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GARDENING

Planning Now Can Maximize the Fruits of Your Labor

March 08, 1997|From Associated Press

Take a break from winter by getting comfortable near a sunbathed window. Close your eyes and think about summer.

In your dreams, drift outside to the peach tree you planted a few springs ago and select a perfectly ripe fruit. Take a bite. Mmmmm. You lean forward, of course, so the juice dripping down your chin doesn't run onto your shirt.

Some fruits are difficult to grow to perfection. Take that peach. You'd better be prepared to battle borers that gnaw into the trunk, fruit moths that bore into the shoots and fruits and a fruit fungus that lives up to its name, brown rot.

If winter cold does not damage the tree, spring chill might kill the early blossoms.

Fortunately, none of these problems is insurmountable. They merely add to the interest and challenge of raising that perfect peach, apple or pear. And perhaps the fruit tastes better for the effort expended.

If you are tempted by the challenge and the promise of luscious fruits, plan now. Stroll around your yard and make a mental note of where you would like to plant. Most fruit plants require full sun, at least six hours a day. The sun will be higher in the sky in summer than it is now, so your home, garage and hedges will not cast the long shadows they do now.

Also take note of maples, willows and other trees that will cast shade as their branches become clothed with leaves. Avoid overly wet areas of soil and be prepared to water if you plant in dry areas.

Do not be put off planting fruits if space is limited. You can grow a peach, sour cherry, dwarf apple or other small tree on as little as 50 square feet or less of ground. Blueberries, currants and other bush fruits require about 30 square feet per bush. Strawberries need only 1 square foot per plant.

There is no need to be too rigid with planting distances, because you, the fruit grower, are an important factor. A little extra elbow room is called for if you do not want to pay too much attention to pruning.

On the other hand, if you enjoy visiting your fruit trees every few days, snipping here and there occasionally with your pruning shears, you can plant more closely.

How much to plant and how long to wait until harvest? Plan on 4 to 8 bushels of fruit from any full-size tree, a couple of bushels from a dwarf tree and a couple of quarts from any berry bush.

You should get your first taste a year or two after setting any berry plant in the ground. Dwarf trees--their fruit is full size--generally bear fruit in about four years; full-size counterparts take about eight years to bear fruit.

With careful choice of varieties, you could enjoy fresh fruit from your garden year-round. The first strawberry of spring (an early-ripening strawberry such as Sunrise) could ripen just as you finished the last apple (a long-keeping variety such as Baldwin).

Following strawberries, you can progress through the season with currants, cherries, brambles, blueberries, peaches, plums, pears, grapes and then back to apples.

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