When planting fruit trees, most gardeners are not simply looking for a pretty addition to the garden: they are also hoping for a crop of delicious fruit in the years to come. While fruit trees are quite lovely, sometimes yields of fruit can be disappointing, specially in the early years. There are a few ways to get the most out of fruit trees, ranging from planting them in the most optimal place to proper pruning. Fruit trees require attention to fruit evenly and well, and they are not low-maintenance trees by any stretch of the imagination if the gardener wants to get a serious crop.
Proper plant placement starts with sandy or loamy soil. Fruit trees do not like dense soils heavy in clay, and if the soil is not appropriate, it should be conditioned before planting. The soil should drain well, and the area where the fruit trees are planted should be minimally exposed to wind. Fruit trees like to get at least six hours of sun each day, so keep that in mind when planting them, keeping the fruit trees evenly spaced and out of the shadow of bigger trees.
If possible, scope out the garden in the spring the year before planting to see where frost most commonly forms. Pockets of frost can damage trees and significantly reduce fruit yield. Therefore, many gardeners recommend planting fruit trees on a slope, if possible, and away from divots or pockets in the ground that may frost over when the rest of the garden is fine. Be aware when planting fruit trees that most take at least two years to flower and begin yielding fruit. Fruit trees are a study in patience, and the first few years are an opportunity to prune for the best tree shape, fertilize the trees, and establish them so that when they begin to flower, they will produce a crop of excellent fruit.
Excessive nitrogen in the soil may lead to the development of too many leaves and not enough fruit. Likewise, nitrogen added late in the season may lead to degraded fruit quality. A great source of fertilizer is healthy compost layered in mulch, and if chickens or other fowl are allowed to wander the orchard, they will turn the fertilizer, eat grubs and bugs, and do a little fertilizing of their own.
Proper pruning is also vital to the care of fruit trees. Apples, pears, cherries, and plums all produce their highest quality and most plentiful fruit on two to three year old wood. When pruning these trees, keep this fact in mind, and make sure there are a large number of older spurs in the tree on which buds can form. Peaches, however, grow on spurs from the year before. Various fruit trees prefer wood of various ages, and a thoughtful pruner will balance the growth and the fruit on the tree to get the best yield.
Sometimes, trees produce a bumper crop of fruit, which seems promising but actually leaches the tree's energy and will result in a smaller crop the next year, as well as smaller and lower quality fruit in the bumper year. Crops of fruit that are too big should be carefully culled to reduce weight that may break the branches and to distribute the tree's energy in an efficient manner. Pollination is also important for many species of fruit, especially apples. The best way to enhance pollination is to keep bees in the garden, which will pollinate your fruit trees and provide flavorful honey in exchange. Where beekeeping is not feasible, some gardeners graft multiple varieties of apple onto one tree, hand pollinate, or distribute sweetened water to attract pollinating insects.
All of the above factors combine with weather conditions to influence fruit production. The cardinal rules for getting the most out of your fruit trees are tender loving care, thoughtful maintenance, and patience. Fruit trees can provide large, dependable yields for over one hundred years if well cared for, leaving a legacy that can be eaten for generations.