The long winter has come to an end and Spring blossoms are bursting all around us. Once again we are looking with anticipation at our fruit trees with hopes of a bountiful harvest. Fresh nectarines in abundance and a cherry crop can be outstanding. Although our Nevada climate is not always the most conducive to fruit production, we almost always have apples and pears and some years the bonus of more finicky fruit crops. There are also a variety of berries and grapes that do well in our area. Eating, sharing, and preserving fresh organic fruit brings us in touch with Earth’s provisions in a way that is often lost in our modern, urban world.
If you have even the smallest of yard space, growing your own fruit can be a rewarding and delicious experience. All it takes is a little knowledge and patience to reap the benefits of growing and harvesting your own fruit.
Before you get started, there are a few basics you need to know. The first is to evaluate how much space is available. Fruit trees come in a variety of sizes from standard size fruit trees that can grow 30 feet tall, to semi dwarf varieties reaching only 12 to 15 feet and dwarf varieties that grow to only 6 feet at maturity. Because of this, yards of any size can accommodate some type of fruit tree. Even a tiny townhome patio with a sunny south facing flowerbed can be an ideal spot for thornless blackberries, a grape vine or an espalier fruit tree. Espalier is a method of shaping and pruning trees so that they grow flat against a wall or fence. Although slightly more time intensive than maintaining natural form trees, a homeowner who learns how to maintain this form of tree can reap a surprisingly large harvest from a small space.
Once the type and size of plant is determined, it is essential to choose a variety that will produce well in our environment. Nevada has a short growing season and many fruit tree varieties bloom early in the spring, thus loosing their blooms to late freezes. Also, if a fruit tree has late maturing fruit, it may freeze before the fruit has a chance to ripen. The key here is finding fruit varieties that bloom later in the spring and have early ripening fruit. While most peach varieties don’t meet these criteria, there are some varieties such as Reliance and Contender that will produce most years in our area. Likewise, there are cherry, plum and even some apricots that are good fruit producers most years.
One last consideration when choosing fruiting plants is whether or not the fruit is self pollinating. Many varieties of fruit must have a cross pollinator to produce. One marvelous way to get around having two different fruit trees to pollinate each other is to buy grafted varieties in which the grafts are specifically chosen to pollinate each other. As an added bonus, a grafted fruit tree can give you pie cherries and table cherries or tart apples and sweet apples on the same tree. Grafted trees require a little more knowledge to prune properly, but are fun to grow.
If all of this seems overwhelming, take a deep breath and relax. There is a wealth of information at your local Cooperative Extension office, on the Internet, and at your local nursery (avoid the large chain stores for this). You can also find help from a consulting arborist or horticultural consultant who can address each concern specific to your property. This professional can help you do everything from planning, purchasing and planting, to giving you individual lessons on how to prune your own fruit trees, vines and shrubs.
In an age when we are separated from our food sources by distance, packaging and distribution, getting back to simple basics of growing your own food even on a small scale can be a rewarding and nutritious experience.
For more info, contact Leslie Lyles or Holly Bromley, horticultural consultants at (775) 849-1215.