April 2, 2020

Going Nuts Over Fruit

Prunus cerasus 'North Star'

Janine Pineo Photo | Prunus cerasus ‘North Star’ – photographed in 2013

• By Janine Pineo •

A little success can make a gardener go nuts.

Take me, for instance.

Over the years, I’ve failed miserably when trying to grow fruit plants. I can’t even begin to name the trees, bushes and plants that I have brought to a tragic end.

Sure, some of the apples are coming into their own, and I have a Concord grape that produced nearly a bushel of fruit last fall. But it has taken years to get those results, with a lot of casualties along the way. And sometimes one wants more immediate gratification.

All of which led me to multiply my fruit collection exponentially over the past year. Last spring, I purchased a pair of seaberries, a pair of honeyberries and another grapevine, all through mail order. At a Bangor nursery, Everlasting Farm, I found a pair of highbush blueberries and a pair of raspberries, both of which I have failed to grow in years past.

Somehow, someway, I got results.

As in nothing died.

To top it all off, my lonely strawberry plants – ravaged their first year by a rabbit until it got a taste of hot pepper wax spray – bore fruit all summer long, right until the first frost in October. I think they must have liked the company of the blueberries and raspberries, which are planted in the same bed.

Stranger still, I also had a few raspberries to eat over a span of several weeks.

Even stranger? I harvested a few blueberries as well.

No one was more shocked than I.

Well, maybe the plants.

Add to that the steady, sturdy growth of the honeyberry, seaberry and grapevine, and it was enough to go to my head.

So imagine my joy when I found that a greenhouse in my stomping grounds had added fruit trees and bushes to its collection this spring.

Guess where I was on opening day.

After picking out a few flats of pansies at Ellis’ Greenhouse in Hudson, I paused longingly by a pair of sugar maples, wondering if I could figure out a spot for at least one of them.

I couldn’t. At least not in the heat of the moment.

I moved on to the fruit trees, spotted the McIntosh apple I wanted and then perused the others, just to see what was there.

Wouldn’t you know I found something?

Actually, two somethings: a sweet and a sour cherry.

I dithered for a while, finally buying both. The sour cherry I had wanted for a long time, having researched it a few years back. Prunus cerasus ‘North Star’ is a dwarf variety, topping off at 9 feet at the most. I knew its compact size would make a fine focal point next to my renovated garden shed. I could just imagine the blossoms in the spring and the deep red fruit in the summer, dressing up that quiet corner of the yard.

Sour cherries, also called tart cherries, are self-fruitful, meaning they don’t require a different variety to pollinate, a definite benefit in small spaces.
As to the sour aspect of the fruit, it is hard to determine until I actually get some fruit. The only kind available fresh at the supermarket is of the sweet variety. I’ve read various texts on the taste of sour cherries, with some saying you can eat it raw when it is fully ripe and others saying it can only be used in pies and jams.

Funny, but it really doesn’t matter to me.

I decided to buy the sweet cherry, P. avium “Kristin,” because it, too, is smaller than many trees, averaging about 10 feet tall and wide, according to its tag.
The tag claimed it to be self-pollinating, but I have read to the contrary about that. The good news, however, is that the sour cherry could pollinate the sweet cherry if they blossom together, so I may never know whether it will or it won’t self-pollinate since I planted the sweet cherry on the opposite corner of the shed in a newly cleared section at the woods’ edge.

On the downside, I have more pruning to look forward to, although the trees are wide open at the moment. But I have gained confidence with the annual whacking of the apples, none of which seemed to have suffered from my inexperience.

Despite the drizzle and downpours of the past few weeks, I’ve been wandering about the yard, basking in the flowering of the strawberries and honeyberries. The raspberries have spread ferociously, and the blueberries and seaberries look good. The grapevines are waiting for some sunshine to burst into full leaf, and the apples are just coming into bloom, even the newly planted McIntosh.
And the cherries? The sweet has been planted and has had a few magnificent-smelling blossoms. The sour is in bloom and waiting for me to brave the weather and dig a hole for it.

As I have reveled in the potential fruiting power during my walkabouts, I finally decided on where to plant another bush I’d found at Blue Seal Feeds in Bangor.

Just to the left of my holly bushes is where I will set my Corylus americana.

Yep, that would be American filbert.

As in hazelnut.

As in I did say I’d gone nuts, didn’t I?

First published in the Bangor Daily News in June 2005.