Tree Facts: Growing your own fruit

Farm Forum

Growing your own fruit can be fun and delicious. Many different kinds of fruit can be grown in the western Dakotas including apples, crabapples, pears, plums, cherries, apricots and peaches. Recommended varieties are as follows: Apples – Haralred, Haralson and Honeycrisp; Crabapples – Chestnut, Dolgo and Centennial; Pears – Golden Spice and Ure; Plums – Waneta, LaCrescent and Pembina; Cherries – Nanking and North Star; Apricots – Moongold, Sungold, Brookcot, and Westcot; Peaches – Contender.

Fruit trees should be planted at least 40 to 50 feet from farm shelterbelts to prevent snowdrift damage and reduce competition for soil moisture and nutrients. In town, where backyard space may be limited, locate fruit trees away from large shade trees for similar reasons. Most fruits do well on any fertile garden soil that has good surface drainage. Shelter is necessary from all directions except the east.

Tree Size – Select trees that are at least 0.5 inch in diameter just above the graft union. Trees that are smaller than this do not establish as well as larger ones. Steer clear of trees of 1 inch diameter or more, because the nursery may have damaged or removed a significant portion of the root system in digging.

Branches – Ideally, a tree should have three to five symmetrically spaced branches. If you end up getting a healthy, unbranched tree, cut it about 36 inches above the graft union and it will grow several branches developing below the cut.

Dwarf Apple Trees – Dwarf apple trees of any variety are not recommended for general planting because dwarfing rootstocks are of questionable hardiness and their roots tend to be brittle.

Pollination – Since most fruit trees cannot set fruit with their own pollen, it is necessary to select and plant two different varieties to insure proper pollination. An ornamental flowering crabapple will suffice as a pollinating tree for apples and crabapples. Generally it is best to plant two varieties of stone fruits for good pollination. Plums will not cross-pollinate with cherries or apricots. Wild plums located nearby will satisfactorily pollinate plums.

Spacing – Apple trees should be spaced 20 – 25 feet apart; plums and apricots should be spaced 20 feet apart and Nanking and North Star cherries should be spaced 10 – 16 feet between rows, with the plants 4 – 8 feet apart in the row.

Planting Time – Plant bare-root stock as soon as the frost is out of the ground. Healthy bare-root planted trees will exhibit vigorous growth and establishment the first year. Potted nursery stock can be planted throughout the growing season. Dig a hole larger than the root spread of the tree to avoid crowding or bending the roots when planting bareroot trees. Take care to prevent loss of soil around the roots when removing the container at planting time and always remove containers before planting potted trees.

Grafts – Most fruit trees have a top grafted onto a rootstock. Place the graft on most fruit trees 1 – 2 inches above the soil level. Place the graft of apricots at least 4 inches below the soil level. Tamp firmly. Leave a depression around the tree and water thoroughly.

My sources for this news release were the South Dakota and North Dakota Cooperative Extension Services. If you would like more information about “Growing Your Own Fruit” contact Bob Drown @605-244-5222 Extension 109 or by e-mail at