"Growing Fruit Trees in the Northwest," by the Whistling Gardener

Growing apples, pears, cherries, plums and yes, even peaches and apricots isn’t rocket science but it does take some effort to produce quality fruit.
The Whistling Gardener is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

This coming Saturday, January 31, 2015, at 10am is our annual class on learning all about growing tree fruits in our very own backyards.  If you have ever dreamed of picking your own fruit right off the tree and want to know how to make it happen then this is the class for you. 

Growing apples, pears, cherries, plums and yes, even peaches and apricots isn’t rocket science but it does take some effort to produce quality fruit. 

Here are some tips that will be covered in more detail in our upcoming class.  Be sure and RSVP if you want a seat as space is limited.

Choose the appropriate varieties:  we live in a maritime climate and the fruit we see in the store is usually grown on the east side of the mountains where it is drier and hotter. 

A Fuji apple will rarely ripen in our cooler climate and a Golden Delicious will be riddled with disease.  Garden centers know what works for us, that’s not always the case for the box stores or warehouse discounters. 

Location:  fruit trees need to be planted where they will receive the maximum amount of sun your garden has to offer.  They also need good drainage and adequate fertility. 

If you plant a tree in the lawn be sure and remove a 3-4 foot circle of grass underneath the tree to reduce competition and potential damage from equipment or herbicides.

Spacing:  with all the new dwarf rootstocks available fruit trees can be planted a lot closer these days.  Combination trees with 4-5 varieties on one plant or espaliered trees that can be trained on a wall or fence will save space as well.  You can even plant two trees in one hole as long as you keep them pruned properly.

Pollination:  this can be a mind blower for a lot of us.  First off, apples will only pollinate apples, pears only pears and so on and so forth.  Cross pollination means two different varieties of apples, not two of the same variety. 

Most apples, pears, Japanese plums and cherries need cross pollination.  All peaches, apricots, European plums (like Italian prunes) and some cherries are self-pollinating which means you can get by with only one variety in your garden.  Combination trees will pollinate themselves.

Diseases and insects:  the best defense against disease is to buy resistant varieties.  That being said we will always need to be vigilant and ready to do what needs to be done to keep our trees healthy and productive. 

There are many safe and natural products that homeowners can use to maintain their trees.  A few timely applications is often all that is needed.  The WSU Hortsense website is an excellent reference tool for gardeners to identify and solve disease and insect problems.  We also maintain a diagnostic center here at the nursery to help solve your problems.

Pruning:  like pollination, this can be confusing as all get out.  Learn to recognize where the fruit is produced on your trees and you will have the pruning dilemma solved. 

Peaches grow on last year’s wood whereas pears, cherries and apples produce on 2-3 year old wood.  Don’t panic, we’ll show you the difference.

Have some fun: half the fun of a home orchard is that you can grow varieties that are not commercially produced and found in the grocery store. 

Try a Maxie pear, a new cross between a traditional European pear (like Bartlett) and a pear-apple (also known as Asian pears) or the new Carmine Jewell dwarf cherry which is a cross between a tart pie cherry and a sweet cherry.

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached online at



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