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Fruit trees need summer care for best yield

It seems hard to believe, but we'll soon be enjoying the "fruits" of our hard labor... literally!

I'm talking about those fruit trees and bushes we've carefully grown and nurtured. We'll be picking apples, peaches, raspberries, pears and grapes.

There's something very satisfying about picking a piece of warm fruit directly from the branch and biting into it! And of course, there's a certain degree of pride that comes from placing a special dish on the table and casually mentioning to your guests that the dessert or the sauce "came from our own fruit trees..."

Today, I will discuss some timely summer tips for keeping your fruit trees in tip-top condition. I'll also mention some of my favorite fruit trees if you're doing some advance planning for fall planting!

These tips refer specifically to young fruit trees; those that have not yet reached maturity. They are at their most vulnerable in these early years, and this is when they need more of your attention, rather like your children. However, as they grow in size and strength - unlike your kids - they won't keep you awake at night wondering where they are!

Pests and diseases: Check leaves, trunks and branches for signs of disease or the presence of damaging insects that might have arrived in late spring. If it looks like a major infestation, contact your County Extension agency. You are also welcome to e-mail me at [email protected] if you have any specific concerns.

Stake mistakes: If you staked your young trees, be sure to check that the stake is still capable of supporting the tree as the new growth pushes out. Take a look at the stake just above and just below ground level to see if the wood is rotting and liable to break and take the tree down with it.

Decide if your tree still needs these "training wheels."

Fight heat stress: A weekly deep watering is the best prescription for most fruit trees. Mulch will help slow down evaporation and keep the roots cool. Start with approximately 2" of bark or humus, unless the growing instructions suggest otherwise.

Thin the herd: If your tree is already producing fruit, you might want to thin it out. When the fruit is spaced about every 5" or 6" along the branch, each fruit can receive a greater share of the tree's resources. This will yield less fruit but each piece will be larger. If you'd rather have a greater "head count" of smaller fruit, simply thin less aggressively or not all.

And now, if you're already thinking about planting some new fruit trees in the fall, here are some of my favorites to get you started:

Bing Sweet Cherry. If you like large, sweet cherries that are almost black when ripe, then this is the cherry tree for you! Note: you will need to plant more than one tree for successful pollination. A suitable pollinator (that yields excellent fruit of its own) is the variety known as Black Tartarian.

Big Red Delicious. The ripe fruit really is red... all over! And remember Red's cousin: Golden Yellow Delicious. In my opinion, the almost perfect apple with its crisp, extra-juicy flavor and its suitability for storage.

Granny Smith. The apple with the bright green skin and tangy, tart flavor. By the way, there really WAS a Granny Smith. Mary Ann Smith was an Australian gardener who died in 1870 and developed the fruit that bears her name from the seeds of a French Crab apple.

Santa Rosa Plum. This is an early-season plum with firm, sweet flesh that is yellow, becoming pink near the pit. A major benefit: the Santa Rosa is self pollinating, and can also be used to pollinate another of my favorite plum varieties know as Burbank.

Bartlett Pear. With its yellow-green skin and long, elegant neck, this pear looks as beautiful on the tree as it does on the plate! Don't allow the fruit to become fully ripened on the tree as the flavor will improve following refrigeration. For pollination, select Moonglow or Pineapple Pear. Note that Bartlett does not pollinate with Seckel.

Enjoy the beauty of your fruit trees... and their bounty at harvest time!

The Plant Man is here to help. Send you questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to [email protected] and for resources and additional information, including archived Plant Man columns, visit www.landsteward.org where you can also subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed newsletter.

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