For the love of orchards: How to grow fruit trees in your yard

Homeowners have lots of space-saving options when it comes to growing apples, cherries, pears and more.

Believe it or not, by the end of January, local garden centers will be fully stocked with all the new and tried-and-true varieties of fruit trees. All of them are suited for our unique marine climate.

For the most part, these trees will be bare-root — which simply means that the roots have no soil on them. You take home your new tree in a plastic bag and plant it that same day. There also are potted-up fruit trees available, if planting right away isn’t an option for you.

With proper care and feeding, you will be able to start harvesting the fruits of your labor the following year.

I am inclined to think that there is a certain amount of romance and nostalgia surrounding home orchards. I, for one, remember as a youngster traveling from San Diego to my great grandmother’s house in Santa Anna where she had these two ginormous avocado trees that we could climb and pick handfuls of avocados from.

Not far from her home was my uncle’s “ranch” in Tustin where I got my first taste of a persimmon. It was with great trepidation that I bit into what looked like a tomato to me, but what turned out to be a delightfully sweet (although rather suspiciously textured) fruit. I might have also experienced my first fig on one of those outings as well.

Sixty years later, I still have fond memories of those events — I suspect many of you may have similar stories of your own.

Growing backyard fruit can be loads of fun and very gratifying. Over the years, to reduce labor in commercial orchards, breeders have developed dwarf root stocks that keep trees much smaller — homeowners have definitely benefited from this trend.

Apples now come in semi-dwarf (12 feet to 15 feet tall) to dwarf (10 feet to 12 feet tall) to mini-dwarf (8 feet to 10 feet tall) root stocks, which keep the trees to growing to a much more manageable size. At this point, every variety of fruit tree we sell here at the nursery has been grafted onto some kind of dwarfing root stock.

Dwarf root stocks can help tremendously in managing your home orchard, but there also are a few other options out there that will help you save even more space so you can incorporate them into your yard. Espaliered trees have been trained to grow on a trellis horizontally and can easily be planted on a fence or even a south-facing wall. These espaliers are often grafted with multiple varieties of the same fruit, so that on one main stalk you can have three different flavors of apples, for example. You can usually find apple and pear versions of espaliered trees.

Combination trees grow four to five varieties of the same fruit, saving a lot of space and helping to take care of any pollination issues. They do, however, require a bit more attention to pruning, as each branch is a different flavor and may have different needs. Apples, pears and cherries seem to be the best candidates for combination trees.

One other development in the space-saving department is the introduction of columnar or Colonnade fruit trees, also known as “urban fruit trees.” At this point, apples are the only type that come in this shape.

Urban Apple trees will only grow 8 to 10 feet tall and remain 2 to 3 feet wide, so you can plant them as close as 3 feet apart. They even grow well in containers, making them perfect for patios and porches — for those with even smaller growing spaces.

There are four new varieties from the Czech Republic on the market this year: “Blushing Delight,” “Golden Treat,” “Tangy Green,” and “Tasty Red.” All are reported to be crisp, delicious and disease-resistant.

Like many things in the garden center, fruit trees are a seasonal item.Once they are gone, you will have to wait until next year to find them again. The sooner you start your home fruit-tree growing efforts, the sooner you will be harvesting and creating memories like the ones shared from our pasts.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached at info@sunnysidenursery.net.

Grow fruit trees

Attend a free class all about growing your own fruit trees 10 a.m. or 2 p.m. Jan. 25 at Sunnyside Nursery, 3915 Sunnyside Blvd., Marysville. For more information or to sign up, visit www.sunnysidenursery.net.

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