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Mississippi Gardens Newsletter ArchivesChoose the right fruit tree for your garden
Mississippi Gardens Newspaper and Web Column - January 5, 2004

Fresh fruits are an important part of our diet and most of us probably don't eat enough of them. Gardeners with sufficient area in which to plant often include fruit trees in the garden with hopes of enjoying peaches, apples and other fresh fruit with the added pleasure of having grown it themselves. Many times, though, gardeners in our part of the country find it very difficult to be successful with fruit trees. One of the reasons for the lack of success is that we choose the wrong varieties to start with. Could it be that there are some secrets to choosing the right fruit trees for your garden?

One of the common mistakes in growing fresh fruit starts at the point of purchase. Not all fruit trees will work in every area. Case in point. Every gardener has heard of Bartlett pear. When ripe, it is juicy, soft and really delicious. However, it is not recommended for the south because of its susceptibility to a devastating disease known as fire blight. Disease resistance is therefore an important consideration when choosing all fruit tree varieties.

Disease is not the only consideration. Someone asked recently about a tree that consistently bloomed early and the flowers were routinely killed by cold weather. That's because the tree required too few chill hours for our area. Fruit trees bloom after they receive a certain number of hours below 45º F. We call this "chill hours" and the amount varies among fruit trees. Some varieties may flower after receiving a few hundred chill hours and others may need more than 700. If a tree accumulates its required chill hours and then experiences some warm weather, the flower buds will open, exposing them to the damages of freezing weather. Therefore, it is important to choose fruit trees with chill hour requirements that fit a particular geographic area.

Disease resistance and chill hour requirements are two very important items to consider when choosing fruit trees. Another item to consider is performance. A tree with good disease resistance and the right chill hours may not have the best fruit quality, reliability, etc. So how do you know what to choose? Mississippi State University and other southeastern agricultural universities conduct research to eliminate this guesswork for gardeners. Before purchasing fruit trees for your garden, stop by your local county Extension Service Office and get a copy of our publication entitled Fruit and Nut Recommendations for Mississippi (pub. 966). This same information is available online at . Happy gardening!

These archived columns were written by Kerry Johnson<, a hobby gardener, former weekly newspaper columnist and retired Extension Horticulture Agent for 11 coastal counties in Mississippi.