Growing Fruit Trees and Berries
Apr 29, 2020
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A wide variety of fruit trees and berries can be grown in the Kansas City area (zone 6). You can enjoy cherries, plums, peaches, apples, pears, nectarines, blackberries, raspberries, gooseberries, blueberries, grapes, and strawberries fresh off the plant, right in your own backyard! It’s possible to harvest fruit from early June through November with the right combination of plants.
Most fruit trees and berries require an open sunny area, away from large trees that can give excess shade and root competition. Organic, well-drained soil is also important and can be accomplished through the addition of compost during the planting process. A shallow, elevated planting hole is required if planting in clay soil. It is important to plant your fruit trees and berries near a water source.
The depth of the planting hole depends on the soil type. In loose well drained soil the planting hole should be as deep as the root ball. Never dig a hole deeper than the depth of the root ball. In tight clay soils and poor draining areas the planting hole should be shallow with up to one quarter of the root ball above the grade of soil. The width of the planting hole should be twice as wide as the diameter of the root ball. Please refer to our tree planting guide!
STEP BY STEP
- First, take the root ball out of the container and place it in the hole. If the tree is in a Grow Right Bag, set the tree in the hole, tip it backwards and cut out the bottom out of the bag with a sharp knife, then stand the tree upright and make a cut up the side of the bag to remove it. Be careful to keep the root ball in tact
- Next, Colonial Gardens recommends applying Myke mycorrhizae onto the root ball to help with the establishment and long-term health of the plant. This is done by lightly spritzing the root ball with water and then rubbing the Myke powder onto the root ball at the recommended rate.
- After the Myke is applied to the root ball, back fill the planting hole half way with the native soil. Mix the remaining native soil with an equal amount of compost and finish back-filling the planting hole with the mixture. If the tree was planted above the grade of the existing soil mound the soil and compost mixture up to the root ball. Do not put any soil on top of the root ball or around the trunk.
- Finally, mulch with two inches of organic mulch. Avoid staking trees if possible, although it might be necessary in windy locations or with top-heavy trees. Water thoroughly to settle the soil around the root ball. The addition of PlantRight compost tea is also beneficial to tree health.
- Blueberries prefer a soil with a low Ph. Adding soil amendments that are acidic will lower the Ph. Peat moss, pine bark mulch, composted oak leaves and pine needles are all effective at acidifying the soil.
WATER & FERTILITY
Regular watering is important for the success of growing fruit trees and berries. During the summer months your plants will benefit from 1” of rain or supplemental water per week. During the cooler spring and fall months, 1” every two weeks is sufficient and in the winter, 1” every three weeks. If you cannot gauge the water in inches apply enough water to thoroughly saturate the soil 6” – 8” deep inside the drip line.
Applying an organic or slow release, balanced fertilizer in March will help with plant health and fruit production. Fertilizer should be applied inside the drip line of the tree.
There are several steps that you can take to reduce the pesticide use on your fruit trees and berries.
- Plant Resistant Cultivars – There are many cultivars and root stock that are resistant to one or more diseases.
- Sanitation – Keeping the area around your fruits and berries as clean as possible will reduce the amount of disease and insects. This includes cleaning up dead leaves, fruit, and branches from the area as well as removing weeds.
- Cultural Practices – A healthy plant will be less susceptible to disease and insects.
Proper plant placement, planting procedure, pruning, fertility, and watering will keep plants healthy and vigorous.
The most important time to spray fruit trees is during the dormant period in late February to early March. Use a mixture of dormant oil to smother insect eggs and lime sulfur to prevent fungus. (If lime sulfur is not available, mix the dormant oil with liquid copper fungicide).
Spray plants only as needed during the growing season. Keep an eye on the weather and examine your plants closely on a weekly basis.
- If the spring weather is wet and coo,l continue to spray copper fungicide every two weeks until the warm dry weather arrives.
- Treat trees with Bt insecticide if you notice caterpillars during your weekly inspection
- Apply Pyrethrin insecticide for aphids, Japanese beetles, white fly, and other insects.
PRUNING FRUIT TREES
Pruning fruit trees should be done during the dormant season in mid- to late February before applying the dormant spray. You will need hand pruners, a pruning saw, loppers, and for larger trees a chain saw, and pole saw. Never use pruning paint or tar.
Fruit trees should be pruned into an open habit to provide air circulation and sunlight to the interior of the tree. Try to remove entire branches all the way back to the trunk or back to another branch. Make all pruning cuts flush to a branch collar leaving the branch collar intact.
PRUNING BLACKBERRIES AND RASPBERRIES (BRAMBLES)
Brambles produce biennial canes, meaning that the canes emerge the first year and do not produce fruit. The second-year canes produce fruit and after that will never produce again. The key to healthy productive brambles is to remove canes that are three years old or older. This will initiate more young canes and more fruit production in future years.
Blueberries require very little pruning, only an occasional shaping to keep them in the desired form.
Keep weeds out of the strawberry patch. Weed regularly and keep the strawberries mulched well. Remove older plants as they become less productive and replace them with a new plantlet that has grown from the original plant.
Apples, pears, plums, sweet cherries, and blueberries require a pollinator. A pollinating partner must be a different variety of the same species. Two species of the same variety will not pollinate each other. For example, you will need two different varieties of apples to pollinate each other. When selecting a pollinator make sure that the bloom times are similar or overlap. Ideally, the pollinators should be within fifty feet of each other although plants can pollinate each other from several hundred yards away if pollinating insects are present.
Nectarines, peaches, sour cherries, and brambles do not require pollinators, but fruit production will increase with a pollinator present.
Article written by ‘Botanical Brian’ Pirtle, Horticulturist