As homes continue to be built larger and garden space becomes smaller, fewer homeowners have the space to plant as many fruit trees. But that doesn't mean you have to go without the fresh taste of homegrown fruit. All you have to do is incorporate the principles of Backyard Orchard Culture.
The objective behind this gardening concept is to allow for a prolonged harvest of tree-ripe fruit from a small space. This can be accomplished by planting multi-grafted fruit trees, planting two or more trees with different ripening dates in the same hole, or by espaliering fruit trees along a sunny house wall or fence line.
By using multi-graft trees or planting more trees in one hole, a homeowner can now extend a 3-4 week harvest season into 10-12 weeks of different flavors. Planting or creating espaliers along a fence line can also free up valuable garden space for more fruit trees or other ornamental plants.
Close planting also offers the additional benefit of restricting a tree's vigor, because it has to compete for root space and sunlight with other nearby trees. More of the tree's energy will go towards producing fruit instead of sending out new growth. Close planting also can create an environment for better cross-pollination, which also leads to increased fruit production.
Most types of fruit trees need to be pruned each year to stimulate new fruiting wood, remove dead and diseased branches, or to allow more sunlight between the branches to help fruit ripen better and more evenly. If you start pruning consistently when your trees are young, it will be much easier to keep the tree at a manageable or desirable height.
At the heart of Backyard Orchard Culture is the concept of summer pruning. By pruning at the same time you are thinning your crops, you will be better able to distinguish the kind of wood on which the tree sets fruit. You won't accidentally prune off any fruit because you can see it, and the new growth is always above or beyond the fruit.
Reducing the size of the tree canopy will in turn reduce the photosynthesis (food manufacture) of the tree. This helps to limit the amount of food materials and energy available for the roots to store, which in turn will control the tree's capability to produce as much new growth the rest of summer or the following spring.
Pruning for size control in the summer will reduce your pruning chores in winter. Once the leaves fall off, you will have a better opportunity to prune for branch spacing and overall shaping of your trees. To create an espalier tree, simply prune off anything that doesn't grow flat. Then selectively thin and train what's left to space the fruiting wood. You can espalier most fruit trees, but apples and pears lend themselves to this type of pruning better than other varieties.
Smaller fruit trees can be much more manageable to spray, prune, and harvest than large trees. So, take a new look at your garden and you might be surprised at the possibilities you have for growing fruit trees. Then close your eyes and think about how great the fruit from those trees will taste!
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