Here are ten tips for planting fruit trees in Asheville and Western North Carolina. Although our climate is excellent for growing many types of fruit trees and shrubs, there are quite a few challenges involved. We have a lot of disease pressure, spring is a yo-yo with the weather, and the soil is about as heavy as it gets. That said, this area grows a lot of fruit, especially apples.
If you haven’t made the trip to some of the orchards around Hendersonville, do yourself a favor this fall and check it out. They produce some of the best apples I’ve ever had. I’m always sad when the last one is gone and I have to start buying grocery store apples again.
Henderson County is the number one apple producer in the state, producing 85% of the apples grown in NC and over $22 million annually in sales*. The apple festival in Hendersonville every year is so packed that it’s hard to move in the streets. Even the kinds you think you don’t like so much are fantastic when you get them in season straight from a local orchard.
Even more fantastic is going out the back door and picking them straight from your own trees.
Here are 10 things you should know before planting fruit trees in Asheville and WNC:
- Standard rules apply as for growing most other things, only more so. Fruit trees like lots of sun, rich, well-draining soil, and space for air to circulate freely. This probably means that you need to amend and break up your soil when you plant, keep it mulched, and prune your trees yearly.
- If you buy bare-root, plant them in mid to late spring after the danger of a hard freeze has passed. For container-grown plants you can plant anytime from fall to spring. Avoid the summer, when the heat can stress them.
- Be very careful about online shopping, especially if it seems like a deal. Shipping soil gets very expensive, so if it’s not, that means not many roots. Not good. Best case scenario is that you have to wait to get fruit for 3-5 years.
- Look for disease-resistant rootstocks and varieties. Geneva rootstock tends to be resistant to fireblight, the worst nasty for apple trees. Geneva rootstock will give your roots some protection, but you still have to keep an eye on the tree and cut out those areas if necessary. Best case for apples is a resistant variety on Geneva rootstock, like Empire or Liberty.
- Pay attention to growers in your area. If they are growing a type of tree most likely you’ll be able to grow it too.
- Watch out for Junipers! Upright Junipers (native red cedar) host cedar-apple fungus, which requires both apple (or another plant in the rosacea family) and a Juniper to complete its life cycle. If possible, keep your apples a few hundred yards away from any upright Junipers.
- If you want some extra insurance against the nasties, spray with a fungicide, especially the first season or two while it’s getting established. Immunox is the easiest to use and most available to homeowners. Start with the program right at bud break in March/Early April and follow the instructions for your particular plant.
- Look for later flowering varieties, especially if you are up in the higher elevations. Those late frosts can really hurt your feelings.
- Fertilize with a slow-release fertilizer in early spring. Slow-release is much more expensive, but it’s by far the safest, easiest way to make sure your plants get enough nutrients the entire growing season.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. If your livelihood doesn’t depend on your trees and fruit being picture-perfect, don’t worry too much about a blemish here and there. Most of the issues that pop up don’t do lasting damage to the tree. The biggest issue is usually a late frost, which you can’t do much about anyway. If the frost gets those flowers, remember that at least the plant gets to put more of its energy into getting nice and established for the next year.
Fruit trees and shrubs take a little extra effort to thrive in Asheville, but it’s well worth it. Choose disease-resistant varieties if possible (especially fireblight), site them well, and give them lots of love at planting time.
Fruit plants are an investment. Don’t spend all that money on plants and then skimp on the soil amendments and effort to plant it right. Use a soil conditioner to break up the soil nice and wide around the plant, sprinkle a little fertilizer all around the canopy (if it’s in spring), and tuck it in with at least 3” of a good fine bark mulch.
For a handy dandy chart on apple diseases; click here.
We get two big fruit deliveries from Central TN, the nursery capital of the US- one in spring and one in fall. Click here to see our current inventory.