Tree Fruit & Small Fruit Tips

by Rod Smith

© 1999-2020 Rodney A. Smith
All rights reserved.

Many fruit trees require at least two varieties for cross pollination in order to get a good crop of fruit:
most apples except Braeburn, Gala, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, Jonared, Red Rome, and Winesap,
most sweet cherries except Early Burlat, Lapins, Rainier and Stella,
most pears except Moonglow, Starkcrimson and 20th Century,
most plums except Green Gage and Methley.

If there is room for only one fruit tree, plant a combination tree with two or more varieties grafted onto it. There are also combination trees that include apricots, cherries, nectarines and peaches.

Some fruit trees will have a good crop by themselves, though they will often have more fruit with cross pollination: apricots, pie cherries, figs, nectarines, peaches, prunes and persimmons.

The difference between plums and prunes is that prunes can be dried with the pit inside, while plums will spoil if the pit is not removed before drying. Both can be eaten fresh or dried. Also, prunes are egg shaped and self-pollenizing, while plums are round and most varieties need a pollenizer.

Asian pears will often have fruit the first year. They are the easiest tree fruit to grow. Apples, European pears, and figs are also easy to grow. Apricots, peaches, and cherries need more care because of disease problems. Oregon State University's online guide to diseases is at

Dwarf and semi-dwarf rootstocks are available for most fruit trees. These smaller trees are much easier to prune, spray and harvest than full sized trees. Plant the tree so the graft is at least two inches above ground level, because the tree will grow to full size if the trunk sends out roots above the graft. Dwarf trees will grow 8 to 15 feet tall. Semi-dwarf trees will grow 12 to 20 feet tall. Pruning makes a big difference in size. Semi-dwarf trees are usually stronger and bear fruit sooner than dwarf trees.

Fruit trees should be trained to have a single, upright trunk with well spaced, spreading side branches. The tree should be cone shaped so the upper branches do not shade out the lower branches. The first five years are the most important for training a fruit tree so it develops a strong structure. After many years, branches becomes less productive. Sometimes a newer sprout should be allowed to develop for a couple of years, then, remove the nearest old branch.

Fruit trees have to be pruned differently, depending on whether they produce their flowers and fruit on old wood or new wood. At harvest time, look to see where the fruit is found. Notice if more fruit is produced on branches that grow fast or slow. Then adjust your pruning and fertilizing accordingly.

Apples, cherries, pears, and plums bear fruit on fruit spurs, which are short twigs on older wood. Spurs will die out if they are shaded too much. Upper and outer branches should be pruned to let light and air into the center of the tree so the fruit spurs will remain healthy. Pruning the longest twigs back to three to five leaves in mid-July to mid-August, when they are, at least, the thickness of a pencil, will encourage more fruit spurs to form.

Peaches, nectarines and apricots bear fruit on one year old wood. A few older branches can be removed each year to encourage more new growth.

Suckers and water sprouts grow rapidly straight up. They do not produce fruit, and they shade out the spreading branches that do produce fruit. They can be plucked off when they first appear in June much easier than cutting them off later. Or, they can be tied down so they grow outward and become productive branches. The most productive branches grow at an angle between horizontal and forty-five degrees. Thirty degrees is ideal.

Fruit trees can be pruned in the winter, spring, or summer. Winter pruning causes a tree to grow more vigorously. Spring pruning, after the fruit has set, keeps dwarf trees smaller and does not reduce the fruit crop as much. By mid-spring, it is obvious which branches are producing fruit and which are not, so productive branches can be saved. Cutting back vigorous apple and pear twigs to three to five buds in mid-summer will encourage more fruit spurs.

Tree fruits will have the most flavor if they are allowed to ripen on the tree and eaten right away. But, it will store longer if it is picked before it is fully ripe. When ripe, the green background color will change to yellow. For red fruit, look at the bottom of the fruit to see the background color.

Another test for ripeness is to push on the fruit to check for softness. Ripe fruit will be considerably softer than green fruit. A ripe peach or nectarine will dent easily with a fingertip. For apples and pears, a piece of skin is peeled off and a special pressure gauge is used to test for firmness.

European pears should not be allowed to ripen fully on the tree, because by the time the outside is ripe, the inside is mushy. It is better to pick pears when they first begin to show a hint of yellow, and let them ripen indoors. A few days in the refrigerator begins the ripening process. Pears will then ripen in a few days to a few weeks at room temperature.

To harvest fruit easily without bruising or damaging it, put your thumb next to the stem and wrap your fingers around the fruit. Lift and rotate the fruit so the stem is bent. If the fruit stem does not separate easily from the tree, the fruit is still green. Twisting and pulling on the fruit will bruise it and it will start to decay much sooner. Handle fruit carefully, because dropping a freshly picked apple even a quarter of an inch will bruise it.

Watering recommendations for fruits taken from The Sunset Western Garden Book.
Apple        Low-Medium    Water during long dry spells.
Apricot      Medium        Infrequent, deep watering.
Banana       Very High     Ample water.
Blackberry   High          Water during growing season. 
Blueberry    Very High     Frequent water.
Cherry       High          Regular, deep watering.
Citrus       High          Do not let root zone get dry or soggy.
Currant      High          Regular water.
Fig          Low           Needs no water once established.
Gooseberry   High          Water to maintain growth.
Grape        Low-Medium    Little water once established.
Kiwi         High          Regular watering.
Mango        High          Maintain steady soil moisture.
Nectarine    High          Water while fruit is forming in hot weather.      
Papaya       High          Ample water during warm weather.
Peach        High          Water while fruit is forming in hot weather.
Pear         Medium-High   Regular water during growing season.
Persimmon    High          Regular deep water.
Plum         Medium        Best with some deep watering in summer.
Raspberry    High          Regular water.
Strawberry   Very High     Frequent, deep soaking.

Recommended Varieties

Braeburn: Green/red. Excellent flavor. Self-pollinizing.
Freedom: Red. Highly resistant to scab, mildew and rust. Self-pollinizing.
Gala: Orange red. Excellent flavor. Self-pollinizing.
Jonagold: Reddish gold. Resistant to scab. Excellent flavor.
Liberty: Dark red. Highly resistant to scab and mildew.
Shay: Red. Resistant to scab and mildew.

Chinese: Orange with red blush. Tolerates late frosts. Self-pollinizing.
Puget Gold: Orange. Very good flavor. Tolerates cool spring weather. Self-pollinizing.

Bing: Almost black. The most popular variety.
Rainier: Yellow and red. Resistant to cracking. Excellent flavor. Self-pollinizing.
Stella: Black. Resistant to cracking. Self-pollenizing.
Van: Dark red. Resistant to cracking. Very sweet.

Brown Turkey: Mahogany brown skin. Cold hardy. Self-pollinizing.
Lattarula: Yellowish green. Honey colored flesh. Cold hardy. Self-pollinizing.

Frost: Yellow. Freestone. Very resistant to peach leaf curl. Self-pollinizing.
Redhaven: Red. Semi-freestone. Very resistant to peach leaf curl. Self-pollinizing.

Anjou: Green. Good keeper.
Bartlett: Yellow. The most popular pear.
Red Bartlett: Red. Self-pollinizing.

Asian Pears
20th Century: Yellow. Self pollinizing.
Hosui: Golden brown. Excellent flavor.

Nubiana: Purple-black. Midseason. Self-pollinizing.
Santa Rosa: Purplish red. Early. The most popular Japanese plum.

Brooks: Blue skin. Yellow flesh. Midseason. Very reliable. Self-pollinizing.
Stanley: Purplish black. Yellow flesh. Midseason. Self-pollinizing.

Boysenberry: Reddish black.
Marionberry: Black.

Bluecrop: Blue. Midseason.
Blueray: Light blue. Midseason.
Earliblue: Blue. Early midseason. Bright red wood.

Flame: Red seedless. Early. Crunchy sweet.
Lakemont: White seedless. Midseason.

Autumn Bliss: Red. Everbearing from late July through September. Disease resistant.
Canby: Bright red. Thornless.
Heritage: Dark red. Berries in June and September.
Meeker: Bright red.
Munger: Black.

Tri-Star: Very sweet and flavorful. Day neutral so it bears fruit from June through September.
Hood: Sweet and flavorful. June bearing.

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