Fruit trees are great ornamental features in the landscape. Many have beautiful blooms and striking fall color. On top of this, you can harvest varieties that are not easily available in stores. You also can grow organically, or with minimal pesticide use, and have healthier food. Most yards have room for at least one or two fruit trees, so there is no reason to wait to start your mini-orchard.
In recent years, new varieties have been developed that are more disease-resistant and fare better in northern climates. Even though the old standbys like Cortland and MacIntosh Apples are fine trees, improved species require less maintenance and often store better for longer periods.
The ideal growing condition for all types of fruit trees is rich, loamy, well-drained soil and full sun. Frost pockets or low, wet areas should be avoided. If your soil is not ideal, amending it with compost or raising a large area (berming) can resolve the problem.
A common mistake when planting is to bury the tree too deep. Many people believe the graft (the thicker part of the trunk near the roots) should be covered. For best results, there should be about one half inch of soil covering the roots. While mulching with bark is a good idea to keep weeds down, you should not allow mulch to build up against the trunk.
Apples, pears, plums, apricots, peaches, cherries, and nectarines can be grown in Maine. Semi-dwarf trees generally produce fruit faster and are suitable for homeowners.
You need two varieties of apple trees that bloom about the same time in order to get fruit. Some great, disease-resistant ones are Empire, Liberty, Haralred, Jonafree, Red Baron, Redfree, Scarlet Sentinel, and Yellow Transparent. Be certain the rootstock is hardy for Maine.
Apricots bloom profusely white in early spring. This can make them susceptible to late frosts. Fall color is a uniquely attractive peach-orange. Fruit ripens quickly in late July and must be picked immediately.
Sweet cherry does not do well in Maine, except in sheltered areas nearer the coast. Sour cherries, which are good for preserves and pies, do well in cold climates. Most are self-fertile and there are dwarf varieties that are very suitable for homeowners.
Nectarines have been grown at the University of New Hampshire (to -28 degrees). You need only one tree to produce fruit.
Peaches are usually shorter-lived trees than apple, but the quality of a fresh Maine peach is well worth that fact. For flavor and face-soaking juiciness they cannot be beaten. Reliance, China Pearl, and Polly have done well. The weepy, hanging leaves are very unusual and graceful.
Pears are very hardy. Generally, you need two for best results, although Keiffer is self-pollinating. Summercrisp and Seckel are two other very good varieties. For best results, fruit should be picked somewhat early and allowed to ripen indoors. It is ripe when skin gives slightly to finger pressure. Fall foliage is deep purple and very attractive.
Plums are hardy and very productive. Compass, Pipestone, Superior, and Waneta produce early and well. Red Diamond is a cherry plum introduction from Minnesota that has excellent flavor. You need two varieties for pollination.
The University of Maine Cooperative Extension is a top resource for
information on pruning and general fruit tree care. With young trees
being quite inexpensive and often producing fruit within a few years,
there is no reason not to try growing your own. There is nothing in
the store that can compare to fruit fresh from your own tree.
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