Want the secret to a successful fruit tree that will yield beautiful and tasty fruit within five years? According to LeeAnn Barton of California’s Dave Wilson Nursery, the trick is to use a high-quality rootstock, prune the tree back significantly each year, use good soil in a raised bed, and water it correctly. During a recent seminar on fruit tree gardening at Kingwood Garden Center, Barton discussed the importance of quality rootstock. “A tree from a rootstock bought at a discount store may produce fruit in eight to 10 years, while a tree from a high-quality nursery may produce fruit in four years,” said Barton.  She continued with comments on pruning, “Fruit trees should be pruned back by one-half at the time of initial planting and one-third each summer. Summer pruning of fruit trees should be completed twice, once in early May and once in early August for best results.” The purpose of pruning is to create a dense canopy to support the fruit. Barton noted it’s best to prune back branches that are growing at a ninety degree angle in favor of keeping branches growing at a forty-five degree angle, which are better able to support heavy fruit. Barton also noted fruit trees typically grow fruit for fifteen years. Bob Robertson of Kingwood Garden Center offered several comments on soil and drainage. “There’s nothing good about the soil in Houston.” A fruit tree planted in natural Houston soil will have difficulty thriving. Most fruit trees will grow in acidic soil with a ph level below seven, preferably at six. However, most of the natural soil in the Houston area will have a Ph closer to eight (less acidic, more basic). Robertson recommends planting fruit trees in 18 inches of enhanced soil that is a mixture of native soil, root soil and shale.  “The root system of a tree in Houston is typically not deeper than 18 inches (though there are some exceptions, like pine trees).” The shallow root system caused many plants to die in the drought. Robertson recommends buying good quality soil that lists the ingredients. Robertson also noted: “Raised beds for drainage is a must in Houston. Gardeners should also take into account the water needs of a fruit tree, and whether the tree will be overwatered by any nearby sprinkler heads.” Robertson noted the importance of mulch: “Mulch promotes healthy feeder root, conserves moisture, protects from heat and encourages beneficial bacteria.” Fruit trees can be planted successfully through the end of March. Kingwood Garden Center will be hosting two additional free seminars in the coming weeks. On January 28, Citrus Trees will be discussed and on February 4, Spring Vegetable Gardening will be discussed. For more information, go to www.kingwoodgarden center.com.

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