Rethink the home orchard

Usually, in this column, I encourage people to grow things, and give some tips that will help them be successful.

Today, however, I am going to suggest you not grow a group of plants. And those are fruit trees in your back yard.

Many of us have a romanticized notion of going out to the fruit tree on a dewy morning, and picking a delicious piece of fruit. Reality, however, often makes that dream more of an annoyance. Why? I'll comment on the problems with growing several kinds of fruit in the Rogue Valley, and hopefully you will see my logic.

Apricots and cherries — both of these trees need light soil — they do not do well in clay, of which we have an abundance. Our typical cold, wet, springs encourage bacterial canker, which infects the branches and twigs. In addition, those cold springs often include a late freeze. You can count on getting a crop every three to five years.

We are now seeing the invasion of the spotted wing drosophila, an insect that is particularly fond of cherries, as is the Western cherry fruitfly. Since cherry trees don't dwarf, it makes them hard to spray and prune, too.

Peaches and nectarines both get peach leaf curl, a disease that requires a rigorous spray schedule. They, too, prefer a lighter soil and warmer spring weather than we have to offer.

Apples and pears both are subject to damage from the coddling moth. These trees require at least four spray treatments a year. And keep in mind that, because of commercial orchard production of these fruits, you are required by law to spray your backyard pear or apple trees, in order to help control this pest.

Many people are disappointed in the apple varieties that grow here, as our winters do not get cold enough to give the chill required by some of the most desirable apples, such as McIntosh, Haralson, and Honeycrisp.

Although plums may tolerate our heavy soil, they, too, are often victims of bacterial canker, and are difficult to manage because of their tendency to produce lots of suckers and water sprouts. Our season is too short to reliably raise good figs — they seldom ripen properly.

I have mostly mentioned disease, pest, and soil problems here, but I must also include the fact that all fruit trees need yearly pruning. You'll either need a tall ladder and good balance, or you'll need to hire someone to do the task for you.

And don't forget about the harvest. Pears and apples, especially, need very specific temperature and humidity conditions for storage. Be prepared, too, for all the critters that will be attracted by your fallen fruit, unless you are diligent about keeping it picked up.

So what is a person to do? It is undoubtedly cheaper, in the long run, to buy your fruit raised by someone local, who has the equipment and know-how for tending to an orchard, not just a tree or two. There are many U-pick opportunities in the Rogue Valley, if that appeals to you.

My other suggestion: Raise grapes and berries! Grapes, strawberries, boysenberries and their cousins, and raspberries all are quite easy to grow. Blueberries, with a little special care, work well, too. And you don't have to get up on a ladder to pick and prune them.

Coming up: On Thursday, Sept. 27, Audrey Eldridge, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality hydrologist, will discuss the care of your well and septic system. The class is from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road in Central Point. The cost is $5. Call 541-776-7371 for more information.

Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. Email her at

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