Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Ann Ralph: Three Reasons to Grow a Little Fruit Tree

Retire the ladder, the pole pruner, and the long-handled fruit picker. 

Flavor Queen pluots from Ann Ralph’s garden
Fruit trees kept small with pruning are a good fit for the garden and the gardener. Why?

Small fruit trees make fruit trees easy. They lighten the load of pruning, thinning, and harvesting. They won’t overwhelm a backyard farmer with too much shade or work or excessive amounts of fruit. From persimmons to pluots, these trees can be tucked into sunny places, pruned two-dimensionally next to a path, planted against a fence with the back side pruned flat, used as a formal or informal espalier, or aligned in hedgerows. Closely plant two or three similar varieties to more fruitfully utilize space of a single tree.

Fruit trees pruned to stay small expand your choices well beyond dwarf varieties. Check with your neighbors, a local nursery, the farmers’ market, and your agricultural extension office to find fruit that flourishes where you live. Consider your personal preferences. Try things. Choose antique varieties or new ones, common or uncommon favorites. Prune at the summer solstice to keep fruit within reach. Plant more trees with fruit timed to ripen the entire summer and deep into fall.
Ann’s little pluot tree in bloom
Best of all, no fruit is more local or flavorful than fruit picked ripe from a backyard tree. As a girl I thought tomatoes were middling edible, but I didn’t really like them until my grandmother served me a Beefsteak from her plant by the garage. I still remember it. Even as young as nine, I could taste the difference between food that came from the grocery store and fresh, well-tended food that hadn’t traveled very far. A backyard Flavor Queen pluot at its peak is so real you can taste it, as sweet as summer and still crunchy, as delicious as it is nutritious. Fruit within reach, harvested at its prime on the day it’s ripe and ready, is honest-to-goodness food with a generous flavor to nourish body and soul.

Photos courtesy of the author.

Ann Ralph is the author of Grow a Little Fruit Tree. Find more from Ann on her website.

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