The allure of homegrown fruits is long-lived. Recall Eve was tempted by the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, legendary John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed) generously planted beloved apple trees for new settlers throughout the Ohio Valley and young George Washington supposedly angered his father when he chopped down his prized cherry tree.
Backyard fruits’ appeal endures today, according to Farm Bureau member Richard Wander, partner of Lynd Fruit Farm in Licking County and president of the Ohio Produce Growers and Marketers Association. Wander, who started growing cherries and apples as a kid, went on to study horticulture at Ohio State University and now shares in managing this 500-acre fruit farm that averages 150,000 bushels of apples a year. He still grows a couple of fruit trees in his own backyard and encourages backyard gardeners to try growing their own.
“Some of our best customers are those who grow their own fruit,” he said. “They’re more appreciative customers and have a better understanding of what we do.”
For first-time growers, he said the key to success is to plant disease-resistant fruit trees and avoid the higher maintenance ones, such as Fuji, and others prone to apple scab or fire blight. “The worst thing is to bite off too much at first and fail,” Wander said.
GoldRush, a tart yellow apple, and Pixie Crunch, a smaller sweet apple, are two scab-resistant apple varieties that top his list. A little more challenging, but still scab tolerant, varieties include Honeycrisp, the current darling of the apple industry, and Suncrisp, the farm’s best-selling “u-pick” apple.
For pears, Wander recommends Magness or Potomac fire blight-resistant varieties. He said these smaller pear trees are the easiest of all fruit trees to grow. For cherries, he suggests two sour varieties – the semi-dwarf Meteor or the dwarf North Star. Both are resistant to leaf spot, the biggest bane of cherry trees.
Wander doesn’t recommend peach trees for beginners because they’re too vulnerable to Ohio’s cold springs.
For apple and pear trees, Wander reminds growers to plant two or more varieties that bloom at the same time. He explains these fruit trees cannot pollinate themselves, so they rely on another variety – even an ornamental crab apple tree – and the help of bees to pollinate and bear fruit.
Teresa Woodard is a freelance writer from Franklin County.
Planting & Growing Tips
- Dwarf varieties (typically 10 feet tall) are easier to maintain, and their fruits are easier to harvest.
- Don’t plant trees too deep. The tree’s graft union should be planted 4 to 5 inches above the ground then the tree should be mulched (2 to 3 inches) to aid in moisture retention and weed control.
- Young trees will need to be staked. For their first year, the trees should be watered if rainfall is less than 1 inch per week.
Purchasing a tree:
- Trees can be purchased through mail-order catalogs as bare-rooted whips or in containers from local nurseries and garden centers.
- Whips, often preferred for easier training and establishment, are best planted in March or April.
- Container-grown trees can be planted any time during the growing season as long as sufficient water is supplied.
- Do an annual application of fertilizer. While fertilization needs vary by soil types, typically trees are fertilized each spring with a dry fertilizer broadcast under the tree drip line. Wander warns not to over fertilize as too much fertilizer will produce lots of leaves but little fruit.
- Occasional pruning helps keep fruit trees open so sunlight – an essential element for photosynthesis and fruit bud development – can enter.
- For pest control, Wander said everyone has to decide “how perfect they want their fruits to be.” He advises starting with a basic spray to control destructive codling moths and apple maggots then increase or decrease levels based on the results.
What makes a good location:
- Good soil drainage – to improve soil drainage create a mound of soil by combining current soil with amended top soil.
- Good air circulation
- Full sun (six to eight hours of sunlight)
- Minimal wildlife intrusion
- Higher elevations more likely to escape spring frosts
- Distance from neighbors’ potentially diseased fruit trees
Tree fruits reach maturity at different times, depending on variety and climate. Wander said to monitor the fruits’ color for harvest readiness. The fruits’ undercolor or ground color also can be a good indicator. Watch for the green color to change to a little yellow green then to the respective ripe fruit’s normal skin color.
For more information
Visit ohioline.osu.edu and click on the “Yard & Garden” tab for a list of fruit fact sheets including Growing Apples in the Home Orchard. You also can search for the publications Midwest Home Fruit Production Guide and Controlling Diseases and Insects in Home Fruit Plantings.
If you enjoyed this article, consider becoming a Farm Bureau member and you’ll receive ongoing access to information about your local food community, including seasonal recipes. Membership includes a free subscription to Our Ohio magazine. Learn more about other exclusive member benefits.