Got a fruit tree? Learn how to treat it properly

With backyard apricot trees like this one, it’s important to cut any dead wood off the tree and then determine whether the apricots or the shade is the most important benefit of the tree. Because this tree is so old and spread out, John Wilhelm with the Colorado State University Orchard Mesa Research Center recommends treating it more like a shade tree, cutting away branches that are too close to the house and perhaps knocking flowers and young fruit off with a broom so there’s less mess when the apricots ripen.

A backyard fruit tree can be rewarding for those who enjoy growing their own food. There’s a sense of satisfaction in tending a tree, protecting it from frost, disease and pests and later enjoying the bounty.

Because of the fruit industry in the Grand Valley, having a backyard tree carries a certain amount of responsibility to maintain it properly.

A neglected tree in a backyard can become a breeding ground for disease and harmful insects, which may spread from your backyard to a commercial orchard.

Although a homeowner may be willing to put up with spots on apples or a half a cherry crop lost because of cherry fruit fly maggots, a commercial orchardist doesn’t have that luxury.

Some fruit trees require more care than others, but they all require maintenance in the form of pruning and pest control, if a homeowner wants the tree to produce fruit. In our area, it’s almost impossible to grow organic apples due to the prevalence of the codling moth and several different types of aphids.

Likewise, the western cherry fruit fly and the peach crown borer can ruin a homeowner’s dream of gorgeous cherries and peaches from the backyard. It’s not necessary to bathe a tree in insecticide to battle the bugs, but it may be necessary to do a few sprays several times a year. If the tree has awakened from its winter dormancy, it probably too late to apply a dormant oil to control certain pests, but it’s not too late for other measures.

Trees require sunlight to produce fruit, so when pruning, remember to make those cuts that open up the tree and allow more sunlight to reach branches. With fruit trees, the goal is to have lateral branches rather than branches that shoot straight up into the sky. If a fruit tree hasn’t been pruned in years, it may be a good idea to have a pruning plan that anticipates growth and future pruning for the next two to three years.

Although some fruit trees grow fairly tall when not trained properly, tall fruit trees aren’t practical in terms of spraying or harvesting. The height of the tree is determined both by the variety of tree planted and by the pruning method used.

If you purchased a house with established fruit trees, it may be good to evaluate if you want to do the required maintenance or you’d prefer to purchase local fruit at the farmers’ markets. Those who aren’t interested in maintenance may want to get rid of the fruit tree and look for a shade tree that requires less maintenance and doesn’t drop blossoms or fruit across the yard.

The Colorado State University Tri River Area extension at the Mesa County Fairgrounds has fact sheets with detailed instructions for pruning procedures and pesticide application available to homeowners.


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