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Selecting fruit trees

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By Tom Woods
Master Gardener
Soon you will begin to see containerized fruit trees at your garden center, nursery and co-op. There are many varieties, and you will be confronted with how to choose the right tree for you in your home landscape.
First, how do you determine if this particular tree will grow in your part of the state and how do you select the correct cultivar? The North Carolina Extension Services publication AG28 will help guide you through these choices. You can obtain a copy of this publication by contacting the Brunswick County Extension Services office at (910) 253-2610. This publication is full of information that will help you choose fruit trees best suited for this area.
Some apple cultivars well suited for this area of the coastal plain are Anna, a red apple that ripens in mid-June to early July, and Dorsett Golden, a yellow apple that also ripens in mid-June to early July. These two cultivars are also good cross-pollinators for each other. The AG28 publication includes information on other fruits like pears, peaches, plums and persimmons, as well as information on pecans and chestnuts. In addition to variety selection, AG28 also includes information on site selection, soil type and drainage, air drainage and nematodes. Take this publication with you when you visit the nursery to select a fruit tree.
Once you have selected the variety and the cultivar you want, you must select the specific tree from the stock that the nursery has available. Do not select the biggest tree and do not select the smallest tree. Both size extremes could indicate a problem; pick a tree that is in the middle of the size range available. The biggest tree is not a good choice because it could be root bound in the container, indicating that it has been in the container too long and therefore, may have trouble getting established. A large tree that is not root-bound may have been recently dug and placed in the container with most of the root system left in the field when it was dug. Again, this could create problems for you as you try to get the tree established in your yard. A small tree may have been containerized before it matured enough to be transplanted. Both are risky choices; play the odds and select an average size tree.
Which average size tree should you select? Look for a tree with good branch structure, no crossing branches and balanced distribution of limbs when viewed both from the side and from the top of the tree. Also check the bark for any indication of disease, soft discolored spots, or mechanical damage. If the publication indicates you need another cultivar for cross-pollination, use the suggested cultivars.
The tree has been selected; you are transporting it home and now all that is left is to plant and care for the tree until it produces fruit. Additional publications and guidance for caring for fruit trees can be obtained from the Brunswick County Extension Services office in Bolivia. Information is available on planting, pruning and caring for all varieties of fruit trees.
Send your gardening questions or comments to: Brunswick County Master Gardener Column, P.O. Box 109, Bolivia NC 28422, or call (910) 253-2610. Enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope if requesting information or a reply. Answers may be printed in this column.