With proper care, organic fruit trees produce just as much fruit as trees grown with conventional methods. Additionally, organic growing benefits pollinators, nourishes the soil, and supports balance with nature.
But when it comes to growing fruit trees organically, it seems like there are as many methods as there are varieties of fruit! With so many different approaches, it can be hard to know where to start.
Well, you’ve come to the right place. This guide has practical tips for how to care for fruit trees organically so you can spend less time researching and more time growing.
The First Step: Focus on Prevention
As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Keeping your organic fruit trees strong and healthy is the foundation for growing them successfully.
That’s because healthy trees can fight off pests and diseases much more easily than weak or stressed trees. And by preventing problems before they start, you’ll have less need for potentially harmful treatments later.
Opt for Disease-Resistant Varieties
When choosing an organic fruit tree, consider looking for disease-resistant varieties. A tree that’s resistant to fungal or bacterial problems like blight, rust, or scab can dramatically reduce the risk of your tree developing those diseases.
But wait, are disease-resistant varieties suitable for organic growing? Yes! Most disease-resistant varieties of fruit trees are developed the old-fashioned way with natural cross-breeding methods. They’re not created in labs with genetic modifications.
If your chosen variety doesn’t have disease resistance, that’s okay. By keeping your tree strong and healthy, you can still reduce the risk of disease. A resistant variety makes it that much easier.
Choose a Variety that’s Suited to Your Area
Growing fruit trees organically means working with nature.
Some trees can handle hot weather, while some can’t. Other varieties might be well suited to dry areas and still others need consistent moisture.
Planting a variety that’s not well suited to the climate where you live causes you to fight nature, which often results in a perpetually stressed tree. Stressed trees are more susceptible to developing problems with pests and diseases because they’re not strong enough to fight them off.
Know Your Zone
Use your USDA hardiness zone to help you determine what varieties are well-suited to your area.
If you do want to grow a variety that’s not ideal for your zone, consider planting your tree in a container. Many fruit trees grow well in containers, and potted trees can be moved indoors as needed to protect them from harsh weather.
Choose Your Planting Site Carefully
Organic fruit trees need plenty of room to grow. Choose a planting site with space for your tree to reach its full size.
Consider what else is planted nearby, and choose a location where your tree won’t compete with other plants for sunlight, water, or soil nutrients.
Ensure your planting site has good drainage to avoid problems with root rot. These steps set your tree up for success right from the start.
Helping Organic Fruit Trees Grow Strong and Healthy
Feed the Soil
Organic plants get the nutrients they need from the soil where they’re planted. Healthy soil = healthy trees.
As trees grow, they take up nutrients from the soil, so those nutrients need to be added back.
Add compost, aged manure, leaf mold, or other organic matter at least once a year to keep your soil healthy and full of nutrients. Organic fertilizer can be used as well.
Permaculture is the practice of growing multiple types of plants together.
In nature, many varieties of plants are found growing together in the same location. Permaculture in home gardens is designed to mimic this by creating a healthy and diverse mini-ecosystem in your garden or yard.
Having a variety of plants around your organic fruit trees attracts more beneficial insects, improves soil health, and keeps the ecosystem in balance.
Fertilizing Fruit Trees Organically
To improve yield, fertilize your fruit trees regularly.
Feeding the soil with compost and other organic matter is the first step but many fruit trees benefit from an extra boost of fertilizer as well.
The amount of fertilizer and frequency of application depends on the age of your tree, the particular variety you’re growing, and the type of fertilizer you use. Here are some types of organic fertilizers to consider.
Liquid fertilizers are applied to the base of the tree while watering or as a foliar spray.
Foliar spray fertilizers are applied directly on the leaves of your tree. The results of a foliar application are fast but often short-lived. This type of application can be a good option for quickly correcting a nutrient deficiency.
Granular fertilizer is applied around the base of the trees. Granular fertilizers are typically cheaper than liquid varieties. They can also be easier to use because you don’t have to dilute them first. Just apply the product directly to the soil.
Be Careful of Over-Fertilizing
Always follow the directions on your fertilizer and consider the age and size of your tree when applying. Over-fertilizing is possible, even with organic fertilizers, so be careful not to apply too much!
Caring for Fruit Trees Organically
Mulch is inexpensive, easy to apply, and does a lot for your trees.
Add mulch around the base of your fruit trees to keep moisture in, reduce weeds, reduce pest pressure, and add important nutrients back to the soil.
To keep it organic, use natural mulch such as compost, straw, leaf mold, well-aged manure, or arborist’s wood chips. These materials add nutrients to the soil over time.
Keep in mind that fresh wood chips take nitrogen from the soil as they break down. This can be detrimental to young trees especially. If using fresh woodchips, apply a layer of compost or other mulch first, then layer the wood chips on top.
Pruning is important to keep your tree strong, healthy, and growing well.
Removing extra branches keeps your tree healthy by improving airflow and increasing the amount of sunlight that can reach different areas of the tree. It also helps keep your tree a manageable size and encourages new growth.
This type of maintenance pruning is usually done during the winter while fruit trees are dormant.
Prune any dead or diseased branches as soon as you see them to avoid problems spreading to other parts of your tree.
Improper pruning can be highly damaging so take some time to learn proper pruning techniques for your variety of fruit trees, or hire a professional.
Traps are an excellent way to fight pests organically. Sticky traps and hanging traps are inexpensive and easy to find. They allow you to catch pests and remove them without using any harsh chemicals on your tree.
Remove Weeds and Fallen Fruit
Keep the area around your tree well-weeded. Weeds compete with organic fruit trees for nutrients and water. Grasses especially can use up a lot of water that should be going to your tree.
Remove fallen fruit regularly. These often contain pests that can spread. Fruit left to rot on the ground can attract even more pests.
At the end of the season, remove all fruit from the tree and the ground below to avoid creating a home for pests.
Keep an Eye on Your Trees
Even with the best possible care, organic fruit trees may still develop problems occasionally. Thankfully, nature lets us know what it needs if we pay attention and learn how to read the signs.
If you notice any spots, discoloration, curling leaves, visible holes, or other signs of trouble, pay attention and investigate to see what’s happening. Many concerns can be resolved quickly if you address the problem before it becomes a major issue.
Keeping an eye on your tree and dealing with problems takes time, but it’s worth it to keep your organic fruit tree growing strong and healthy.
Consider Organic Treatments If Needed
Many problems can be treated manually, such as removing diseased branches or using traps for pests. Other problems may need more treatment. Don’t be afraid to use organic treatments when necessary to treat problems like fungus or a more severe pest infestation.
There are many good options for treating problems organically, such as organic fungicides formulated without harsh chemicals, organic weed killers, and organic insecticides like neem oil.
Time to Start Growing Organic Fruit Trees!
Choosing to grow fruit trees organically doesn’t mean you have to settle for less. Growing an abundance of large, healthy fruit with 100% organic methods is possible.
Organic fruit trees require more hands-on care, but the rewards are worth the effort!
With Minneopa Orchards here to help, you don’t have to figure it out alone. We have resources to help you with all of your questions. From choosing a fruit tree variety to treating pests naturally and how to preserve the harvest, visit our Fruit Trees page for everything you need to know.