Community Fruit Tree Care Guide

Congratulations! You are the host of a Community Fruit Tree! Through love and care, you will be able to provide a priceless amount of fruit for the people of your community including you and your family. We are so excited to be on this journey towards a happier, healthier, and more sustainable community with you.

Hosting a Community Fruit Tree is pretty easy and requires minimal work, but it does come with some responsibilities. We have written this guide for you including planting, watering, mulching, pruning, when to harvest fruit, and more resources to help ensure that the trees grow healthy and produce a bounty of fruit. This guide is written specifically for Central Florida and following it will greatly increase the chances of these fruit trees surviving and thriving.

We are here to help you along the way. Please join the Community Fruit Tree Facebook group to stay up to date on the project as well as ask questions to us and the community. If you have any problems or questions with your tree you can always email us at [email protected] or post in the Facebook group. Please post photos of updates on your tree as it grows, flowers, fruits, and adds joy to your neighborhood.

All community fruit trees need a caretaker to help them establish and grow to a bountiful fruit tree. The time commitment for fruit trees is extremely minimal considering the potential they have. A handful of hours of work each year can produce enough fruit to feed and bring joy to dozens of people.

 

How we chose which trees to plant

The trees that we have planted as Community Fruit Trees include mulberry, loquat, peach, avocado, pomegranate, persimmon, Suriname cherry, pineapple guava/feijoa, and starfruit/carambola. We chose the trees that are the easiest to grow, take the least management, and have the highest yield. Basically, the trees that are the least likely to do poorly or die and most likely to thrive and produce a lot of fruit. Most of the stewards to a Community Fruit Tree are not experts of fruit trees, so we didn’t choose trees that take excess care and skills.

The factors we took into account when choosing which fruit trees to plant included:

-Cold tolerance. We mostly chose trees that could handle freezes in the winter and the heat of the summers. Freezes are uncommon here, but one freeze can kill many fruit trees that are not adapted to freezes. Orlando is not tropical, so trees such as mango, lychee, and longan are risky to plant here.

-Pests and disease. We chose trees that have the fewest number of pests. We did not choose citrus because of Citrus Greening disease, for example.

-Yield. We chose trees known to have a high level of productivity. We didn’t choose speciality fruit trees that may be delicious, but don’t produce much fruit. 

-Management. Some trees take more skill to prune correctly. We focused on trees that take minimal pruning and management.

-Taste. Of course we chose fruits that taste great! But ease of management came before this. Luckily, many trees are easy to manage AND delicious!

 

How to Plant a Community Fruit Tree

  • Choose a location that is fully accessible to the public, preferably right near a sidewalk. A good standard is to plant the tree about seven feet from the sidewalk. If the tree has a tag, you can check the average width to decide how close to the sidewalk to plant. For example, if the average width of the tree is twenty feet, then plant ten feet from the sidewalk.
  • Dig a hole twice as wide and the same depth as the pot that the fruit tree is in. (Example: Most trees we are planting are in three-gallon pots. A three-gallon pot is approx. one foot wide and 10” deep so you would dig a hole that is two feet wide and 10” deep.
  • Remove the roots, grass, and vegetation from the soil that you dug up. If you want to reduce weeding later, also remove all grass for approximately a two to three foot radius around the hole.
  • Take the tree out of the pot. If the tree was not sitting in the pot for too long prior to planting, you won’t have to touch the roots at all. If there’s an obvious ball of roots that is circling around inside the pot, gently untangle them and massage the root ball to loosen it up. If the tree was sitting in the pot for a long period of time, the root ball will need more untangling. If the tree was in the pot for a short period of time, it may not need any untangling and massaging at all.
  • Place the tree into the center of the hole. The top of the soil of the potted tree should be about 1-2” above, or even with, the top of the soil line of the ground where you are planting it.
  • Fill the hole with the ONLY the same soil that you took out of the hole, even if the location you are planting in is nearly completely sand, which much of Central Florida is. Do not add any amendments such as top soil, manure, fertilizer, or peat. Add water to the hole as you fill it back up with the soil. This helps to settle the soil firmly and ensure that no air pockets exist.  
  • Add compost to the top 1-2 inches of soil. Put a 2” layer of compost on top of the soil.
  • Use the excess dirt to make a mound around the hole. The mound should be shaped like a donut around the tree. This helps create a basin where water can sit and sink into the ground to the roots and not flow away.
  • Add a 3-4” layer of mulch around the tree in a donut shape. Place the mulch so that none is touching the trunk of the tree. We recommend mulching about two to three feet around the tree. Remember it should be a donut shape, not a volcano shape. When watering the tree, make sure that the water doesn’t push the mulch up against the tree. If mulch is pushed up against the tree, pull it back away.
  • Remove any plastic bands that are holding the tree to the stake and make sure to not miss any at the base of the tree. If the tree is not able to support itself, you can use a soft fabric such as cotton to loosely tie the tree to the stake. Make sure to do it loosely so that it does not impede tree growth. If the plastic stays on, it can damage the tree trunk. We do not have exact information as to when to remove the stake. Some say one growing season, others say six months. We recommend removing the stake as soon as the tree is self-supporting and not leaving it on any longer. If the tree is in a windy area it is more likely to need the stake for the three to six months after planting.

 

How to Water a Community Fruit Tree

Frequency of watering:

-Water daily for the first 2 weeks or at least 5-6 days/week.

-Then water every other day up 2 months from planting.

-Then water weekly up to 6 months from planting.

-After 3-6 months the tree will be established and should need very little watering. After establishment, you may not need to water it at all during the wet season. During extended dry periods, such as a few weeks without rain, you can water once per week.

Volume of water:

– Approximately 3 gallons of water per watering (half of a five-gallon bucket). The key is to let the water soak deep into the ground. Rather than dump a large amount on quickly and let much of the water flow away, it’s better to slowly add the water so that it can soak in. Two methods to help the water soak in are:

Set the hose into the basin and turn the hose on a low setting and let it flow for 5-10 minutes.

With a bucket, take a few minutes to slowly pour the water into the basin.

 

Neither rain nor sprinkler irrigation will provide a deep enough saturation for establishment. Rains only reach the top few inches of soil and do not establish deep roots. Rains are extremely beneficial but are not ample for establishing your tree. To be clear, rain does not count as a watering during the establishment period.

 

Mulch and Compost

If we planted your Community Fruit Tree, we have top-dressed it with mushroom compost and mulch. Mulch helps to retain moisture, suppress weeds, and build soil life. Generally, the trees will benefit from bing re-mulched twice per year, ideally in the spring and fall.

Please make sure that you add mulch and compost in spring of next year, or earlier if needed. We hope to have a mulch and compost drop in a central location where you will be able to pick it up. This will reduce cost and the impact of transportation. We will send out a notification via our Facebook group and email newsletter.

For a visual of how to properly mulch click here.

 

Weeding

Keep the mulched area weed free. Weeds compete for nutrients and water. It’s best to pull the weeds out from their roots, to keep them from coming back. Weeding once per week will only take a few minutes and will prevent weeds from establishing.

 

Signage

Please place a sign by your Community Fruit Tree to let people know that they can enjoy the bounty.

We have created a few PDFs that you can download and print for your convenience. If you use one of these, you could laminate the paper and put it up on a post.

Download the printable simple version here. This option is a simple sign that you can print and put up.

Download the printable version with blanks for information This option has blank spaces where you can fill in a little more information about the tree.

Note: Originally we were planning to place signs by each of the trees that we planted in Orlando, but due to funding and time, we do not have the ability to do this. We hope that you’ll be able to put up a sign.

 

When will these trees start producing fruit? 

Most of the trees will produce fruit in about two years.

Avocado: 1-2 years

Fig: 1 year

Loquat: 1 year

Mulberry: 1 year

Peach: 1 year

Persimmon: 1-2 years

Pineapple Guava/Feijoa: 1-2 years

Pomegranate: 3-4 years

Starfruit: 1 year

Surinam Cherry: 1-2 years

 

How do you prune the fruit trees?

For all trees, at THE CORRECT TIME for pruning listed below, you’ll be achieving several objectives:
Looking for diseased or dead branches to remove (cleaning your shears between trees that you have removed diseased branches from with diluted hydrogen peroxide is a must.)
Pruning in the early years is designed to develop a strong tree framework that will support heavy cropping in later years.
Pruning to maintain desired height
Pruning to maintain vigor of tree (ie removing the bottom two feet of branches as they are trunk suckers or water sprouts)
Pruning to spur good fruit production
Pruning to improve airflow, decrease disease and improve light penetration into all of the trees canopy for optimal fruit set
Whatever shape and height of your fruit trees is desired, careful pruning to obtain these heights and shapes must begin when the tree is young or hard pruning and fruit set back will have to occur in the future.

 

Avocado

When: After fruiting (depends on variety)

Which type of wood: New wood

How: Avocados produce fruit on new wood. This means once a branch has flowered and fruited one year, it will not fruit again. Pruning to remove these branches and encourage new growth each year is an important management priority. Shape and height can be also be accomplished at this time of pruning. No more than a third of the branches should be removed each year and the ones that are removed should be taken back to their point of origin i.e. where the branch meets the main trunk. Also, water suckers from beneath the graft and branches that hang on the grass should be removed at pruning time.

 

Fig

When: Prune when dormant in winter

Which type of wood: new wood

How: Fig trees are one of the easiest trees to prune. During the winter months, when the leaves have fallen off the tree, is the best time to prune. Selecting 6 main branches and prune off any shoots that cross other branches, that are growing down ward or inward. Any dead or diseased branches should be removed in the winter as well. Throughout the year you can prune off water suckers and two feet up the main trunk to promote a tree like shape and high production. When pruning your figs or any fruit tree remember to not prune off more than a third of your tree and that fig trees put on figs on new growth.

 

Loquat

When: Major pruning after fruiting. Removal of diseased or dead wood anytime.

Which type of wood: new tips

How: Loquats need very little pruning to ensure a good fruit set. Pruning is for height and aesthetic goals mostly compared to other fruit trees. If a tree shape and height and desired, then pruning when young to encourage this shape and height is encouraged. This would require removing shoots from the bottom two feet of the trunk and pruning the top of the tree to have an open canopy and removing any overlapping branches. Keeping an eye out for diseased or dead wood and removing them is part of your pruning routine.

 

Mulberry

When: In winter during dormancy

Which type of wood: old wood

How: Mulberry trees fruit on old wood, branches from previous seasons. Prune when dormant in winter. This will also help you see the shape better when the leaves are no longer there to obstruct your view. Mulberries are very forgiving, and pruning is usually done to achieve a desired height and manageable size for harvest. Branches that are growing inward, crossing other branches or downward from the main branches can be pruned off.

 

Peach

When: In winter during dormancy. A secondary, lighter pruning in summer.

Which type of wood: new growth-one-year old wood.

How: Prune off low shoots and suckers, any dead or diseased wood, back long non-main branches (laterals) to 2-3 feet and any branches that grow downward inward or cross over one another. To encourage the optimal number of fruits to set, prune back one to two lateral branches on each fruiting arm (main branch) to the main trunk. Do this with half of your branches to keep a continuous supply of growing branches and fruiting branches without overcrowding the tree. Fruits will set on old wood tips from the previous year.

The main pruning is done in the winter when the trees are dormant, and the goal is to create a “V” shape with an open center. Usually 4-6 main branches that create the shape of the “V” are trained to be the main scaffold branches. Fruits will develop on one-year old wood.

Another pruning in the summer can be done to increase light penetration, air flow and energy to the main scaffold branches. This would consist of taking out any branches that cross other branches or grow in ward toward the “V.” This is also a time when you can “top” your trees to create a desired height. See the pruning diagram at the end of this section.

 

Persimmon

When: In the winter when trees are dormant

Which type of wood: Tip of old wood only

How: Prune off low shoots and suckers, any dead or diseased wood, back long non-main branches (laterals) to 2-3 feet and any branches that grow downward inward or cross over one another. To encourage the optimal number of fruits to set, prune back one to two lateral branches on each fruiting arm (main branch) to the main trunk. Do this with half of your branches to keep a continuous supply of growing branches and fruiting branches without overcrowding the tree. Fruits will set on old wood tips from the previous year.

 

Feijoa

When:

Which type of wood: on the base of new wood

How: Feijoas will form on this wood that forms/regrows after you prune. Pruning’s main goals are to increase light penetration into the canopy of the tree, increase new wood for fruiting production the following year, remove dead or diseased branches and shape your tree to a desired height and aesthetic.

 

Pomegranate

When: In winter during dormancy for shaping and topping for desire height. Throughout the growing season, for sucker removal.

Which type of wood: old wood (second year)

How: The ideal growth form is 3 to 6 main trunks. This will form a productive and fruitful bush. If your pomegranate bush has less than 3-6 main branches, you’ll want to let it shoot up more branches from the base. If it has more than 3-6 branches, then you’ll want to prune the extraneous suckers at the base of the plant. Keep in mind if you let it sucker freely, and have more than 6 main branches, it could potentially produce very little to no fruit the following year. Cutting back suckers can occur several times throughout the growing season. Since pomegranates form fruit on their second-year wood, be careful of cutting the plant back too far, or you may end up without any fruit the next year.

 

Starfruit

When: After fruiting

Which type of wood: old wood. Three-month-old branches can fruit repeatedly

How: After fruiting is the best time to prune your Starfruit. During the first 1 to 2 years after planting, young trees should be pruned by tipping shoots in excess of 2 to 3 ft to increase branching as well as trained to have an open center. Selectively removing crossing branches and branches that prevent the lower canopy from receiving light, can increase fruit production and overall health of tree. Starfruit trees are unique in that three-month-old branches can flower, and fruit and these branches can do this several times.

 

Surinam Cherry

When: After fruiting in April-June.

Which type of wood: old growth and base of new growth

How: Surinam cherries are naturally a large shrub/hedge and can be pruned for fruit production and aesthetics. Prune Surinam cherries immediately after harvesting the cherries. Remove no more than one third of branches when pruning and keep in mind, even though it is more of a bush habitat and doesn’t need to be pruned like a peach into a “V” shape, good air flow and good light penetration into the tree by removal of any crossing or inward growing branches.

 

Fruit Tree Pruning Diagram:

Prune dead or diseased wood, water suckers, or broken branches(at the right time of year depending on which type of fruit tree.)

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Prune off any branches growing inward, downward or across other branches.

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Prune your lateral branches back (shown in picture) or some lateral (non main branches) or main branches to their point of origin in order to have a balanced and good fruit set the following year.

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Pests: 

Avocado: Phytophthora root rot or laurel wilt. If you think you have a disease or pest issue and want help identifying it, email us at [email protected] to help you diagnosis.

Fig: No major pests [2]. Birds and fig rust [2] Root nematodes.

Loquat: Fire blight- Not common as far as we know, but if a tree gets it you should remove the diseased parts and burn them. 

Mulberry: No major pests. May need to protect fruits from birds in spring

Peach: Brown rot fungus (Monolinia fructicola) and peach leaf curl.  If you think you have a disease or pest issue and want help identifying it, email us at [email protected] to help you diagnosis. 

Persimmon: No pests [2], “Scale insects may become a problem.” [2]  Fire blight- Not common as far as we know, but if a tree gets it you should remove the diseased parts and burn them. 

Pineapple Guava/Feijoa: No major pests

Pomegranate: “Leaf spot disease on fruit and leaves. Fruit often split on tree. Best to pick fruit before they ripen. Suckers at base of plant require constant pruning.”

Starfruit: No serious pests, “Grows well with minimum care” [1], “Virtually trouble free” [2]

Surinam Cherry: No serious pests except Caribbean fruit fly.

 

How to know when to harvest fruit: 

Avocado: All avocados do not ripen on the tree. They need to be removed from the tree when they at the right size and shape(some green and some black) and be left to ripen on your counter for 3-5 days.

Time of year: July to January depending on the variety.

Fig: When the fruit is soft to the touch and “bows its head” off its stem. 

Time of year: Early summer to fall [1], July-fall [2]

Loquat: The fruit is ripe and ready to eat when it’s slightly soft when squeezed between the thumb and forefinger.

Time of year: January-April

Mulberry: All varieties go from a white/green to light red to ripe (this final color depends on the variety but can be either: black or white with a purple sheen.)

Time of year: April-May or through out the year if ever-bearing variety.

Peach: When fruit is soft, fragrant and easily separates from the tree stem with a light pull.

Time of year: April-June

Persimmon: “Some fruit astringent until fully ripe.” [1] For astringent varieties*, harvest when fruit is soft and resembles jelly texture(inside.) Non-astringent varieties*, can be eaten at the same stage of softness or when orange and crisp like an apple.

Time of year: Early Fall

Pineapple Guava/Feijoa: “Gray-green in color. Ripe fruit rarely found on bush in Florida. It usually drops. Pick when mature, take indoors to ripen. Eaten fresh or in jelly.” [1]

Time of year: August-October

Pomegranate: Harvest the pomegranate tree when the first fruit splits, even if it the date falls prior to the expected harvest date.

Time of year: July-November

Starfruit: When fruit is dark yellow but not brown and comes easily off the tree stem.

Time of year: Major crops summer and fall. Often 2-4 crops per year.

Surinam Cherry: Ripe when it is a dark red color or black, depending on variety.

Time of year: April-June

 

Companion plants

To further reduce weeding, pest issues and to increase the usefulness of your fruit tree area, you can plant useful companion plants under your fruit tree. Native wild flowers like Blanket flower and Black eyed Susan help reduce undesirable insect and pest issues. Other plants like Vetiver grass, Lemon grass, African Blue Basil or comfrey can help reduce weed pressure and provide medicine and herbs for personal use.

 

Growth, habitat, Sun requirements and Freeze tolerances can be found in the Fruit Tree Care Information Sheet Community Fruit Tree Information Sheet

 

Sources:

[1] Florida Fruit: Fresh Fruit for the Home, How to Choose and Grow Them 

[2] Florida Fruit & Vegetable Gardening: Plant, Grow, and Harvest the Best Edibles / Author Robert Bowden

[3] A Natural Farm

[4] IFAS

[5] Growables

[6] Floridata

 

Information for Each Fruit Tree

In this section we have provided links that we could find for each of the fruit trees. These links give you a good general idea about the tree and fruit and some of the links go much deeper in discussing care, pruning, pests, and more.

Avocado

Avocado information from A Natural Farm– includes a full care guide

Avocado information from IFAS

Avocado information from Growables

Avocado pruning from Growables

 

Fig

Fig information from A Natural Farm

Fig information from Growables

 

Loquat

Loquat information from A Natural Farm

Loquat information from IFAS

information from Growables

 

Mulberry 

Mulberry information from IFAS Gardening Solutions

Mulberry information from Growables

Mulberry information from Floridata

 

Peach

Peach information from A Natural Farm– includes a full care guide

Peach information from IFAS

Videos on how to prune, thin, and more from IFAS

Training and Pruning Florida Peaches, Nectarines and Plums guide from IFAS

Peach information from Growables

“Pruning and Thinning the Peach Tree for Best Results” from Growables

 

Persimmon

Persimmon information from A Natural Farm– includes a full care guide

Persimmon information from IFAS

Persimmon information from Growables

 

Pineapple Guava/ Feijoa

Pineapple Guava information from Floridata

Pineapple Guava information from Growables

 

Pomegranate

Pomegranate information from A Natural Farm

“Pomegranate in Florida for Commercial Enterprises and Homeowners” article from FSHS

“Introducing Pomegranates to the Dooryard” article from FSHS

Pomegranate information from Growables

Pomegranate pruning information from Growables

 

Starfruit/ Carambola

Star Fruit information from A Natural Farm

Star Fruit information from IFAS

Sar Fruit videos from IFAS

Star Fruit information from Growables

 

Suriname Cherry

Surinam Cherry information from A Natural Farm

Suriname Cherry information from Growables

 

Congratulations again on your Community Fruit Tree! We are confident this project will send positive ripples all over the community, and we are so happy to be on this journey with you! We are here to help you along the way. We encourage you to ask us questions through the Community Fruit Tree Facebook group or via email at [email protected]. We will not know every answer, but we will do our best to find the answer for you.

A special thanks to the Live Like Ally Foundation for providing us with a grant to plant these trees.



Resources:

Central Florida Fruit Society is a local group of people very passionate about fruit trees. Meetings are on the 3rd Monday of the month from 7PM – 9PM. You can post and meet people in their Facebook group as well.

UF/ IFAS Extension is an amazing resource for everything to do with gardening in Florida. It’s hard to even sum up all they have to offer. Pertaining to fruit trees they offer IFAS FruitScapes which is a great source of information including how to plant, select, and care for fruit trees. They offer guides specific to some fruit trees including a few of the Community Fruit Trees we planted- Avocado, Starfruit/ Carambola, Peach, and Persimmon.

Floridata A plant encyclopedia for Florida with great information on many fruit trees.

Growables– A source of information for growing Florida edibles, focused on South Florida, but still very helpful for fruit tree information.

Florida Fruit: Fresh Fruit for the Home, How to Choose and Grow Them (book)

Florida Fruit & Vegetable Gardening: Plant, Grow, and Harvest the Best Edibles book by Robert Bowden (Executive Director at Leu Gardens)

The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation. Check out the resource page including a guide to planting fruit trees, how to prune fruit trees, a hardiness zone chart and more.

Orlando Permaculture is an amazing group of local permaculturists. “Orlando Permaculture exists to disseminate the knowledge of Permaculture as it applies to the urban setting of Orlando, Florida.” Their Facebook group, and Facebook page, Orlando Permaculture, will provide you with many opportunities to learn and get involved. Orlando Permaculture hosts meetings on the 2nd Tuesday of every month where you can meet many experienced fruit tree stewards.

 

Nurseries to get fruit trees from

A Natural Farm and Educational Center offers a large variety of fruit trees at the farm or delivered, fruit tree workshops on the farm, and an abundance of information and care guides on their website.

Greens Nursery offers a large number of fruit trees and can order some trees that they don’t have.

HEART Village Nursery  offers a few varieties of fruit trees and a plethora of perennial plants at very low prices. They also offer tours of the nursery and host a few events.

South Seminole Farm & Nursery offers fruit trees for purchase as well as classes.

Lukas Nursery & Butterfly Encounter 

ECHO Global Farm