Plant fruit trees in a sunny spot with fertile soil and good drainage, at least 8 feet from patios, water pipes, septic tanks, sewer lines, and anything else that could be damaged by their roots. Self-pollinating trees, such as sour cherries, European plums, and most peaches and nectarines, can be planted singly. Japanese plums, sweet cherries, most apples and pears, and some apricots bear fruit only if a different, compatible variety grows nearby to pollinate them.
Most fruit trees are grafted: the trunk grows upon a root of a different kind of tree. Plant dwarf trees with the graft 2 inches above the soil line; standard trees with the graft at soil level. Before planting, mix compost, leaf mold, peat moss, or other organic material into the soil, along with a little slow-acting complete fertilizer.
At planting time, prune off all but three or four of the stoutest branches to form your tree’s framework. Cut back the remaining branches and the central leader (main stem) by about one-third. Keep branches that form a wide angle with the trunk-narrow crotches are weak-and keep only one of a pair of branches that grow at the same height on the trunk.
As trees grow, remove any suckers that arise from the roots and any “water sprouts” that come from the trunk. In spring, before growth begins, prune as needed so that light and air can reach all parts of the tree. Remove any branch that touches another. With apples, cherries, and pears, keep the central leader slightly taller than side branches. For peaches, plums, and apricots, cut the central leader back to form an open, vase-shaped tree with three or four main branches.
Your tree is unlikely to bear for the first 3 or 4 years. During that time, mulch around the base and fertilize lightly in spring with manure or compost and with wood ashes or a balanced fertilizer. Thereafter, fertilize only if the tree is in obvious need; overfeeding encourages leaves at the expense of fruit. Thinning for a good crop When fruits appear, let them grow to about marble size, then remove any that are wormy, diseased, or undersize. Space the remaining ones 6 to 7 inches apart.
Renewing an old tree
An old, overgrown apple or pear tree can be brought back to fruitful vigor by heavy pruning. In late winter, cut out all dead and spindly branches and any that cross others. Cut out some of the large center branches, opening the heart of the tree to light and air. Thin out or remove knotted-looking spur clusters, where fruit has been borne for many years, and cut back long branches to strong-looking laterals.