If you have sunlight, water and soil (even a large container), you can grow a range of fruits in the moderate Pacific Northwest. In addition to the topics listed below, a number of publications and organizations offer comprehensive information about growing fruit in Washington and Oregon.
Fruit Tree General Care
Written by John Reardon, home orchardist and member of Seattle Tree Fruit Society and City Fruit
Fruit trees need sunlight, water and dirt. Although almost anything will ‘grow’ here in the Pacific Northwest, our cooler summers mean that certain varieties of fruit will do better than others—no matter how well they are cared for. Your job is to pick the plants that naturally do well here, water at the correct time, prune regularly—and stay out of the way. There are a few general rules to remember when caring for fruit trees:
- Heat & light equals sweet. It takes sun to make sugar and to make the fruit sweet. The more sun, the better.
- Don’t forget the water. In the Pacific Northwest, there is little water from the sky between July and October, when the fruit is maturing. Consistent watering produces larger fruits.
- Fruit trees are resilient. If you prune away too much, it will grow back. If you don’t have much fruit this year, there’s always next.
- Avoid chemical pesticides. We aren’t the only critters that like fruit: apples are sprayed with more pesticides, fungicides and herbicides that any other food crop. But pests can be reduced—or entirely avoided—by using a few non-chemical
Pests & Diseases
Scab is a fungal disease that mars the surface and can cause malformed fruit. It’s generally a cosmetic problem. The taste of the fruit isn’t changed, but its appearance and storage qualities, as well as canning and drying qualities, are impaired. There are a number of different non-toxic sprays that you can use; sulfur, lime-sulfur, or Bordeaux mixture (copper sulfate plus lime). The most important cultural control of scab is good tree hygiene – cleaning up fallen leaves and fruits. For more info, download our free Pear Scab Info Sheet.
Leaf Rust & Leaf Spot are also fungal diseases, causing bright orange and black spots on the leaves. Bordeaux mixture (copper sulfate plus lime) also takes care of those two issues.
Apple Maggot Fly is a big problem in Seattle, and it’s hard to find an apple here that isn’t affected. Apple maggot larvae tunnel through the fruit, leaving small brownish, threadlike trails, causing the apple to become soft and rotten. There are sprays, natural predators, traps, and sanitation techniques that can help control apple maggot. Download our free Apple Maggot Info Sheet for details.
Applying Foot Socks can help prevent apple maggots and coddling moth on apple and pear trees. Watch this short video of Don Ricks explaining proper application of “footies”.
Planting New Fruit Trees
Plant fruit trees so they get at least 6–8 hours of sun, preferably afternoon sun with a south and west exposure, if possible. Seattle’s dry season coincides with when fruit matures, so your fruit tree will need to be watered from June to October. Consider planting dwarf trees, shrubs and vines in rows to take advantage of drip or soaker irrigation. For detailed planting instructions with diagrams, download our free Plant A Fruit Tree Info Sheet.
Mulch can be added around a fruit tree to hold moisture in the ground, moderate soil temperature extremes, and reduce competition from grass and weeds. Add 4-6 inches of mulch around the base of the tree. Compost or wood chips work well, but be aware that some mulches can affect the acidity of the soil and its nutrient level. For more about this, See Linda Bergeson’s article, Mulch Your Fruit Trees!
Pollination usually requires at least two fruit trees that bloom at around the same time and who are compatible. Even self-fertile trees can benefit from having a compatible pollinator tree nearby. Visit the pollination page for information on pollination for apples, pears, Asian pears, plums and cherries.
Selecting Varieties that do well in the Pacific Northwest can be tricky, due to our long dry spells in the summer and the wet fungal-disease-causing winters. Download our free info sheet of Best Fruits for Western Washington Yards.
Pruning your fruit is essential if you want to produce the best fruit. Removing dead, damaged, rubbing and undesirable limbs can help a tree stay healthy – increasing air flow and sunlight to inner branches, which keeps diseases and pests at a disadvantage – and allowing sunlight to penetrate and ripen fruits. Pruning is a skill that you can learn if you have the patience and time for a few classes. If your tree is very large, or you lack equipment or physical ability, then hiring help for pruning might be wise.
Attending pruning days at an orchard or P-patch can be a great way to learn more. Keep an eye on the Class list and the City Fruit Facebook page for Pruning workshops, try a low-cost class on pruning from Plant Amnesty, or Download our free Fruit Tree Pruning Info Sheet for details.
A tree doesn’t need all the fruits it produces: if only five percent of the blossoms on a tree grew into fruit, it would be a full crop.
Downloadable and printable, theses easy-to-read fact sheets cover a variety of issues, including pest prevention & control, planting trees, pruning trees, choosing a variety, and drying fruits.
View the list of topics