Originally Published: February 22, 2009 11:04 p.m.
PRESCOTT - Despite the tri-city area's mile-high elevation and wide-ranging temperatures, several types of fruit trees still manage to thrive in central Yavapai County.
To maximize productivity, growers should know how to prune their trees while protecting them against insects and small animals.
Saturday morning at Watters Garden Center, 1815 Iron Springs Road, horticulture experts Gerald Rogers and Harold Watters dispensed tree-care advice to more than 60 participants of "The Fruitful Gardener" education class.
Rogers and Watters recommend growing almond, apple, apricot, Asian and European pear, cherry, fig, nectarine, peach and plum trees here in the Central Highlands.
Watters said proper pruning of branches allows growers to bolster their harvest and maintain their trees' beauty. If one over-prunes, it is not necessarily detrimental.
"Trees will outgrow almost any mistake you make," Watters said. "If you prune too hard, ease up the next year."
He added that the main goals with pruning are to preserve the trees' size and shape, and improve or limit their fruit production.
To start, Watters said to remove any dead wood and sprouts around the base of a tree near the bud union, which is a swollen knob on a stem where a graft bud has joined the stock at or near soil level.
Then, look for branches growing the wrong way. If they are pointing toward the center of the tree, remove them.
"With apples, pears and plums, try to get the trees to spread out like a broom," Watters said. "You want the center open. A lot of fruit will appear on the spurs - the short pieces of wood where the blossom buds come out."
While spring pruning stimulates growth, summer pruning keeps trees small. "During a dry spell in August, cut your 2- to 3-foot-long branches back to 6 inches, then you don't have to do much pruning in the spring," Watters said.
After pruning, Rogers suggests dormant spraying, which kills insects from previous years. Growers also can use lime sulfur spray, which eliminates fungus spores.
When buying young fruit trees for a yard or tiny orchard, it is best to find 3- to 4-year-olds in a container. Bare-root trees are not as prosperous.
"You'll be a year or two closer to getting fruit off the tree (if it's a little older)," Watters said.
If one has no room for an orchard, Watters recommends buying a dwarf peach tree, for example, which reaches a maximum height of 5 to 6 feet.
"The Red Baron peach has the most brilliant flowers you'll see," Rogers added.
Prescott Valley resident Brad Melton, who attended Saturday's discussion, said he learned more about how to take care of his 10 fruit trees, which include apples, pears, peaches, nectarines and plums.
"We've not had good fruit production for the past two years, and we believe that's because of late frost," Melton said. "My wife and I did not have training in this when we were younger, so now we're trying to learn from other folks."
Ilse Asplund of Prescott said this area's climate poses some difficulties for fruit-bearing trees because of extreme temperature fluctuations and wind.
"I have a lot of clay soil, which is a huge challenge," she said. "I'm learning how to stimulate and nurse along my dwarf cherry and plum trees."