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Backyard fruit trees grow in popularity locally

Friday, October 1, 2010
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— As with vegetable gardens, having a few fruit trees in the yard allows homeowners to grow some of their own food, which has become a popular trend, according to local experts.

Doug Eaton of Bob's Trees in Galway said interest in apple, pear, cherry and other fruit trees has increased in the past five or 10 years as homeowners look to supplement the food they buy.

"I think it has something to do with the economy and people wanting to be more efficient with their money," he said. "But growing things to eat is also a great family activity and I see more people getting back to simple activities they can do with their children."

Chuck Schmitt, resource educator with Cornell Coooperative Extension in Albany County, agrees with Eaton.

"We're seeing a lot more people starting with gardens and then stepping up to fruit trees ," he said. "Our master gardeners get 6,000 calls a year from local people wanting help with gardens, trees and even house plants."

He said the weather in the region can be perfect for fruit trees , vines and bushes, but some years are not as good as others. "This year we had a great growing season," he said. "We had good temperatures, but we could have used a little more rain in August."

He said gardeners who watered their plants and trees have been rewarded with high yields.

Kerry Mendez is a landscaping consultant who deals mostly with perennial plants. She said as she goes into yards in the region, she has noticed a lot more fruit trees , especially peach trees .

"I think some people have been intimidated by the idea of pruning and whether the trees would get too big, but a lot of homeowners seem to be more willing to try lately," she said. "The fruit trees go a lot with the whole idea of edible gardening."

She said she has many flower beds on her property, but last year she decided to plant a couple of fruit trees herself.

"I bought an apple tree and a pear tree for my own yard but I didn't know whether they would produce anything," she said. "I was very surprised and pleased when the pear tree had tiny fruit this year."

She said the trees are espaliered, or flat trees , meant to grow against a wall or fence and therefore take up very little space.

"To be honest, I grew them because I thought people visiting my gardens would find them interesting, I was really happy to get pears," she said. "The apple tree hasn't done anything, yet."

slow start

Eaton, of Bob's Trees , said it's not unusual for a tree to take some time to produce a significant amount of fruit .

He said fall is the perfect time to plant fruit trees , but don't wait too long.

"Waiting until November isn't really recommended," he said. "Some of the mistakes in planting the tree include planting too deeply or not making the hole big enough to let the root spread out."

He said a little organic fertilizer and lots of water are recommended immediately after the tree is planted.

"Most of the trees being offered now are semi-dwarf varieties so they don't take up much room. If they flower and are pollinated the spring after they are planted, you can expect some fruit . Just don't expect a lot at first," Eaton said.

Sam Yachup is a volunteer master gardener with Cooperative Extension in Albany County and he does a great deal of backyard growing, including a number of fruit trees . He said he moved into his New Scotland home on five acres in 1999 and since then he has been adding trees and garden rows as his main hobby.

"This was a wonderful year for fruit ," he said.

He said peach trees died out after about 10 years, so a landowner who wants a steady crop of peaches should plant a tree or two every couple of years.

"I have four trees that are quite young, a couple that are 6 and two that are about 8 years old," he said. "You have to stagger the plantings or be willing to wait when the old one dies off."

He said he lives near an apple orchard and so he hasn't planted any apple trees , but he has a wide variety of raspberry plants and about 30 grape vines.

"We just grow for ourselves and friends. If we have a bad year, we have a bad year.It's really just a hobby," he said.

Bill Schwerd, the executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension in Saratoga County, said dwarf variety of trees are a good fit for small yards.

"There is a great interest in fruit trees and our experts urge homeowners to buy from local growers who will have stock that can handle our cold temperatures," he said. "There are a lot of new varieties that are easier to grow and produce very tasty fruits ."

 
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