Have you ever tasted a fully tree-ripened peach? It's much tastier than those you buy at the store or even at a roadside stand, because peaches sold at the market are picked before they're fully ripe -- a necessity in avoiding spoilage. If you grow your own, you know that peaches gain as much as 300 percent in quality during the last few days of maturation on the tree.
Besides providing a lot of good eating, a properly cared-for fruit garden can pay dividends in money saved. Of course, there's some work involved, but it need not be burdensome, especially if you plant dwarf trees of peach, apple and pear. (Cherry trees are for the birds -- the small red fruits are so attractive and accessible to our feathered friends that it is next to impossible to protect them.)
Up until a short time ago, pears were not recommended because of their susceptibility to the fire-blight disease, but a new variety, Improved Bartlett, appears to have considerable resistance. The fruit has tremendous quality -- it is buttery, very juicy and highly flavored. You might make inquiries locally, or contact Bountiful Ridge Nursery, Princess Anne, Md. 21583 (phone 301/651-0400) for a free catalogue.
The fruit of drawf fruit trees is not only easy to pick, but the trees are also easy to prune and spray (and regular spraying is required for apples and peaches, which are prey to worms). Dwarf trees usually bear fruit the second year and often set more fruit than the tree can possibly mature. Thinning is necessary to obtain good size and quality.
All apple varieties require cross-pollination (plant at least two varieties) to produce a good crop of fruit; the same is true of pears but not of peaches.
While newly planted trees will frequently have little or no growth for three or four years, this need not be the case. There are ways to encourage young trees to grow much faster than they ordinarily would.
First, plant the tree properly. Do not plant it too deep or the roots will have trouble getting oxygen. Plant it 1 or 2 inches higher than it was growing before to make allowances for settling.
Do not use a special soil mix to fill the hole after the tree has been put in it. Research has shown that roots have trouble penetrating the different kinds of soil.
It used to be considered a must to prune the top of the tree to compensate for the roots left behind when it was dug. But it has been discovered that the unpruned tree will recover and grow much faster than if it had been pruned.
If the tree is planted on the lawn, eliminate grass from a 12-foot circle around it so that the tree roots won't have to fight grass roots to spread and to get water and nutrients.
Don't prune the tree any more than necessary the first few years except to correct structural defects.A young tree left unpruned except for dead wood will grow faster than if it is pruned at any time by any method.
If there is danger that wind blowing against the tree loosen the roots in the soil, stake the tree until it is fairly well established.
While a well-established tree is able to go through an extended period of drought without suffering much damage, the newly planted tree has not yet developed an adequate root system. Keep the tree watered during dry weather the first three or four years.
Fertilize the young tree in the spring if it made less than 4 to 6 inches of twig growth the previous year. Give the tree 5 to 10 pounds of 10-6-4 fertilizer, applied with a spreader from a foot beyond the tree trunk to about 2 feet beyond the spread of the branches.