by Kathy Torres
Peaches have been grown in South Carolina since the 1860s and are designated as the official State Fruit. SC peach farmers grow over thirty varieties, ranking second in the United States (behind California) in production. Other than the occasional late frost and freeze that may occur, a peach tree is a good bet for your landscape, and there is nothing better than a ripe, juicy peach on a hot summer day. In addition to peach trees, many other fruiting plants and trees will flourish here in the midlands. You can enjoy beautiful, often fragrant, spring blooms, and fresh, delicious fruit from your own yard. Dwarf varieties even make it possible to harvest from a container on your patio!
There are a few basics you should be aware of if you are considering fruiting plants and trees…
POLLINATION: Most strawberry, raspberry, grape, blackberry, peach, nectarine, sour cherry and apricot varieties are self-fruitful, which means they do not need a pollinator. Generally, blueberries, pears, apples, plums and sweet cherries must have a different variety planted nearby to cross-pollinate and ensure a good harvest. Most citrus are self-pollinating (except tangerines). For more pollination information, check out the charts provided HERE.
CHILL HOURS are the minimum hours below 45 degrees F that a plant is exposed to during dormancy. Reaching the needed chill hours sets off the plant’s internal alarm clock to wake up in the spring instead of summer or fall, so that it can take advantage of the warm weather to blossom, set fruit, and finish the seed cycle before the coming of another winter’s nap. A fruit tree may grow well where winters are mild, but if there are not enough chill hours over the course of winter, the tree will not fruit properly. Some fruit trees need as few as 100 chill hours, others need as many as 1,000 chill hours or more. Average chill hours for Lexington are 370-490 according to AgroClimate.org.
- Peach scab is a fungus that attacks twigs, leaves and fruit of peaches, nectarines and apricots. Proper pruning that allows good air flow into the tree helps to prevent and manage the disease. The second step is application of fungicide sprays, from the time petals fall until about a month before harvest.
- Fire Blight is a bacterial disease that attacks apple, crabapple and pear trees. It’s best known for making leaves look like they’ve been burned. Treatment includes planting a resistant variety, avoiding high nitrogen fertilizers, and gathering and destroying fallen fruit, leaves and twigs. Copper and antibiotic sprays can also help control the disease.
- Suckers are stems that grow from the root system and steal nutrients from the main stems and branches. To remove suckers, dig down to find the origin, and cut it cleanly. Clip a sucker at soil level, and next year two or more stems will appear at that same location.
- Codling Moth, Aphids, Borers are three common pests that create problems for fruit trees. Treatment is necessary immediately to minimize the damage to tree and fruit.
The absolute best way to avoid issues with disease and pests is a preventive plan. Ask for Wingard’s Fruit Tree Care plan on your next visit and get ahead of potential problems.
TRAINING and PRUNING: Untrained and unpruned trees become entangled masses of shoots and branches that produce little or no fruit and harbor insects and diseases. Light pruning can be done throughout the growing season to remove broken, injured or diseased branches and to improve air circulation to control diseases. Major removal of twigs and branches should be done during the dormant season, before active growth begins in the spring. Clemson has a great Factsheet on training and pruning apple and pear trees HERE.
FERTILIZING: Spring is the best time for fertilizing fruit trees because spring is when trees need plenty of energy to push out new leaves and nurture baby fruit. Feed the trees before they break from dormancy, during bud-break, or during the growing season. If it’s July or August already – you’re too late – wait for next spring. It’s always a good idea to test the soil every 2 or 3 years to ensure the pH is right.
This blog is entitled Getting Started Growing Fruit because we have “touched” on some basics. There is really a lot to learn to be successful growing fruit, so continue to research and dive in to the subject. Check out Wingard’s blog on Growing Citrus in South Carolina HERE and these Clemson fact sheets that may be of interest:
Of course, the first order of business is to decide which fruits you love to eat and take it from there!
There’s Always Something Blooming at Wingard’s!