Grundy County residents have long grown fruit trees at their homes. With the dwarf varieties that are for sale these days, even those with smaller properties can grow trees that produce fresh, healthful fruit.
It’s definitely worth growing fruit, University of Illinois crop sciences professor Dr. Mosbah Kushad said. The flavor of an apple right off the tree is much better than one picked early hundreds of miles away.
“They have a better taste because you can let them ripen,” he said. “When it looks good, you eat it.”
However, fruit trees don’t always grow well in our area.
“This land here is good for corn and soybeans,” he said. “Not as much for fruit. … You have to put some work in on them in their early years. They’re like kids. If you raise them very well when they are young, they will do better when they’re older.”
Apple, pear and cherry trees do grow well in our soil and climate, he said, as well as some varieties of plums, such as the Stanley plum.
“It’s harder to grow apricots,” Kushad said. “It’s risky. And peaches are really a push because of the temperatures. The tree itself will do fine, and maybe you will get a crop every 10 years. The fruit buds are very tender.”
Some are surprised that cold Michigan grows some great peach crops, but that’s because of lake effect, Kushad explained. Lake Michigan waters warm up the winds going east into Michigan, keeping the air just warm enough to protect the spring buds.
In the past, Illinois used to be a big pear producer, but fire blight was always a problem, and the industry eventually moved to the west coast, where conditions are not as favorable to the growth of the bacterium that causes the blight. Ornamental pear trees, which are popular in the county, can also get the blight.
“Even Asian pears can be devastated by this,” Kushad said.
Apples also can be affected by the blight.
To have a successful fruit crop in Grundy County, Kushad has some tips.
The first is to buy the root stock from a reliable grower. He recommends a nursery that is certified to sell fruit trees, not a big box store.
Sellers such as Adams Country Nursery and Stark Brothers Nurseries and Orchards, he said, will have trees that are certified disease-free. They will work with you to give you just the tree you want, as well.
“You can tell them what size trees you want,” Kushad said. “And they will get you that. … If they don’t have it, don’t buy it. Remember, if it’s too tall, how are you going to get the fruit? Send a monkey up there?”
Some apple trees that grow well here and are scab-resistant are honeycrisp apples, which Kushad said taste better than red delicious, wine crisp, crimson crisp, gold rush, Juliet, dixie crunch and Dayton.
Liberty is a great tart apple, he said, and also is resistant to apple scab.
“These are absolutely wonderful,” he said, “and are fantastic for backyards.”
Cherry trees also do well here, Kushad said. The biggest problem with getting a good harvest from them is birds. Putting nets on top of the trees helps.
“The site has to be clear of shade,” he said of where to plant a fruit tree. “And it’s best for the trees to be on the south corner of the house with plenty of sun. Good soil drainage is critical, and you can add just a little bit of fertilizer.”
Fruit trees require some work, he added, and spraying them during bloom time with a tree food spray to kill bacteria usually is necessary.
“Fruit trees do need care,” Kushad said. “You can have a great experience and enjoy a basket full of fruit that is nutritious and delicious, but it will require some work.”