(Note: We would like to thank our good friend and Llano Estacado food shed enthusiast Daniel Cunningham for his contribution of this blog post. Daniel is also a grad student in horticulture at Texas Tech. To learn more about Daniel, you can follow him on Facebook).
It’s time to begin thinking about fruit trees. Some people shy away from fruit trees, thinking they won’t grow well in our arid climate. But with a little work and the right choice of tree, you can be well on your way to a tree full of ripening fruit.
Before you begin planting fruit trees, it’s important to keep a few things in mind: most will require quite a bit of water (particularly when they are young). It may also take a full year before they begin to produce fruit well. Many people often get frustrated because of this, but the extra work and wait are worth it.
The best way to prepare for growing fruit trees is to visit your local nursery or a local orchard and asking questions about what has worked the best for them. Because they are growing in your area, they will give the best advice on what will work for you.
When you speak with your local expert, you will also want to ask for advice about pruning your trees. Pruning is one of the best things you can do to help increase your fruit tree’s production, but it’s not an easy task. Your expert will have the best advice to help you into the process.
There are a few things to consider when selecting fruit trees for the Llano Estacado region. One of the most important is cold hardiness. I would expect you would want to focus on varieties that are cold hardy to zone 6b (-5) or colder. This is not a hard and fast rule though, as many people push the limits by creating micro-climates, a little breeding work, or just be getting lucky. If there is a variety that really sounds great, but is only cold hardy to 5-10 degrees it still might be worth a shot but there is some risk. It’s also important to consider chill hours (about 1200) and bloom time (later blooming varieties can help in years with late frosts).
Another important consideration is taste vs production. For me, better flavor is more important than production, especially since most varieties commercially available at the grocery stores here are not the best tasting. Self pollinating species might also be a plus unless you want to purchase a pollenizer tree as well. Peaches are one of the most popular fruits to grow in the Llano, but certain species of apples, plums, and apricots can do well also. Red globe seems to be one of the best selections for peach trees in terms of flavor and production, but a lot of folks like Ranger as well. Both produce well here in the Llano Estacado.
To learn more about fruit trees and how to set yourself up for the most successful growing season possible, these resources have some great descriptions and should help you in your search: