Harvesting fresh fruit from your home orchard can be a delicious way to add beauty, taste, and variety to your landscape and diet. The best time to plant fruit trees in Georgia is in the fall. “Growing fresh fruit can be rewarding and fun but can also provide its share of frustration,” said Bob Westerfield, a horticulturist with the UGA Cooperative Extension.

Before planting new trees, decide what type of tree to plant and also what variety. This decision is based on how much time the gardener wants to spend taking care of the tree and also personal preference. Before planting a new fruit tree, consider the amount of care required. For example, peaches require a great deal of care to get a harvest. A number of insects and diseases attack the fruit, and the trees have to be sprayed repeatedly with insecticides and fungicides from the time they bloom until the fruit is harvested. Apples and pears require a little less care and most of the time they only need fertilizer and water. There are many varieties of each type of fruit. Researchers at the University of Georgia College of Agriculture and Environmental Science have written several publications on home gardening fruit trees. The publications can be found online at caes.uga.edu/publications. There is information for the type of fruit tree including site and soil requirements, variety selection, pollination requirements, pruning, fertilization requirements, and disease and insect problems.

After choosing a variety, start on the right path by choosing an appropriate site. “Fruit trees will grow and produce in a broad range of soil types, but the best yields and longest-lived trees occur on loamy, well-drained soil,” Westerfield says. Avoid sites where water collects after a heavy rain and areas with poorly drained soils. Trees planted in full sun will yield the most fruit. A minimum of six hours of sunlight is needed for fruit trees to produce, but 8 to 10 hours is better.

When digging the hole, bigger is better, Westerfield says. “If planting container fruit trees, the hole should be at least twice the size of the root ball,” he said. “Holes for planting bare root trees should be wide enough to accommodate the longest roots so they can spread out.”  Do not add potting soil, fertilizer or any other soil amendments to the planting hole. Backfill the hole with the soil you dug up.

To plant, hold the tree in place so the graft union is just above ground level. Begin filling the hole with soil. Be sure to tamp backfill soil thoroughly to eliminate air pockets. Add a few gallons of water to settle the soil before completely filling the hole. Trees should be pruned immediately after planting. Cut the main shoot back to 30 inches above the ground at planting. “This procedure allows branches to form at desired levels, improves the strength of the tree and provides a balance between the top and the roots,” Westerfield said. “Initial pruning is important. It will set the tone for the future growth of the tree.”

It’s important to remember that newly planted trees or existing trees can be deficient in the vital nutrients needed to thrive and bear fruit. The best way to test for deficiencies is through soil samples. Test results are used to determine the amount and type of nutrients that should be added for proper growth. Have your soil tested before planting.

Looking for fruit trees to plant?  The Madison County 4-H is currently having their annual Fruit Tree Sale.  Orders must be placed by November 12th and trees can be picked up on Friday, November 19th from 9am-6pm. Proceeds go to the Madison County 4-H. Fruit trees for sale include: apple, pear, peach, pomegranate, muscadine, pecan, fig, blueberry, raspberry, and blackberry.  We have also added some new fruits including goji berry and mulberry. Visit https://t.uga.edu/6i5  for a full list of varieties and prices.  If you would like more information, contact our office at 706-795-2281 or uge1191@uga.edu.

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