How to grow stone fruit in subtropical climates
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Stone fruits like apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums and cherries are a great addition to any garden but prefer to grow in cooler climates. Although there are some varieties that can be grown in warmer, sub-tropical climates, they just require different management.
Here’s how to grow stone fruit in sub-tropical climates
Where to plant low chill stone fruit
Stone fruit should be planted in a sunny, well-drained position. For poor draining soils, trees should be planted on mounds or hills.
In sub-tropical climates, you’ll need a low chill stone fruit variety. Chill hours are the total amount of time a fruit tree needs to be exposed to effective winter temperatures to help them break dormancy and flower and set fruit normally.
Low chill stone fruit varieties can be grown in the subtropics such as Queensland, while high chill stone fruit varieties can be grown in cold climate areas such as Tasmania and Victoria
How to plant low chill stone fruit
Three months before planting, prepare the soil by adding mulch and pelletised poultry or cow manure to the site. For pots, a good premium potting mixed with about 10-20% of a good loam soil will give the mix extra body and assist with holding water and nutrients. The use of water crystals or a good soil wetter will assist in the retention of moisture also.
Ensure the soil pH is between 6.0 and 6.5 for best results.
Dig a hole twice the size of the nursery pot, do not tease the root system of potted plants. If planting in a large pot, we suggest a 50 cm diameter minimum size. Do not put fertiliser in the hole. A closed handful of blood and bone fertiliser mixed into the bottom of the hole is fine.
If planting winter bare root trees, look at the dirt mark on the base of the nursery tree and plant this at the soil or potting mix level. For potted trees, plant the soil level in the nursery pot level with your soil or potting mix and add a sprinkle of soil to cover the roots in the nursery pot.
How to fertilise low chill stone fruit
Fertilising young non-bearing trees
The first 12-18 months focus on building a strong framework capable of bearing heavy crops. A good complete fertiliser or composted manure is ideal. Give the tree a closed handful of fertiliser every 3 – 4 weeks, applied in a wide band from the drip line to within 30cm of the base of the tree. For pots, use 1– 2 teaspoons spread evenly over the potting mix surface. Do not apply fertiliser against the base of the tree, as this may cause tree death. Liquid fertilisers can also be used, and adding a good trace element fertiliser twice a year is also important.
Fertilising bearing trees
From spring in year two from planting, the focus now shifts back to fruit production. Avoid fertilising during flowering and early fruit set with fertilisers high in
Nitrogen (N).( up to 10% is ideal). A well-balanced fertiliser with high potassium (K) above 12% is ideal. Give the tree a closed handful of fertiliser every 3 – 4 weeks, applied in a wide band from the drip line to within 30cm of the base of the tree. For pots, use 3 teaspoons and spread evenly over the potting mix surface. Do not apply fertiliser against the base of the tree, as this may cause tree death.
Liquid fertilisers can also be used, and adding a good trace element fertiliser twice a year is also important.
How much to water low chill stone fruit
Fruit trees’ peak water demand is from when the first full leaf forms after trees break dormancy. Not enough water at this time will cause poor fruit set and fruit development. Continue to apply water in hot periods after harvest. Water needs will decrease from April on, and trees may only need a third of what is required during the growing season.
Be aware potted trees may need water more often than in-ground trees, sometimes every day in hot, dry periods.
How to prevent disease and pests
It is extremely important with low chill subtropical stone fruit varieties that tree and leaf health is maintained during summer and autumn to achieve good even bud break in winter. If leaves are allowed to deteriorate in summer and autumn from poor nutrition and leaf fungal disease attack, low chill varieties will break dormancy in April/May, which is way too early, giving a smaller crop and small tasteless fruit. Further information can be found on the PlantNet website pest and disease page.
Other low chill stone fruit care tips
If natural leaf fall is not completed by early June, strip leaves from trees. This is so the tree achieves strong, even bud break in mid-winter, leading to larger tastier fruit.
Pruning should be completed in June, and fruit thinning can be used to get a better crop. For strong young trees, up to 2 years old, leave one fruit per lateral or twig. For trees 3 years and older, leave 1 fruit on small laterals and 2-3 fruit on thicker laterals. Aim for 40-60 fruit per tree for strong, healthy trees in year 3 and increase fruit numbers yearly.
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