Tree Care & Fruit Use

 

If you have sunlight, water and soil (even a large container), you can grow a variety of fruits in the moderate Pacific Northwest climate. 


Fruit Tree General Care

Written by John Reardon, home orchardist and member of Seattle Tree Fruit Society and City Fruit. 

Fruit trees need sunlight, water and dirt. Although almost anything will 'grow' here in the Pacific Northwest, our cooler summers mean that certain varieties of fruit will do better than others—no matter how well they are cared for. Your job is to pick the plants that naturally do well here, water at the correct time, prune regularly—and stay out of the way. There are a few general rules to remember when caring for fruit trees:

  • Heat & light equals sweet. It takes sun to make sugar and to make the fruit sweet. The more sun, the better.
  • Don’t forget the water. In the Pacific Northwest, there is little water from the sky between July and October, when the fruit is maturing. Consistent watering produces larger fruits.
  • Fruit trees are resilient. If you prune away too much, it will grow back. If you don’t have much fruit this year, there’s always next.
  • Avoid chemical pesticides. We aren’t the only critters that like fruit: apples are sprayed with more pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides that any other food crop. But pests can be reduced—or entirely avoided—by using a few non-chemical techniques. 

Pests & Diseases

Scab is a fungal disease that mars the surface and can cause malformed fruit. It’s generally a cosmetic problem. The taste of the fruit isn’t changed, but its appearance and storage qualities, as well as canning and drying qualities, are impaired. There are a number of different non-toxic sprays that you can use; sulfur, lime-sulfur, or Bordeaux mixture (copper sulfate plus lime). The most important cultural control of scab is good tree hygiene – cleaning up fallen leaves and fruits. For more info refer to our Pear Scab reference guide.

Leaf Rust & Leaf Spot are also fungal diseases, causing bright orange and black spots on the leaves. Bordeaux mixture (copper sulfate plus lime) also takes care of those two issues.

Apple Maggot Fly is a big problem in Seattle, and it’s hard to find an apple here that isn’t affected. Apple maggot larvae tunnel through the fruit, leaving small brownish, threadlike trails, causing the apple to become soft and rotten. There are sprays, natural predators, traps, and sanitation techniques that can help control apple maggot. Refer to our Apple Maggot reference guide for details.

Applying foot socks or wax paper bags can help prevent apple maggots and coddling moth on apple and pear trees. Watch this short video of Don Ricks explaining proper application of “footies”.


Planting New Fruit Trees

Plant fruit trees so they get at least 6–8 hours of sun, preferably afternoon sun with a south and west exposure, if possible. Seattle’s dry season coincides with when fruit matures, so your fruit tree will need to be watered from June to October. Consider planting dwarf trees, shrubs and vines in rows to take advantage of drip or soaker irrigation. For detailed planting instructions with diagrams, check out our How to Plant a Fruit Tree reference guide. 

Mulch can be added around a fruit tree to hold moisture in the ground, moderate soil temperature extremes, and reduce competition from grass and weeds. Add 4-6 inches of mulch around the base of the tree. Compost or wood chips work well, but be aware that some mulches can affect the acidity of the soil and its nutrient level. For more about this, See Linda Bergeson’s article, Mulch Your Fruit Trees!

Pollination usually requires at least two fruit trees that bloom at around the same time and who are compatible. Even self-fertile trees can benefit from having a compatible pollinator tree nearby. For more information on pollination, check out our Pollination referece guide. 

Selecting Varieties that do well in the Pacific Northwest can be tricky, due to our long dry spells in the summer and the wet fungal-disease-causing winters. Download our resource guide for Best Fruits for Western Washington Yards.

Pruning your fruit is essential if you want to produce the best fruit. Removing dead, damaged, rubbing and undesirable limbs can help a tree stay healthy – increasing air flow and sunlight to inner branches, which keeps diseases and pests at a disadvantage – and allowing sunlight to penetrate and ripen fruits. Pruning is a skill that you can learn if you have the patience and time for a few classes. If your tree is very large, or you lack equipment or physical ability, then hiring help for pruning might be wise.

Attending pruning days at an orchard or P-patch can be a great way to learn more. Keep an eye on the Class list and the City Fruit Facebook page for Pruning workshops, try a low-cost class on pruning from Plant Amnesty, or refer to our Fruit Tree Pruning reference guide for details.

Thinning

A tree doesn’t need all the fruits it produces: if only five percent of the blossoms on a tree grew into fruit, it would be a full crop.

Quick Reference Guides

Downloadable and printable, theses easy-to-read fact sheets cover a variety of issues, including pest prevention & control, planting trees, pruning trees, choosing a variety, and drying fruits.
View the list of topics

 

In most cases, pollinating fruit trees requires at least two trees, and they should be different varieties, as discussed below. The trees should be within about 50 feet of each other, because pollen is too heavy and sticky for the wind to carry, leaving bees to do the job.

Self-fruitful (or self-fertile) trees vs. cross-pollination

In order to ensure that your fruit tree is pollinated, choose a self-fruitful variety or be sure that there is another compatible tree nearby (a pollinator that blooms when your tree blooms).

Self-fruitful (self-fertile) trees are those that produce fruit with their own pollen or with pollen from the same cultivar (cultivated variety). Self-fruitful trees don’t necessarily require another tree for pollination, although they may produce better if there is more than one tree in the area.

Most fruit trees require cross-pollination: that is, they need pollen from another tree, which must be a different cultivar. Triploids are cultivars that will not pollinate other varieties—or themselves: they must be pollinated by another variety.

Finding the appropriate pollinator for your fruit tree requires a little research. In general, early blooming trees can pollinate each other, and mid- and late-blooming trees can pollinate each other. Early and late-blooming trees can’t pollinate each other because their bloom times are too far apart: the early bloomers will be finished blooming before the late-bloomers start. The Raintree Nursery catalog provides pollination charts showing which varieties can pollinate each other for each type of fruit—apples, European pears, Asian pears and plums.

Apples

Apples don’t pollinate themselves. You must have two different varieties. In addition, apples don’t pollinate other fruits. The following apple varieties are triploids—that is, they don’t pollinate any other apples: Gravenstein, Jonagold, Red Boskoop, Shizuka, Karmijn, King and Bramley.

European pears

European pears need a pollinator. Because pear blossoms are relatively unattractive to bees, plant pear trees near each other to promote pollination.

Asian pears

All varieties are good pollinators, but each tree needs to be pollinated by a different variety. Asian pears bloom before European pears, but late-blooming Asian pears may pollinate early-blooming European pears. The Shinseiki may be partly self-fertile.

Plums

The following European plums are self-fruitful (self-fertile): Golden Transparent Gage, Purple Gage (partially), Cambridge Gage (partially), Italian Prune, Longjohn (partially), andStanley. The following Japanese plums are self-fertile: Hollywood, Methley, Shiro(partially).

Cherries

The following sweet cherries are self-fertile: Black Gold, Lapins, Sweetheart, Vandalay. These tart cherries are self-fertile: Almaden Duke, English Morello, Montmorency, and Surefire.

 


 

This article is based on the following sources:
Pollination is Essential in Home Orchard, by B. Rosie Lerner of the Purdue Extension
Raintree Nursery Catalog


 

Scab is a fungal disease that mars the surface and can cause malformed fruit. It’s generally a cosmetic problem. The taste of the fruit isn’t changed, but its appearance and storage qualities, as well as canning and drying qualities, are impaired. There are a number of different non-toxic sprays that you can use; sulfur, lime-sulfur, or Bordeaux mixture(copper sulfate plus lime). The most important cultural control of scab is good tree hygiene – cleaning up fallen leaves and fruits. For more info, refer to our Pear Scab resource guide.

Leaf Rust & Leaf Spot are also fungal diseases, causing bright orange and black spots on the leaves. Bordeaux mixture (copper sulfate plus lime) also takes care of those two issues.

Apple Maggot Fly is a big problem in Seattle, and it’s hard to find an apple here that isn’t affected. Apple maggot larvae tunnel through the fruit, leaving small brownish, threadlike trails, causing the apple to become soft and rotten. There are sprays, natural predators, traps, and sanitation techniques that can help control apple maggot. Refer to our Apple Maggot resource guide for details.

Spotted Wing Drosophila is a new-ish pest that’s made it’s way up from California.

Applying Foot Socks can help prevent apple maggots and Codling Moth on apple and pear trees. Watch this short video of Don Ricks explaining proper application of “footies”.


 

Figure out how to get all that good, juicy fruit from the tree in to your hands — either on your own or with a little help. What you do with that fruit is up to you; we suggest eating some yourself and giving some away.

If you need help harvesting your fruit trees and you live in the Puget Sound region, contact the organization closest to your home from the list below. They would be happy to receive your donation of fresh fruit to help feed people in need.

Harvesting Help in the Greater Seattle Area

To donate your tree’s fruit in Phinney, Greenwood, SE Seattle, Beacon Hill, Rainier Beach, Ballard, Wallingford, and West Seattle, contact City Fruit: [email protected]

Garden Hotline at Seattle Tilth  [email protected] or 206-633-0224

Bellingham – Small Potatoes Gleaning Project  360-739-5274

Olympia – Thurston County Food Bank Gleaners   [email protected]   360-352-8597 x108

Port Townsend – Quimper Community Harvest  [email protected]

When is the fruit ready to harvest?

Deciding the best time for picking fruit is as much an art as a science. For one thing, not all the fruit on a tree is ripe at once: high fruit exposed to the sun is usually ready sooner than the lower, shaded fruits.

Plums are picked when they are sweet and slightly soft. In some trees, plums exposed to hot sun will be ripe while those in the shade will be hard. Unless you plan to go back to the tree later, it will be necessary to choose the point at which the most plums are ripe. Green plums don’t tend to ripen much after they are picked.

Apples & Asian Pears are also picked when they are ripe. Twist the fruit: if it easily snaps off the branch, taste it for ripeness. Even tart apples lose that ‘chalky’ taste when they are ripe.

European Pears, like Bartletts, are picked green and hard and allowed to ripen for a few days to a week after being harvested. A pear is ready to pick when the stem snaps readily away from the branch.

What kind of equipment is needed?

orchard_ladder_sm.jpg

Orchard ladder

If possible, use an orchard ladder—not a stepladder. An orchard ladder has a wide base that tapers towards the top, and a single pole that extends out (see diagram). The tripod construction makes the ladder both more stable and maneuverable: the pole can be maneuvered in and around branches and leaders in the center of the tree so that the picker can climb up into the heart of the tree. An orchard ladder is also more stable when picking the outside branches, or canopy.

Extension ladders are safest when set into the center of the tree, against a trunk or main leader. Extension ladders shouldn’t be set against a branch at the outside of the tree.

fruitpicker_sm.jpg

Fruit picking tools

Fruit picking tools are most often used to pick fruit when standing on the ground. The most common tool, known as a ‘fruit picker,’ consists of a cage-like head, often lined with foam rubber to cushion the fruit, at the end of a pole. Many are constructed so you can add an extension pole to reach taller fruit. The ‘cage’ at the top of the pole is pronged, to pull the fruit from the tree. Fruit pickers are most effective for harvesting larger, hard fruits, such as pears, Asian pears and apples.

fruit-picking-bag.jpg

Picking bags

The best bags for harvesting have shoulder straps that leave the hands free and a top opening that allows easy access into the bag. The bag shouldn’t be too large because soft fruit gets crushed in big bags. Soft canvas or nylon bags are best, and a small backpack, worn backwards, also works well.


Wondering what else you can do with all that fruit?

Get tasty fruit recipes from our blog.


 

Fruit is fragile. Soft fruit, like plums, get smashed, and even harder fruits bruise easily. Packing fruit more than six inches deep means that the fruit on the bottom will be damaged.

It’s best to store harvested fruit in shallow cardboard boxes (deep boxes increase the likelihood that fruit on the bottom will be crushed or bruised). Sturdy cardboard is also important for supporting the fruit, and smaller boxes are easier to lift and carry.

Avoid putting fruit in plastic bags. Since the plastic doesn’t ‘breathe’, moisture produced by the fruit is retained in the bag, and fruit spoils more quickly.

If you need to store fruit overnight, put it in a cool place.