kill, and they were right. Then one day I was reading something about cherries and noticed that they did'nt like wet feet.We are always taught as gardeners that everything needs at least 1 inch of water a week and I always did that, but it ocurred to me that maybe I was drowning the tree,so.....I sent off to Starks for a starkrimson self polinating sweet cherry tree and planted it right on top of the ground. I just made a mound of top soil around the roots and waited to see what would happen. Also, I only watered it if it looked stressed. That tree was my first survivor. I no longer plant cherries on top of the ground, I just told that story to stress the point of over watering cherries. At the place I live at now (i've been here 2.5 years) I have 2 Blackgold and one Carmine Jewel sweet cherries. I have one surefire and one surecrop sour cherry. I have 3 Hansons bush cherries that are loaded and I guess I will see this year if they are worth messin with. All my trees are dwarfs. Last year I lost a Northstar and I'm not sure what happened. Maybe it was the heat. The one major problem I had with the Starkrimson was that durin g those years that it rained alot in June and the fruit was just turning from red to a black red and the weather was real humid,the fruit would get brown rot overnight. I would come home from work and grab a few handfulls and get up in the morning and every cherry on the tree was covered in brown fuzz and ruined. Another thing to think about is late spring freezes. The Blackgold and Surefire cherries are both late bloomers and generally will miss any late freezes . Hybridizers are doing great things these days with newer rootstocks and you can no longer say that Oklahoma is too hot to raise cherries.P.S. I use a moisture meter now.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2012 at 6:57AM
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At my old house I had an apple called Sundance. It was a dwarf and never got over 6ft. tall It was resistant to fire blight and almost immune to cedar apple rust. The apples had a tart yet sweet taste and was planted within 50ft. of a large cedar tree. It never got cedar apple rust. The apples were green with a pink blush and was beautiful in bloom. I plant dwarfs when I can because they are easier to spray and pick the fruit.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2012 at 7:14AM
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Thanks everyone for all the help. I will take a crack at thinning the fruits this week. With our forecast, I won't go at it too much because hail is possible and I don't want any additional help from Ma Nature with the thinning!

I've missed the boat on spraying at first petal fall, so I may be trying my hand at a "no spray" season. I'll try that flashlight trick, too!

Do you compost the thinnings or just let them fall to the ground?

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 4:55PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Mia, I compost them. I'm always afraid that if I leave them on the ground, they'll attract insect pests or skunks. I throw them on the compost pile and then put something else on top of them so they aren't visible.

Mo, My favorite peach trees are Ranger and RedHaven. I've grown them both in Texas and here and they have performed very well.

A friend of mine who grows cherries here and has grown them for a long time likes to grow Montmorency. It has been the most dependable for him, but he has sandy soil so he likely could grow any cherry tree he wants. He planted a "Bing" a few years ago but hasn't gotten any fruit from it yet. The trick isn't growing them. As Terry pointed out they just need good drainage. The trick is getting fruit from them. Like many plums and peaches they often bloom early during winter heat waves and then lose their flowers or fruit to a late frost or late freeze. Then, if your fruit survives the freezes, you will have to fight the birds for every single cherry. He grows dwarfs or semi-dwarfs of most fruit trees to keep them at a manageable size. If you can keep the trees more compact, it is somewhat easier to use bird netting to keep the birds away from at least some of the cherries.


    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 11:52PM
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thanks you for the info on the cherry trees. It has been years since I planted any, so I might try again. Your exp. is encouraging. I will be interested in how the Hanson's do so please remember to give an update.
Thank you,

    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 12:04AM
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I have an Early Richmond (self-fertile) dwarf cherry tree in north central Oklahoma. It has bloomed profusely the past 2 seasons with not one (NOT ONE!) cherry. The tree appears to be very healthy, and has grown like crazy. I planted it in 2011, and it seems to be quite happy in its sunny location. Is there something I need to do, or not do to get this tree to bear fruit?

    Bookmark   July 13, 2014 at 7:34PM
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