Growing Tips & Nursery FAQ
So you want to know more about perennial planting, growing fruit, and taking care of your trees! That’s great, and you’ve found your way to the right place. These are some of the questions we hear a lot, so if you hear yours in here, don’t worry – you’re not alone, and there are answers.
- What rootstock should I choose?
- How far apart can my trees be planted?
- What should I do when I plant my tree(s)?
- Why is my tree not leafing out?
- What’s wrong with my tree?
- When is it time to prune?
- Is it time to spray?
- When can I expect my tree to start producing fruit?
What rootstock should I choose?
When you’re choosing a rootstock, you want to think of it as the anchor for your tree. A heavy crop of fruit or a big wind storm could cause your tree to lean or fall over if it doesn’t have a good anchor. The larger the rootstock, the larger the root system. And that larger root system will create a better anchor for your tree, as well as help it access water and nutrients more easily and become more drought tolerant. A smaller root system will require permanent staking.
A larger rootstock will give your tree more “vigor”, though different varieties can also lend vigor characteristics to the tree. For example, a Jonagold or Gravenstein on a dwarf rootstock will be larger than a Honeycrisp on the same rootstock. With more vigor on a larger root system, a tree can grow above deer-browsing height, which will help protect it from getting nibbled. A riding mower can also easily pass under the tree.
Another consideration: on a larger rootstock it can be difficult to keep a tree smaller. It can be done, but it takes some learned pruning skill to work with the vigor of the tree. You can find more general information about rootstocks here. For information relating to a particular tree, check out this page.
How far apart can my trees be planted?
Trees should generally be spaced as far as they will be tall, based on the root system they’re on. It’s also nice to give a little more space between trees so it’s easier to move around when pruning and harvesting. For pollination purposes, you want trees that will pollinate each other to be planted within 100′. You can find more information about pollination, and specific trees, here.
What should I do when I plant my tree(s)?
First, think about creating a home for your tree – meaning that your tree needs to be able to live in the conditions you provide it. Check out your soil. Do you have heavy wet soil? Sandy soil? If you are bringing in or amending soil than do not mix more than 20% compost/nice soil into the backfill. If you add more that that, your tree might become rootbound, deciding it doesn’t want to leave this overly comfortable home for the reality of the soil around it. You can find more information about site selection and soil here.
Why is my tree not leafing out?
If you planted a dormant tree this season and it’s not leafing out as you think it should, the first thing to do is the scratch test. Scratch the bark and if the cambium is still green right under that first bark layer then the tree is still alive. If you haven’t pruned the tree yet then do it now – unless it’s a stone fruit and it is going to rain in the next 3 days, then wait until a drier weather window.
Pruning will stimulate dormancy break. New trees that are field grown have much of their root system cut off when dug for sale in the winter. If the top if the tree is large, then the tree will delay dormancy break until the root system is established to a point it can manage providing water and nutrient to the rest of the tree. If we balance the top of the tree (by pruning) with the root system, then it will be able to manage caring for less top growth and will push that growth sooner.
Sometimes field grown plants are dug in winter and cold stored in coolers before being put out for sale which will also delay dormancy break. Remember if that cambium is still green, the tree is still alive, just waiting for the right moment it is ready to open itself to the world.
What’s wrong with my tree?
Send us a photo of the issue in question at email@example.com. We also recommend pnwhandbooks.org, one of the best regional resources for diagnosing and treating pest and diseases.
When can I expect my tree to start producing fruit?
Fruit production has a lot to do with pruning. We recommend pruning of all fruit the first year of planting. The following year, prune off most of the fruit. By the third or fourth year, you can start letting your tree produce fruit. Your patience will pay off! Remember to always thin, both for fruit quality and the shape of the tree.
Ripening fruit takes a lot of energy from the tree. The goal for the first year of planting your tree is to get that root system well-established. The root system is basically the immune system of your tree; it has to provide everything the tree needs from the earth. If you let a tree bear fruit the first year, it may take so much energy from the tree that it will stunt its growth and production the following year.
In general, a smaller root system will produce a mature crop sooner than the larger root system.
When is it time to prune?
Pome fruit- apples, pears, quince- can be pruned both while dormant, or while actively growing. Winter, or dormant season pruning allows you to see the framework of the tree.
Stone fruit- peaches, cherries, plums, apricots- are best pruned after breaking dormancy. Pruning just after bloom allows you to still see the tree’s structure, but lowers the risk of bringing the tree out of domancy by pruning. Most stone fruit can be pruned right through harvest. For stone fruit, always prune during dry weather, at least 48 hours of no rain after making pruning cuts. This allows the pruning cuts to naturally heal and lowers the risk of infection.
Is it time to spray?
Be sure you know what you are spraying for and be sure it is the right time. Seasonal weather often dictates when certain pests will emerge. Spraying to prevent disease, spraying to control pests. Often by the time you notice a disease issue it is too late to do much other than cutting out the infected areas. Pests and diseases can build resistance to pesticides. It is important to not over use them and to use them appropriately. Always follow the instructions on the label of the product you are using. Here is more information on disease management for your orchard.
These growing tips articles were written for Pacific Northwest Gardeners, but much of the information will be relevant for gardeners in other climates as well.
- Learn to Grow Fruit Trees– Getting started right with fruit and nut trees in the first 3 years
- Learn to Grow Perennial Fruit Shrubs, Vines, and Cane Fruit– Getting started right with fruiting shrubs, including blueberries, gooseberries, kiwis and cane fruit.
- Planting Plants – Basic Information on planting balled and burlapped, bareroot, or container grown plants.
Pruning & Training
- Apple Pruning – Pruning and training apples to central leader form. Includes information on open center form trees as well.
- Pear Pruning and Training – Pruning and training pear trees as open center trees
- Pruning Dwarf Cherries – Focusing on pruning and training dwarf cherries as a Spanish bush system.
- Training UFO Sweet Cherries – Training Sweet Cherries to a Upright Fruiting Offshoot System
- Espalier Your Fruit Trees – Train your fruit trees to espalier; create a living fruit fence.
- Disease and Pest Management – Pest management through the seasons for backyard orchards in the Pacific Northwest
- Suggestions for Pest Problems – Grid layout of pest problems in home orchards, and a range of solutions.
- Organic Fruit Growing for Homeowner – Growing organic and organic pest management
- Pear Trellis Rust and other Pear Problems– How to recognize and deal with pear trellis rust, pearleaf blister mite, pear sawfly (pear slug) and pseudomonas dieback.
- Verticillium Wilt – Symptoms and Solutions – A common root disease in the Pacific Northwest, causing decline of numerous species. Tips on diagnosing symptoms, and how to choose plants that are resistant if verticillium is present.
Growing Specific Fruits
- Growing Apples – From planting to pruning, fruit management to harvest.
- Growing Apricots – Site selection and culture of a challenging fruit tree for the Pacific Northwest
- Growing Cherries– Site selection, pruning & training methods and disease management for sweet and tart cherries.
- Growing Peaches – Pruning and disease management for peaches in our maritime climate.
- Growing Pears– From planting to pruning to harvesting, all about pears in our climate.
- Growing Plums and Prunes – Initial planting and pruning guide for plums and prunes, along with basic disease control information.
- Growing Nut Trees in the Pacific Northwest – Best types of nut trees, requirements for growing, disease and pest issues, and pruning tips.
- Growing Figs in the Pacific Northwest – Tips on planting and pruning figs for best cropping in a maritime climate.
- Growing Blueberries – Site selection, planting tips, disease and pest problems, and pruning information for Northwest gardens.
- Growing Currants and Gooseberries – Tips for site selection, pruning, and disease and pest management.
- Growing Cane Fruit – Planting, trellising, and pruning raspberries and blackberries.
- Growing Kiwis – Site selection, hardy vs. fuzzy types, trellis construction, and cultural needs of kiwis in the Northwest.
- Growing Strawberries – Planting and growing both June bearing and day-neutral or everbearing varieties of strawberries.
- Growing Table and Dessert Grapes in Cooler Climates – Site selection, cultivar selection, and training methods for growing great grapes for eating in our cool maritime climate.
- Growing Wine Grapes in Cooler Climates – Focus on mainly wine grapes for the Pacific Northwest: site selection, cultivar selection, training and pruning tips. Some table grape tips, too.
- Edible and Sustainable Landscaping – Use food producing plants and plants for beneficials to create an ornamental, productive landscape.
- Encouraging Pollinators in a Home Orchard – Companion planting suggestions for orchards to encourage year round habitat for pollinators and other beneficial insects.
- Gardening with PNW Natives – Choosing the right native plants for the right spot in your landscape
- Create a Backyard Sanctuary – Using plants to attract birds, butterflies, and beneficial insects to your garden.
- Living with Deer – How to garden in areas with deer
- Growing Asparagus – How to plant and grow asparagus from crowns
- The Locavore’s Garden – Basic vegetable gardening information for Pacific NW gardens
- Growing Vegetables for Fall & Winter Harvest – In our mild climate, you can grow vegetables nearly year round. Timing of plantings is key, and choosing winter hardy varieties.
- Seed Starting Tips – Grow your own transplants!
- Building a Home Hoop House – Build a 10’ wide by 20’ long hoop house at home to successfully grow heat loving crops.
- Growing in Hoop houses – Using tunnels and hoop houses to extend the growing season in the Pacific Northwest. Construction ideas, growing tips, and resources for materials is included.
- Plants for Problem Places – Salt Spray – Plants that work for seacoast plantings where salt spray is a problem
- Plants for Problem Places – Wet Soil – Plants that thrive in soil that stays wet all year, and may at times be flooded.
- Plants for Problem Places – Dry Soil – Drought tolerant plants for gardens without irrigation
- Plants for Problem Places – Shade – Plants that thrive in partial to full shade and bring color to the garden.
- Growing Conifers – Choosing conifers, growth habits and pruning tips.
- Growing Hydrangeas – Tips on planting and growing hydrangeas, including pruning of different hydrangea groups
- Growing Japanese Maples – Site selection, cultural needs, and problems common in Japanese Gardens in the Pacific Northwest.
- Growing Rhododendrons – Site selection, culture, and tips on choosing rhododendrons for Pacific Northwest Gardens.
More Fun Information
- Favorite Fall Fruit Recipes– Old staff favorites and new ideas for using the abundance of fall fruit in your garden.
- Preserving the Harvest – A basic overview of techniques for preserving fruits and vegetables from your garden.
- Harvesting and Storing Fall Fruit – How to judge when to pick apples and pears for optimal storage, plus other ideas to preserve the fall harvest.
- Growing in Containers – Focusing on woody and perennial plants in containers.
- Basics of Hard Cider Making at Home – Get starting turning your extra apples into a great adult beverage. Equipment, procedure, and tips about what apples work best are all included.
- Summer Chip Bud Propagation How we propagate and grow fruit trees at Cloud Mountain.
- Gifts from the Kitchen – Using fruits to create special preserves, vinegars, liqueurs, and preserves, perfect for holiday gifts.
- Winter Damaged Plants – How to tell if your plants have winter damage, and what to do about it.
Rootstock & Pollination
For decades, Cloud Mountain has utilized our orchards, fields, and vineyards for on-farm variety trials, research, and specialty crop market development. Our crop development evaluations and production trials serve two primary goals:
- to increase and diversify sustainable crop production strategies for organic farmers in Western Washington
- to evaluate and develop organic cropping systems for high value crops that are not typically grown in Western Washington
Beyond our on-farm trials, we support efforts regionally and locally to create resilient, scalable, and efficient production systems that build a vibrant local food economy. Explore our guide to scaling up for wholesale vegetable production in NW Washington here.