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Backyard Fruit Trees

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.

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.

Pest Management Resources

Apple, Pear

Cherry

Peach, Nectarine, Plum

Vertebrate Pests

General Pesticide Information
 

Pesticide Information Resources

Horticultural Pest and Disease Boards
 

Besides being obligated by state regulations to control pests and diseases in backyard fruit trees, counties in the primary commercial tree fruit growing regions (e.g., Benton, Chelan, Douglas, Franklin, Grant, Kittitas, Okanogan, and Yakima) have active Horticultural Pest and Disease Boards (“Pest Board”) to enforce regulations.  See Washington State RCW 15.09 “Horticultural Pest and Disease Board.”

The “Pest Boards” have broad powers and duties:

(1) To receive complaints concerning the infection of horticultural pests and diseases on any parcel of land within the county;
(2) To inspect or cause to be inspected any parcel of land within the county for the purpose of ascertaining the presence of horticultural pests and diseases as provided by RCW 15.09.070;
(3) To order any landowner to control and prevent the spread of horticultural pests and diseases from his or her property, as provided by RCW 15.09.080;
(4) To control and prevent the spread of horticultural pests and diseases on any property within the county as provided by RCW 15.09.080, and to charge the owner for the expense of such work in accordance with RCW15.09.080 and 15.09.090;
(5) To employ such persons and purchase such goods and machinery as the board of county commissioners may provide;
(6) To adopt, following a hearing, such rules and regulations as may be necessary for the administration of this chapter.

See: Pest Boards Play Critical Roles, 2008, M. Hansen, Good Fruit Grower

Especially in residential areas that are adjacent to or near commercial tree fruit orchards, the homeowner should think twice about planting and/or growing fruit trees in their backyard.  It is actually quite difficult, expensive and time consuming to successfully manage pests and diseases at home. In regions of the state with high quality fruit available at local roadside and farmer’s markets, the homeowner can avoid both the management challenges and regulatory concerns of growing fruit at home by simply not doing it and, rather, patronizing local farms to satisfy their desire for fresh fruit. In some counties, the Pest Board will offer to remove unwanted fruit trees for free and/or provide a gift certificates that can be used for purchasing a replacement ornamental plant.

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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