Heirloom Expert: Growing Fruit Organically

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Photo by Fotolia/leekris
It does take some extra work to grow organic fruit trees, but it's completely doable.

I’ve had a terrible time growing fruit trees. Much of the fruit looks terrible and I don’t want to use chemicals to treat the trees. Can they be grown organically?—Sara from New York

A friend once told me “peaches will break your heart.” He also added, “You’ll never be able to grow fruit trees without chemicals.”

He was right about the heartbreak, but wrong about the chemicals. I grow lots of organic peaches for the groundhogs! Like raccoons and corn, the groundhogs seem to get most of the peaches the day before I’m ready to pick.

In our climate in the east, peach blossoms succumb to frost about every other season, sometimes more. No blossoms means no fruit for those years, but that has nothing to do with the trees being organic. It’s also a testament to the joy of fresh peaches that gardeners are willing to wait until the stars align to pick the fruit.

Some of the keys to growing fruit trees organically include putting them on spraying regime of safe products to battle disease and insects, using proper pruning techniques, other organic pest controls and good cultural practices.

Pruning is done when the trees are dormant in late winter. Hopefully a local grower will hold a pruning class, that’s the best way to learn. I was taught by one close to home and he taught me there’s no reason to have an apple tree where you can’t reach the apples. That makes good sense, doesn’t it?

Dormant oil is also applied around the same time. It smothers over-wintering insects.

Fungal issues can be problematic for fruit trees find a good organic fungicide like Serenade which will control the disease but not hurt the environment.

There are lots of pheromone traps to deal with the usual pests depending on what type of tree you’re growing. Be sure to clean up dropped fruit and leaves as they can be home to pests and diseases.

If a new orchard is in the works, choose disease resistant trees. Many varieties have been bred to fight off the normal problems affecting older varieties. Growing fruit trees organically can be done, but it’s not easy. Nothing worthwhile usually is.

Mother Earth Gardener
Mother Earth Gardener
Expert advice on all aspects of growing.