Do you have fruit trees? This one's for you. When growing fruit, consider many things about your climate and growing season. You can find information on the web, but try to keep your source of information local. Look for city or state websites. I recommend taking a class locally, making friends with people who have more experience, or connecting with older generations who can pass their knowledge down - and their family recipes are worth the effort! Another great idea is to check the options at your local college’s agricultural office (see Melissa’s article on Utilizing Your Local Agricultural College's Extension Office). Most gardeners are eager to talk shop and give you some ideas and share hard-earned lessons. Local advice is best as microclimates can make a difference; keep notes for your yard. You will be glad you did!
Create a plan for pruning year over year. Take photos and keep a log so you can save time and get right to the pruning when it’s time to do so. Learn what time of year is best for pruning for your area. How old is the growth that the tree will fruit on? How much sunlight needs to filter into the branches to support fruit? This will depend on your environment and the location of the tree. Most soft fruit trees will fruit on two years old and older growth. You will need to remove non-fruiting growth to make way for new fruiting branches. Pruning is essential and must happen every year. If you do not feel like you can, hire someone. It will pay off.
Keep Your Trees Fed and Watered
Most trees and most growth zones benefit from a good layer of mulch applied every year, fertilized in the spring. Pick a mulch higher in phosphorus and lower in nitrates. It would be best to have a test done on the soil and see a local expert. You want to give it good watering once a week (do not count on sprinklers for this). Try and make sure your tree is not sitting in water; it should be sitting in well-draining soil.
Keep an Eye Out
One of the most enjoyable parts of growing your tree is watching and caring for it as it blooms and starts to form fruit. Try and take a walk around your trees every day to keep an eye on your fruiting plan and be aware of sickness or pests. If a tree shows sap flow on its wood, take action as soon as you can. Take photos and head to your local garden experts for advice.
Thin Your Crop
Thinning is a vital part of the quality of fruit and the health of the tree. Pull budding fruit whenever you see any fruit closer together than 2-3 times the size of the mature fruit. This should let light and air in, promoting vigorous growth and well-ripened fruit. This also protects the branches from being weighed down before they are strong enough for a good tree structure.
Harvest Your Fruit
When you see the last green color on the new fruit is nearly gone, keep an eye on it. If you pick too soon, you will lose some of the sweetness. Pick one for a taste test, then wait to gather more until your tastebuds give you the go ahead. Sometimes one side of the tree is ready a day or two before the other side.
Storing Your Fruit
I recommend storing your fruit in a cool, dry, dark location. Find somewhere the temperature and humidity stays even day and night. Cook and eat your fruit as soon as you can. One bad fruit can take dozens more down fast. Frequent inspections with a turn (or moving) of the fruit is key to getting an extra day or two when trying to get cooking or canning done.