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Thu, Dec. 05

Plant variety of fruit trees to maximize harvest time

It's that time of year again - time to plant bare-root fruit trees.

Why plant bare-root trees? Several reasons. First, the cost usually is one-third the price of potted trees. Second is no circling root problems because these trees have not been confined to round pots for a year, so their roots are naturally fan-shaped and ready to spread. The third reason is you get to choose the shape your tree will eventually take by proper early pruning. Fourth on the list is the tree is much lighter, and easier to transport, handle and plant.

Did I mention price? Some people will caution that not all bare-root trees will survive, but at one-third the price, you can afford some loss. With proper planting and care, your losses should be minimal. With less expensive trees, you can plant more varieties, and that brings me to the concept of backyard orchard culture (BOC).

The objective of BOC is prolonged harvest of fruit from a small space in the yard. This is done by planting an assortment of trees close together (high-density planting) and keeping them small by summer pruning and techniques like espalier and hedgerow planting. High-density planting means multiple trees in the same small area. You can plant up to four trees in a 4' x 4' space if you use trees on the same root stock because they all need the same care. Multiple trees in a small area also helps keep the trees smaller because they compete for nutrients. Planting many varieties with different ripening times extends your harvest and will ensure you are not overwhelmed with fruit all at once. Four trees in this small area means 10 to 12 weeks of fruit instead of only two or three.

At the Native Garden, we have examples of these techniques and offer demonstrations of them as well as pruning methods. Pruning is most important to maintain small tree size. Smaller tree size means easier pruning, harvesting, netting, spraying, and even frost protection. Remember, it's easier to keep a small tree small than to make a large tree small. Pruning in the first three years is critical for proper shape and size.

Pruning doesn't need to be intimidating. Jeff Schalua, our county extension agent, has videoed some pruning sessions. You can find those at the Arizona Cooperative Extension's home page, then look for Backyard Gardener. Dave Wilson Nursery also has good videos on line of pruning techniques.

You learn to prune by pruning. But if you have any questions, feel free to stop by The Native Garden, or check with the County Extension office.

Bare-root trees are available at a variety of locations, but not all tree types are appropriate for our climate. Look for the tree types that require 500 to 1,000 chilling hours for good production in our area. The Dave Wilson Nursery provides the best stock and selection that I know of. The Native Garden will again be carrying their trees, due to arrive about the second week in February - as well as bare-root berries and grapes.

The Native Garden will be having a pruning and planting seminar Saturday, Feb. 21, at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Hope to see you all there.

Steve Miller owns The Native Garden, 602 S. Montezuma St., Prescott.

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