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Backyard Fruit Trees

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Central Washington’s dry climate with hot sunny days and cool autumn nights are ideal for growing tree fruit crops. Just as apples, pears, sweet cherries and other stone fruits (e.g., peach, nectarine, apricot, etc.) are successfully grown in Washington for commercial markets, they can also be grown in one’s backyard at home. This can provide the homeowner with edible fruit, valuable ornamental qualities, and possibly access to a favorite variety that may not be available in the local market. What many homeowners may be unaware of is the fact that they are legally responsible for controlling insect pest and diseases in fruit trees on their property.  See: Washington State RCW 15.09.060 Owner’s Duty To Control Pests and Diseases.

The resources under ‘Backyard Fruit Trees’ should help you decide if a fruit tree is the right choice for you. Start by reading these short fact sheets.

Then if you still want the fruit tree, we offer resources to improve pest control and horticulture.

Backyard Fruit Tree Resources

Pest and Disease Management

Home gardeners can protect their own fruit from pests and diseases as well as keep commercial orchards safe from pest infestations and spread of disease by regular spray programs (several times a year). Codling moth and Western Cherry fruit fly are pests that are not allowed in commercial crops, and fruit infested with these insects are rejected in both domestic and international markets. These insect pests will find backyard fruit trees as host plants, and infect nearby commercial orchards if not properly controlled. In terms of diseases, apple and pear trees are susceptible to bacterial diseases like fire blight (Erwinia amylovora) and fungal diseases such as powdery mildew (Podosphaera sp.), the latter which also affects cherries and other stone fruit crops.

General information on controlling tree fruit insect pests and diseases is listed below. There are also pest management options available for growers not wanting to spray, like individually bagging fruit to exclude codling moth, for example.

For pest and disease spray schedules for home garden fruit trees go to Backyard Fruit Tree Spray Schedules.

Pest Management Resources

The WSU Hortsense website contains fact sheets for managing pests found in gardens and landscapes, including tree fruit pests. If you don’t find what you are looking for, contact a WSU Master Gardener. The links below are more specific and often more technical.

Apple, Pear

Cherry

Peach, Nectarine, Plum

Vertebrate Pests

General Pesticide Information
 

Pesticide Information Resources

Horticultural Pest and Disease Boards
 

Every county in Washington State that has commercial tree fruit operations that ship fruit to specific countries outside the United States are required to have a functioning County Horticultural Pest and Disease Board. The mission of Horticultural Pest and Disease Boards is to maintain low pest pressure and ensure unrestricted trade in national and international markets by effectively responding to written complaints and carrying out activities as described in the Revised Code of Washington (RCW; 15.08 and 15.09). In short, landowners must control and prevent the spread of horticultural pests and diseases that are deemed an economic threat to nearby operations.

Each county board is made up of an industry based chair and members, a paid manager and /or inspector, a WSDA appointee, and a WSU advisor. The list of actionable pests and diseases varies across counties but all lists include the highly mobile codling moth and cherry fruit fly.

Board contact information, complaint forms, meeting schedules, and pest and disease management information can be found on most board websites. A list of county boards is available for download here.

Lost Apple Project
 

The Lost Apple Project is run by the Whitman County Historical Society (http://www.whitmancountyhistoricalsociety.org/projects/heritageappleproject16-km/ ) and partnered with the WSU Genomics Lab (https://genomics.wsu.edu/lost-apples-and-heritage-apples-of-the-palouse/ ).  The Whitman County website has a list of contact people you can email or you can email the Genomics Lab via the email link on that webpage.

Varieties, Soils, Pruning, Irrigation
 

Fruit trees require adequate sunlight, well-drained soil, regular irrigation (not too much or too little), pruning, fertilizing, weed management, and protection from environmental stresses like sunburn. Three main considerations that home orchardists should take into account when deciding to plant fruit trees are: variety selection, rootstock selection, and pollination requirements. Choose trees that are winter hardy and suitable for your location and resistant to pests in your area. Dwarfing rootstocks result in smaller trees that are easier to manage than trees on a seedling rootstock. Where available, self-fruitful varieties that require no pollinizers can be grown as single trees.

Varieties

 Soil and Fertility

Pruning

Irrigation

Harvesting and Storing
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