Spring typically is associated with planting, but fall is a perfect time to plant fruit trees.
Selections vary, but a wide variety of dwarf fruit trees are available to the home gardener. Choose a tree whose main stem is at least a half-inch in diameter, with three to five evenly spaced branches, 2 feet above the graft union (the swollen area where the rootstock meets the main stem). The tree should be pyramid in shape and at least a year old.
Plant the tree in a well-drained soil high in organic matter. Have a soil test performed and adjust accordingly.
Trees need six to eight hours of full sunlight each day, so place trees away from structures a distance equal to two-thirds of their mature height. If the tree is planted in a lawn area, keep the grass from growing right up to the trunk because heavily watered lawns can cause the trunk to rot and die. Leave at least a 1-foot area around the tree free from grass to avoid this problem.
Dig a hole large enough to give the roots spreading room. Restricted roots slow growth and cause trees to produce fewer blossoms. Spread the roots while placing the tree into the hole, backfill and tamp down, allowing the graft union to be 2 to 3 inches above the soil. Water the tree to a depth of at least 12 to 18 inches. Make a well around the base of the tree and apply mulch.
Nutrients are needed for proper growth. A fertilizer higher in phosphorous and potassium should be used at planting time to ensure proper root and stem growth. You won’t see any evidence of growth during the fall because all energies are going into the root system. Once established, a good, balanced fertilizer high in nitrogen can be applied, but avoid overfeeding, as it can cause excessive growth and low blossom production. Therefore, apply a minimum amount of fertilizer in early spring and a supplemental feeding in early summer.
Water trees thoroughly every other week. Water-stressed fruit trees produce damaged fruit.
Pruning should take place at planting time, too. Cut back the top of the tree by one-third and remove all weak side branches. Not pruning at planting time leads to weak new growth.
Pollination is required for a tree to produce fruit. Many apple trees cannot produce fruit from their own pollen. For that reason, plant two varieties next to each other to ensure pollination. Sweet cherry trees, such as Bing and Napoleon do not pollinate each other, either, so plant them with a sour cherry like Montgomery to ensure successful pollination.
All-purpose fruit tree spray should be used periodically to control insects and disease. Follow the label for instructions on when and how to apply.