Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Grow a Little Fruit Tree

Grow a Little Fruit Tree is the name of a book by Ann Ralph which has intrigued me for some three years.  It was published about the same time that we purchased our current house and I began dreaming about a new garden.  I was obsessed with the idea of a potager and designed something as close as I could get for the front of the house.

But that's the subject of a future post...back to fruit trees.  One of the elements of a potager is fruit trees.  Peaches are my favorite fruit, for eating and for cooking.  My father moved here last year from a little farm in Arkansas where he had a fruit orchard.  To help him feel at home, we planted six fruit trees in his backyard in High Point Terrace last spring.  I had told him about the Little Fruit Tree (LFT) technique, but he's 87 years old and told me that he trusted his way and didn't want to experiment. I understand.  However, one of his six trees was a little misformed - the runt, if you will - and he "graciously" designated it as my tree and told me that I could do what I wanted with it.  So I used the LFT method on it and it has performed as well as his "normal" trees, which have been fantastic.

We bought Daddy's trees from Willis Orchard Company in Cartersville, GA and were so pleased that I went back to them for mine.  I did some research and decided on one each of Redskin, Elberta, and Belle of Georgia.  These are all self pollinators and they have successive maturation dates.  I ordered 4-5' bareroot trees for spring delivery.  Imagine my surprise when I was notified that they would arrive last week!  It's not spring in my mind, but the fruit trees are budding and Willis said that if they delayed shipment until mid-March, they couldn't guarantee success.

So on they came.  We weren't able to plant them until last Sunday at which time I was down with a bad cold, so Daddy and Walter came to my rescue.  The lead photo shows them working on the second tree - that's Walter digging and Daddy supervising!

Now for the Little Fruit Tree part.  The LTF theory is that standard size trees are hardier than dwarf varieties.  Unfortunately, standard size trees very quickly grow past the ability of the average home gardener to prune them effectively.  So LTF uses an aggressive pruning schedule to keep the trees 5-6 feet tall, which most amateurs can handle without a ladder.  Let me give you an example.

Here is my Redskin peach tree before the initial LTF pruning:

Nice, right?

Here it is after the hard heading cut recommended by LTF:

I know you're gasping.  The tree is now about 24" high.  The idea is that the buds below the cut and above the graft will produce new branches which will eventually be pruned into a new scaffolding for the tree.

I'll keep you updated on this experiment.  And if you pay attention to the photo background, you'll get a little tease of the potager design!  The before and after of the other two trees:

Elberta - before
Elberta - after
Belle of Georgia - before
Belle of Georgia - after

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