Stone Fruit: Growing Fruit Trees

Learn how to get the most from peach, apricot, plum and cherry trees.

| January/February 2012

Treats like peach cobbler, apricot tarts, plum crisp, nectarine melba, and, my-oh-my, homemade cherry pie help make up the fabric of our culture. Fresh, preserved, or made into delectable desserts, stone fruits have been part of our diet since early homesteaders brought them to America in colonial times.

As the country grew, the quest for new varieties and higher yields led to pomology, the study of fruit production and the first specialized branch of horticulture in America. Until then, not even agriculture was a science distinct from the all-encompassing broad field of horticulture.

You don’t have to be a pomologist, homesteader or full-time orchardist to grow stone fruit. Whether it’s one apricot tree in the backyard or a cherry mini-orchard, growing fruit trees can be a satisfying hobby providing healthy, homegrown fruit for your family while enhancing your landscape. Just imagine walking out your door to the beauty of cherry trees in full bloom or the sweet fragrance of peach blossoms, or experiencing the warm juice of a sun-ripened nectarine dripping from your chin.

Growing fruit trees

A wide selection of stone fruit cultivars range from new to the heirloom variety your great-grandmother grew. While the heirlooms are often considered more flavorful, the modern varieties are generally more disease resistant. But don’t get out Great-Grandma’s famous peach cobbler recipe or set out your roadside fruit stand just yet. Before those visions of sugar plums start dancing in your head, please realize that growing fruit trees takes work and can be a challenge to even the most experienced gardener.

The life span of fruit trees is typically 12 to 60 years. Stone fruits tend to be on the lower end of that range, with peaches and plums having the shortest life spans. Stone fruits aren’t as winter hardy as other trees, and they are susceptible to insect and disease problems.

The trees are generally hardy in Zones 4 to 9, but peaches, sweet cherries and apricots aren’t dependable fruit producers below USDA Hardiness Zone 5. Fruiting wood and flower buds of peaches and nectarines are vulnerable to winter cold damage. Apricot trees are better able to withstand cold winters, but because they bloom in early spring, frost often results in the tree failing to develop fruit.

2/11/2012 3:42:54 PM

Your assumption is understandable, T Brandt. There are novelty-type fruit trees that are labeled 'dwarf patio' or just 'patio' trees. Patio peaches are an example; some produce fruit while others are strictly ornamental, or produce poor quality fruit and little of it. Then there are ornamental cherries and plums varieties that are dwarfs. Always read the plant label to know what you're getting. Reputable nurseries and garden centers will have these types of trees labeled as ornamentals and not have them in the same section as fruit trees.

2/10/2012 11:28:38 PM

Thanks for this informative article. I was planning on planting a few fruit trees this year. I had always assumed dwarf varieties were just for show. Now I'll have to reconsider.

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