By Perry Grobe
EDITOR’S NOTE: Perry started working with plants at his family’s business, Grobe’s Nursery and Garden Centre in Breslau, Ont. (near Kitchener), as a boy. Since then, he has gained hands-on experience working as a labourer, landscape construction foreman, operations supervisor and a registered landscape architect before becoming a co-owner in 2006. Along the way, he has learned one or two things about plants, shrubs, diseases, bugs and the like. He loves growing and sampling unusual tomato varieties, snooping for new and different plants, and after much practice has found that that if a glass of red wine in the garden makes one content, a bottle makes one very happy indeed.
For newcomers and beginners:
Find the ideal location
Fruiting plants almost always require as much sun as possible, so be sure to avoid shady locations. With stone fruit trees (cherry, plum and apricot), you may also need to avoid exposure to winter winds from the northwest, which can injure leaves and flower buds. Your ideal location may have a wall or fence for protection.
Consider your soil conditions
Many fruiting plants do not grow well in heavy, clay soils or in areas on your property where water runs. For many, the drainage pattern is from the eavestrough downspout to the property lines, and then to the street or across to a neighbour; avoid planting fruit trees or plants in these areas.
Growing edibles is rewarding, but it can be a daunting challenge for newcomers. Consider starting with a few small fruiting bushes as your first foray into fruiting edibles.
Focus on the roots
It is important to grow and develop the root system of your fruiting plant first. Using a root stimulating fertilizer with phosphorus and perhaps a rooting hormone will speed the process of establishment, but so too will the use of mycorhizzae, organic matter, and mineral supplements. By investing in that which is below the ground first, you will see improvements in what you will get above the ground more quickly.
Don’t forget to prune
You can grow many fruiting plants without any pruning, but there is no need to settle for a small crop when a little extra work pruning can increase your results. Take the time to learn the few simple pruning requirements of each fruiting plant, and invest in a good quality pair of pruners or loppers.
Select a slow and steady fertilizer
Producing fruit requires a whole lot of energy for each plant and all fruiting plants benefit from fertilization. Which fertilizer is best? Any is better than none, but like the tortoise and the hare, products that provide a slow and steady release are often the winners in the end.
For the more advanced fruit gardener:
Dwarf trees aren’t always the best solution in cramped spaces
Fruit trees are propagated by grafting, or cloning, to ensure it is genetically the same as the original desired parent. A small portion of the original plant is “attached” to the root system of another tree (called a rootstock), and the two grow into each other. This is an art and skill that has existed for hundreds of years. Rootstocks are used to impart hardiness to the young tree, but they may also cause dwarfing. In some instances dwarf rootstocks can also inhibit vigour, which may not be a good idea if your conditions are difficult.
How to limit fruit “feast or famine”
With fruiting trees, the flower bud and the fruit are formed in the fall at the same time. In every case, the plant will direct energy to the fruit instead of forming more flowering buds. So when there is lots of fruit, sometimes the following year there might not be many as the flowers were not formed. Then, the following year (as there was no fruit), there is a heavy set again. The simplest solution is to remove some of the small developing fruit from the cluster after it has formed. In the orchard, they use a thinning agent. For homeowners, it can be accomplished through manual thinning.
One is good, more is better
Many fruiting plants perform better when there are more plants present to supply more pollen to the insects involved in pollination. Several blueberry plants will generally bear more fruit than one or two. Additionally, there are some plants (like plums, cherries or apples) where pollen incompatibilities exist. In this case, to get the plum you crave, you may have to know what kinds of other plum will pollinate the one you desire. Check with your local gardening expert, your library or the internet prior to planting.