Friday, Jul 20, 2018
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Gardening

Patience is key when tending to fruit trees

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    An apple grows on one of the apple trees at the Taylors South Stadium Road home in Oregon, Ohio.

    The Blade/Kurt Steiss
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    A line of apple trees at the Taylors' South Stadium Road home in Oregon, Ohio. They have 13 apple trees and two peach trees in their front yard. The apple trees range from one year old to seven years old, and the peach trees are two years old.

    The Blade/Kurt Steiss
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    Chris, left, and Jay Taylor

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    Apples grow on the trees at the Taylors' home in Oregon, Ohio.

    The Blade/Kurt Steiss
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  • FEA-FRUIT04-6

    The Taylors have 13 apple trees and two peach trees in their front yard.

    The Blade/Kurt Steiss
    Buy This Image

With apologies to fictional philosopher Forrest Gump, real life isn’t really like a box of chocolates, full of sugary surprises, is it? It’s more like a fruit tree in that it takes work to reap the rewards.

Yes, fruit trees are labor — at least, if one wants to enjoy their fruit.

“If you think you’ll get a bunch of free apples and do nothing you’re probably not going to,” said Chris Taylor, 70, who, along with husband Jay, 69, have a baker’s dozen apple trees and two young peach trees growing in the yard of their Oregon home.

Unlike technology, Mother Nature isn’t plug-and-play but plant, water, feed, spray, and hope.

Mrs. Taylor suggests not to bother with a fruit tree or trees “if you don’t want to spend the time” to help them grow.

But if you do all of the above, like the Taylors, well ... last year, their apple trees yielded approximately six bushels of apples — somewhere north of a thousand apples, they estimate — much of which was placed in an extra freezer as applesauce, apple chips, and apples for apple pie to enjoy throughout the year. Their peach trees are still too young to produce fruit.

Yes, their au natural apples aren’t as pretty or as big as those sitting in a neighborhood grocery bin.

No, it doesn't matter to them.

“We don't get the perfect apples you buy in the store all the time,” Mr. Taylor said. “But we do get some nice ones. We also get some with scabs, but that doesn't hurt the meat of the apple.”

Added Mrs. Taylor: “We don't mind a blemish or two.”

As we approach the peak of the summer, fruit trees are blossoming.

But a fad-turned-trend about eating healthier has caused them to blossom out of season as well, at least in terms of popularity.

“Fruit trees are coming back as [consumers] are concerned about their food intake and with what’s on their tables,” such as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), said Mike O'Rourke, a longtime Black Diamond manager at its two area locations, 1964 Tremainsville Rd. in Toledo and 12320 Eckel Junction Rd. in Perrysburg.

Mr. O’Rourke said the Toledo Garden Center location sold out of its stock of 100 ready-to-plant 3-year-old fruit trees, priced at $40 each, weeks ago. And to meet the increased demand for fruit-bearing trees, the store will sell a smaller batch of its 2-year-old trees for the September planting season.

“It’s a good time to get a tree,” he said, with the milder climate, increased rain, and opportunity for the tree to acclimate to its new climate before the winter dormancy. “So in spring when the tree wakes up it’s like nothing has happened.”

But long before next spring and even that fruit tree purchase, there are options to consider.

What kind of fruit do you want to grow?

Northwest Ohio’s climate will support many types of trees, but apple, cherry, peach, pear, plum, and apricot are the most popular, Mr. O’Rourke said. Citrus fruits, such as oranges, lemons, and limes are better left to thrive south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Do you have the space necessary to grow a fruit-bearing tree or trees?

Fruit trees require a lot of sunlight, which isn’t always abundant in the smaller and often tree-crowded lots of neighborhood homes. For that reason, he said, the majority of his fruit tree customers live in rural areas with more open space.

Other important factors are the growth size of the fruit tree — they range anywhere from 10 feet or less to 25 feet or more — the cross pollination from other nearby fruit trees that ensures their mutual growth, and even potential dangers to the tree’s health.

For nearly a decade, the peachtree borer — a beetle that bores into peach trees to lay its eggs, and whose young larvae feast on the tree’s tissues, essentially starving it to death — has been a “real problem” for those with peach trees, Mr. O’Rourke said.

The answer is to spray the peach tree with an insecticide early in the spring to keep the peachtree borer away. But even that is “hit and miss,” he said. “You’re just hoping to get to the tree before it gets in there.”

The apple tree, though, isn't affected by the peachtree borer and tends to be the hardiest choice among fruit trees, though it also requires a combination insecticide and fungicide treatment at least a half-dozen times beginning in spring.

The Taylors said they spray as little as possible — every 7-10 days during the wet spring weather, every three to four weeks during the drier summer — and use only mild insecticides and fungicides.

Mr. O’Rourke recommends a springtime ritual of three treatments with a combination insecticide-fungicide spray to protect the tree during its budding.

When the bud swells after its winter dormancy; when the bud cracks open and the flower is first visible; when the flowers have fallen on the ground.

He added that it's important to spray in the evenings, as the sun is going down.

There is also the organic method said Amy Stone, an educator with the Ohio State Extension – Lucas County, Agriculture and Natural Resources, and The Blade's garden columnist.

“Plenty of people don't use any sprays, but their fruit is also often deformed and may have insects inside them. So you just eat around. They won’t hurt you, but the idea may turn people off.”

Fruit bearing

Once the tree is planted, it will take time and patience to reap the benefits.

A 3-year-old apple tree planted in September, for example, may yield a few apples by the spring, but none of those are likely to be edible.

Instead, it would be spring-summer of 2020 that the owner would enjoy those fruits of their labors.

“It needs at least a full year to get established and then it really takes off and you’ll do your happy dance,” Mr. O’Rourke said.

But the work doesn’t stop with gathering the fruit. The trees require “monitoring and maintenance throughout the year,” Mrs. Stone said, such as pruning.

But that work and patience has a payoff, and not just the literal fruits of those labors, either.

“We like the idea of having something that's beautiful but that’s also useful,” Mrs. Taylor said. “We are big into functions, but the fruit trees are very attractive.”

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