Fruit trees are a great way to add some life and color to your backyard, as well as provide an additional food source that you raise and care for yourself. These four care tips will allow your trees to stay fruitful while taming any unruly off-shoots.

Following this short but inclusive guide will provide you with the knowledge to help your fruit trees, help you.

Tip 1: Consistent Watering

Soaking the fruit tree’s root ball before even planting yields the best results. The goal is to fully saturate the soil, which means breaking out the hose to eliminate any hidden air pockets. On the first day of planting, we suggest spreading six watering sessions throughout the day evenly.

After this first day, something to note is the season. Depending on the time of year, this will affect how much and how often to irrigate. To determine this, check the soil’s moisture level with a moisture meter, which you can find inexpensively at most garden centers and home improvement stores. We suggest checking the soil both 18 inches and 36 inches away from the trunk, as well as the “drip line” (or the perimeter of the tree’s farthest-reaching branches.) A best practice is to check beneath the mulch in a few spots at these distances.

In subsequent waterings, it’s recommended to water the tree starting from the drip line and moving outwards one to two feet until the moisture meter reads moist. We recommend taking readings at least once a week during the growing season, as simply looking at the plant for clues can be misleading.

Tip 2: Mulch for the Microbes

Mulch provides many benefits for a healthy garden. Commonly known reasons include acting as a defense against weeds and keeping soil temperate and moist. Those benefits aside, mulch also creates the perfect ecosystem for biodiverse soil, making a home for root-nourishing fungi and microbes. The ideal mulch is made of various organic materials and laid in a cover of four to six inches thick. The mulch should be put down six to eight inches away from the bark to help prevent rot.

Any mulch that has a 10% to 20% saturation of only one material, such as compost, wood chips and nuggets, grass clippings, or tree detritus such as pine needles and leaves, is a no-go. To create diversity, after calculating how much mulch you need, find a variety of mulches to supplement each other. Make notes of the contents and try to avoid the aforementioned 10% to 20% of any one material. Keeping the top layer something like wood chips, is okay for aesthetic purposes.

Tip 3. Don’t Stick to One Fertilizer

You should choose fertilizer and its contents by the short-term goals set for the tree. Utilize the following method to help you: after planting, the first two or three years are about getting the tree to a mature height without worrying about fruit production. To achieve this, a blend focused on growth would look like a 16-4-8 ratio between nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), respectively. The fertilizer will come with instructions on the bag that include frequency and general handling, so following those is key until the tree reaches your desired height.

Each tree will have an optimal range for your needs, so researching and planning a fertilizing timeline will let you know when to switch the formula. For example, a pruned peach tree between 7 and 8 feet tall will produce 50 pounds of fruit over two weeks of a growing season, as commercial orchards will have 20-foot trees that grow 350 pounds of fruit in the same amount of time.

Once the tree has reached a manageable height, focusing on root, flower, and fruit development will require switching to a new fertilizer formula. The idea behind focusing on the roots and fruits is so that less time and resources go into pruning a tree. The new formula ideally has two or three times less nitrogen than phosphorus and potassium, an example being 3-12-12, respectively. Again, feeding in early spring and midsummer is recommended.

As a reminder, growing fruit trees is quite the undertaking, and throwing money at it doesn’t necessarily yield better results. As living organisms, trees need about three years to acclimate to the conditions around them before reaching their full potential. So while an older tree might produce slightly more fruit slightly faster, allowing a younger tree to establish itself in your yard is an investment with a better payoff down the road.

Tip 4. Scheduled Pruning

Keep the bulk of pruning to mid-summer and late-winter. Hands-on pruning rejuvenates the tree and allows you to gauge how the tree is doing. Between May and August, summer pruning is where you can control the overall size of the tree. Make sure to cut back any branches that might be reaching past an acceptable radius. Summer is also a good time to shower the whole tree using a garden hose and spray extension. The pressure should be enough to clear accumulated dust, cobwebs, pests, and scale without actually harming the foliage and bark.

Late-winter pruning, which could also happen in early spring if you so choose, is where you can take a more detailed approach to pruning. Here, look for crossed branches and dead and diseased limbs, and assess air circulation.

When pruning, if a disease or infestation is found, it’s important to find the cause before haphazardly spraying powders and formulas to fix the issue. To identify the disease or insect, clip a sample from the damaged area (making sure to wear protective equipment) and place the selection in a sealable bag to not accidentally infect nearby trees.

Take the sample to a reputable nursery focusing on fruit trees and ask for recommended treatments. Being proactive in diagnosing an issue and simply keeping the tree clean can prevent problems later on.