Imagine picking two or more different fruits from the same tree, kind of like having a fruit cocktail on one tree. I read a story about a British horticulturist who has spent 24 years working on grafting new varieties to his apple tree until it now has 250 varieties on it.
While most gardeners don’t do their own grafting and won’t have a 250-variety apple tree, they can purchase a tree with peaches, nectarines, plums or apricots or multiple types of any of these fruits. Or they can buy one with different varieties of apples or pears. They could even have a multi-variety cherry tree. A Northern Nevada gardener can even grow multi-fruited trees with oranges, lemons, limes and mandarins if they have a greenhouse. What makes this possible is that the related fruit types are grafted on to one rootstock.
A fruit cocktail tree is a great solution for those with limited space. Another advantage is having fruit ripen at various times, lengthening the harvest season. However, there can be challenges with a multi-variety tree. Faster-growing branches may dominate those that grow more slowly. This can cause an unbalanced appearance or allow breakage of those faster-growing limbs. A gardener has to be careful when pruning in order not to prune off any of the grafted material. Pollination compatibility among varieties is critical for trees to produce fruit, so varieties that bloom at the same time are needed to pollinate each other. Disease resistance may vary among varieties. Yield may be less than on single variety trees. If varieties do not ripen at the same time, timing of spraying for insects or diseases can be difficult.
Some growers prefer to plant two to four dwarf trees in the same hole rather than create a multi-grafted tree on a single rootstock. They feel this gives them a wider choice of varieties than buying grafted trees. Others recommend “close-planting” (almost like a hedge) of different fruit varieties with different ripening times to lengthen the season. With heavy pruning, this technique supposedly restricts a tree’s vigor so it won’t grow as large.
Since April is an excellent time to plant fruit trees, the next University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Grow Your Own class will be “The ABCs of Fruit Trees” from 6 to 8 p.m. on April 24 at 2621 Northgate Lane, Suite 12. Call 775-887-2252, or email Spragginst@unce.unr.edu to sign up.
JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-887-2252.