Gardening Resolutions #4 Part III: Grow and Eat Nutritious Foods (Tree Fruits)

Mary Helen Ferguson
NC Cooperative Extension Agent, Horticulture
TREES NC Board Member
Posted July 1st, 2008 in Lawn & Garden

This week concludes the sub-series on resolution number four—"Grow and Eat Nutritious Foods"—of the five that I suggested in the January article. As the last two centered on vegetables and small fruits, the focus of this article will be tree fruits.

In general, plant fruit trees in well-drained soil and full sun. Taking a soil test before planting is recommended so that lime can be added if the pH of the soil is low (approximately 6.5 is desirable for tree fruit). Sites that are higher in elevation than the area around them are preferable, so that cold air does not settle in them and result in spring frost damage on trees.

Some of the easier tree fruits to grow in our area are figs, persimmons, and pecans. Figs require little pruning and fertilizer and oftentimes need no spraying. In our area, they are sometimes killed to the ground during winter but can re-grow. Choose varieties such as ‘Celeste' and ‘Brown Turkey' that do not need to be pollinated. Be careful to not over-fertilize figs, since too much nitrogen can lead to increased cold damage during the winter.

I had my first taste of oriental persimmons last summer and was surprised at how tasty they were. The ‘Fuyu', ‘Jiro', and ‘Hanagosho' varieties of the oriental persimmon are recommended for North Carolina, do not need another tree for pollination, and are non-astringent, meaning that they can be eaten when they are still firm. However, oriental persimmons are not completely cold hardy here and can be killed when temperatures reach 10 - 12 °F. Since it does not get that cold here often, trees may bear for some years before being killed to the ground.

Growth can come back from the roots, but most oriental persimmons are grafted onto American persimmon rootstocks, so the plant that grows back-like any growth from below the graft union-will not be the same kind of persimmon. (American persimmons are edible, also, and fine for landscape use or wildlife food but have smaller fruit, often unreachable due to tree height, that is astringent until it is soft.)

One insect to watch out for is the persimmon trunk borer, which attacks young trees. To help prevent damage by this insect, the bottom 18 - 24" of young trees can be painted with latex paint. Some pruning of persimmons is helpful, since they bear fruit on current seasons' wood.

I am not going to write much about pecans, except to say that they may not bear as consistently here as in areas further south or east, but they do produce fruit in some years.

Peaches, nectarines, apples, and pears (including Asian pears) require more maintenance than figs, persimmons, and pecans do, but you may nevertheless be interested in growing them. To help prevent problems, old fruit and leaves and diseased or damaged wood should be removed from the around the trees. The use, according to the label, of a multipurpose tree fruit spray that contains ingredients to combat both diseases and insects is suggested for peaches and nectarines in particular.

On apples and pears, fire blight is a frequent problem. This disease is first evident at the tips of branches, which look dead and are curled over like the tips of a shepherd's crook. A first line of defense again fire blight is to pick a variety that is resistant to it. If the disease is evident during the growing season, cut the affected limbs about a foot beyond where evidence is seen. When pruning in the late winter, cut limbs about six inches beyond where injury appears to have stopped. Clean pruning shears with something like 10% bleach between cuts to avoid spreading the disease. Use of streptomycin at the correct time can help prevent fire blight problems, as well. (Call for details.)

Some apple varieties need another variety to pollinate them, while some do not, and planting at least two varieties is recommended for pears and Asian pears. On the other hand, a single peach or nectarine variety can fruit well by itself. If you like yellow-fleshed peaches, ‘Contender' is a recommended variety. If you like white ones, you might try ‘China Pearl'. Dr. Dennis Werner, who is now Director of the JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh, bred both of these here in North Carolina.

Fruit thinning is important for peaches, nectarines, apples, and pears. When the fruits are about the size of a nickel, remove some fruit so that there is only one every four to six inches.

Fertilization is ideally based on soil testing and observation of growth. (Less than ten inches of growth on limbs over the course of the season suggests the need for fertilizer, while no fertilizer may be needed for several years on trees with branches growing more than eighteen inches in a season.) However, 3/4 to 1 pound of 10-10-10 per year of tree age is a general guildeline. Needed fertilizer can be applied in late winter by walking in a circle around the tree, under the tips of the branches, and applying it to both sides of your path. However, do not get the fertilizer closer than 6 inches to the trunk when trees are young.

Regarding training and pruning, the open vase form is suggested for peaches and nectarines, while the central leader system is recommended for apples, pears, and Asian pears. There is not enough room here to go into many details about training and pruning but, in general, it is important to remove enough limbs, while the tree is dormant, so that fruit will not be excessively shaded, and to get rid of crossing branches and dead, damaged, or diseased wood. Do not snip off the tips of apple or pear tree limbs, since fruit grows there.

For more information on growing and pruning fruit trees, take a look at "Producing Tree Fruit For Home Use" and "Training and Pruning Fruit Trees" ( and, or call me at 318-6000). More specific information about each type of fruit tree is available, as well.