Fruit trees are a beautiful (and delicious) addition to a yard – and spring is the perfect time to plant them. But not all fruit trees grow perfectly everywhere, so it’s important to know which trees to choose based on the climate and soil conditions in Northern Virginia.
We recommend three trees that are perfect for NOVA.
One of the most popular fruit trees to grow in Virginia, apple trees are ideal because of our long summers and mild fall weather. The most successful varieties to plant in Virginia include Gala, Golden Delicious, Winesap and Fuji.
There are a number of things to keep in mind when planting and caring for your apple trees:
Knowing your soil: Fertile soil is essential when growing apple trees, so it’s a good idea to test your soil before planting. You’ll want the pH to be somewhere around a 6.0-7.0. Make sure to avoid areas where the soil is wet or heavy with clay.
Choose your location: Apple trees need full sun – at least six to eight hours during the growing season. It’s also important to consider cross-pollination. Because insects and wind need to carry the pollen between trees, plant them within 50 feet of each other to ensure adequate cross-pollination. Also make sure there aren’t any obstructions such as wires, cables, pipes or utility lines nearby.
Planting your trees right: Apple trees need a hole wide and deep enough to give the root system plenty of room to grow. Add nutritious topsoil at the bottom of the hole and a layer of organic mulch over the top of the hole.
Maintain your trees: Water your apple trees regularly and renew the mulch periodically. Resist the temptation to over-prune. Just remove broken, misplaced or dead branches. Because apples are prone to pests and diseases, you’ll want to establish a routine of spray treatment.
Harvesting apples: Depending on the variety, you can expect to pick fruit from July through early November. Pick when the apple is no longer green and it easily parts from the branch. Cup it in your hand, twist slightly and lift, making sure not to yank on the apple.
We all love seeing decorative cherry blossoms in the spring but you can enjoy the fruit-bearing variety too! Sweet cherries grow best here and are the variety you usually find in the supermarket. Look for Windsor, Hudson and Napoleon varieties.
There are several things to keep in mind when growing cherry trees:
Soil: It’s best to use deep, well-drained soil so that the tree’s roots never sit in water. A light, sandy soil is ideal for cherry trees. You can have a pH of 5.5 to 8.0 for these trees, though 6.5 is ideal.
Location: You’ll definitely need cross-pollination for your sweet cherries to grow, so plant in groups of three minimally. Choose a spot with plenty of sun (six to eight hours a day) and good circulation – steering clear of buildings or other trees that provide shade.
Planting: Make sure to space dwarf trees 5 to 10 feet apart, and standard sizes 35 to 40 feet apart. Follow the same steps as you would for planting apple trees.
Maintenance: Before your trees bear fruit, you should fertilize each spring. After that, only fertilize after harvest season. Apply mulch to retain moisture and consider using netting to protect the cherries from birds. Make sure to prune the trees in late winter to encourage further wood growth. Avoid pruning them in the fall.
Harvesting: It can take four years for cherry trees to bear fruit. When they do, make sure to pick the cherries only when they are fully ripe (a nice, dark red). You’ll want to harvest them within a week, eating or cooking them immediately.
Pear trees also do quite well in Virginia – both European and Asian varieties. Early Golden, Orient, Harrow Delight and Seckel grow especially well here. Pears tend to be less susceptible to pests and disease than apples.
Keep these things in mind when planting your pear trees:
Soil: Pear trees are a little more forgiving as far as pH than apple trees – they can tolerate between a 5.0 and 7.5. Like most fruit trees, you’ll want to use a well-draining, light soil.
Location: Pear trees are not self-pollinating, so it’s a good idea to plant several near each other – using at least two varieties if possible. They need full sunlight – at least six to eight hours a day.
Planting: Like apple trees, dig a hole that’s wide and deep enough for the roots to grow. Space dwarf trees 12 to 15 feet apart, and standard-sizes 20 to 25 feet apart. Use a sturdy post to stake your trees to help them grow straight and withstand wind damage. Water your trees once or twice a week to make sure the roots become established.
Maintenance: It’s important to start pruning your pear trees early. Choose three to five branches with outward growth and prune the rest. To encourage growth on the remaining branches, trim off the ends. Use mulch, 2-3 inches deep, and three feet around the base of your trees.
Harvest: Pear trees can take 3-10 years to begin producing fruit. Your first crop will likely be small and inedible, but they are worth the wait. Harvest pears when they’re mature but still hard – ripening them at room temperature.
Northern Virginia is a good place for fruit trees. In addition to apple, pear and cherry, you could also try your hand at fig, peach, nectarine or plum. As long as you put in the time and care necessary, you should be able to raise attractive trees with wonderful fruit. And if you ever need assistance or planting help, Epling’s expert services are always available.