Nobody disputes that homegrown fruit can be among the most delicious crops in your garden, and so much juicier and sweeter than the fruit you buy in the grocery store. Many gardeners resist growing fruit trees because they don’t want to have to spray them with pesticides. But the truth is, you don’t have to slather on those pesticides to grow healthy, pest-free fruit. A happy home orchard is possible without toxins and starts with a solid understanding of gardening basics.
Here are 5 hacks for growing healthy, pest-free fruit:
1. Build good soil. Healthy fruit starts with healthy soil. If you know how to build and maintain good soil, you are already on the right path. Plants need nutrients. One of the best ways to improve soil and build in organic content is to work in compost before planting. Spread a few inches of organic compost on the soil surface and then turn it under at least 8 inches (20 cm.).
2. Ensure good drainage. Good drainage is essential for all fruit trees. If your soil is clay and holds onto water, your fruit tree roots will be waterlogged, causing both pest problems and root disease. You can improve the drainage in any soil by cultivating it well and working in sand or even light gravel. And the more organic material you add, the better drainage you have.
3. Understand possible pests. It’s easier to prevent pest damage to fruit trees if you know well in advance which pests are most likely to invade your garden. Each region has its own climate that impacts local diseases and pests. Read up about the pests for your particular trees. Create a calendar detailing which pests to look out for and when in your area, and how to identify them. Identify cultivars that are resistant to the regional pests and select these for your orchard.
4. Bring in good bugs. As you identify the bad bugs, learn about which beneficial insects might help rid the garden of these fruit tree pests. Select native plantings to attract the good bugs, or look into bringing them into your backyard. Then, if you see the pests arrive, stand back and wait for a time. Don’t spray on pesticides without first giving the good bugs a chance to do their job.
5. Dormant sprays to the rescue. Even if you keep a healthy garden, some insect pests may prove difficult. For these, use dormant sprays made of natural fungicide like lime-sulfur or copper mixed with dormant oil. The oil smothers insect pests and their eggs that overwinter on the fruit trees, while the fungicide takes out fungal spores.