Gardening in Colorado’s Front Range: fruit trees

 colorado front range gardening growing fruit trees and berries

Hi folks, this post is region specific to share some of the things what we’ve learned in the 7 years of living and gardening in Colorado’s Front Range. Although we come from a family of gardeners and have had lush gardens in our home country, gardening at this altitude (6,975 ft or 2126 meters) has given us a lot of challenges. But gradually we found what seem to do well and give good results with least effort. And while it does take work and often comes with many heartbreaks (those late Spring 2 foot snowfalls) it is so worth it!

Whether or not you live in Colorado or at another high-altitude (and not very garden-friendly) place on Earth I hope you find this post helpful to you as well.

Plant some fruit trees

 colorado front range gardening growing fruit trees and berries

I highly recommend to plant your fruit trees the moment you decided to start a garden ๐Ÿ™‚ . The thing is some trees may take a year, two or even three to establish before they are ready to give abundant fruit. Most of our trees started giving fruit on the second or third year.

And although it is an investment (particularly in Colorado) to buy a tree) the fruit trees are great in the sense that with littlest work on a good year you will have loads and loads of delicious fruit. And on a bad year (meaning late spring frost that kills all the blooms) you’d just a have a beautiful tree to give you shade, greenery and cleaner air ๐Ÿ™‚

growing fruit trees in Colorado
growing fruit trees in Colorado

Peaches, apples, plums, pears…
what should you plant?

First I wanted to share with you which of the fruit trees did well in our experience and successfully produced fruit, and which did nothing but struggled.

And after that I’m sharing some specific notes on planting and caring for your tree.

Peach tree — success

growing peaches in Colorado

I’m starting with the peach tree, because to our surprise both of our peach trees are the ones that never fail to fruit and give amazing peaches! Our current trees are about 5 years old and a 2 year old. Every year we owned these trees, except the very first year, we had peaches. Even on those years where we had bad late Spring frosts and snows and all the blooms on the other fruit trees were killed the peach trees somehow made it through and still gave us peaches! Something we would have never expected.

Unfortunately we no longer have the tags showing the tree variety, but we got ours from Hardings Nursery and from the Phelan Gardens.

Plum tree — success

Another prolific fruiting tree is a plum. We also have 2, one is about 5-6 year old and is quite big by now, another is only a couple years old. Both give fruit and do really well. Our 5 year old tree last year had probably more plums than leaves, and they were absolutely delicious, sweet as honey!

Note on plum trees — plum trees give sucklings, similarly to aspens. They need to be pulled and removed regularly, so they don’t take over your whole garden.

Pear tree — mostly good

The successful part about our pear tree is that it always gives good amount of fruit. The less successful aspect is that if the summer is a cold one, like this year, then the pears might never fully ripped. We are half way through July and our pears are still not even close. And if we get an early frost then it’d be the end of them. However, in the worse case you could pick them green and boil them. It might sound weird to you, but they are delicious when boiled. You can also make compote with them. My grandma had absolutely giant fruit trees and more fruit she knew what to do with. I remember her cellar was always full with jar of delicious preserved fruit, including boiled pears.

Apple tree — fifty/fifty, but still worth it

growing fruit trees in Colorado

Many apple trees require another tree to pollinate, so plan accordingly your space. We have in total 4 apple trees. Only 1 of them ever gave us apples, the one that is grafted with 4 varieties that we got from Boulder. But it has given us good amounts of apples for boys to enjoy.

I highly recommend getting grafted trees with multiple varieties as that way they can cross-pollinate each other. Also if one variety just doesn’t like it in your area, you still have other varieties on the same tree. Another good thing is that each variety blooms and rippens at different time. So a late frost kills the blooms of one variety, your other varieties could still make it though. And it is also nice to have your harvest stretch through the summer into fall, as some of apples are ready in August, while others at the end of September.

Cherry tree — little success, but we plan to try again

Our first cherry tree never bloomed. It just would never form any flowers, and after few years we removed it. Our second tree had no flowers last year (which was its first year), but it did give us few berries this year. So we are going to watch how it does and post and update here next year.

Apricot tree — zero success

In my home country we had several large apricot trees and I was really looking forward to having them in my garden. However, it turned out to be least suitable stone fruit for our area. The main reason is that it blooms very early. Long before any other trees. So every year the blooms got killed by the frost.

May be we got an unsuitable variety, but it was from a local nursery so we expected it to be something that could successfully grow here. And may be ordering online a special late-blooming variety could work out. Definitely worth looking into, as apricots are just such delicious fruit!

Planting and caring for your trees

Lastly, I wanted to share planting and caring notes from our 7 years of experience of gardening here. Hope you’d find them helpful and it will aid you with ensuring your trees do well. After all not only they are expensive, but having a tree struggle, fail and die after all the hard work put into it is heart-breaking and discouraging.

When should you plant?

In general best times for planting of trees are early Fall (September and very early October) and early Springs (once the soil is soft to dig). Some of our fruit trees were planted in Spring and others in early Fall. All are doing well. We have some trees which were planted during Summer when we first bought our house. They also made it, but it is more stressful for the trees (and any plants really) to be transplanted in the summer due to all the heat and the fact that the tree is in a very active stage of its yearly cycle.

So, if you are ready to get some fruit trees now it is a perfect time, plus plant nurseries often have end of the year sale on many plants. Shop around a bit. We got 4 nice evergreen few years ago for a fraction of the price.

Problems and solutions

We own our house for 7.5 years and in this time we have planted 25 trees in total (not counting aspens). We have lost 5 trees from that and almost lost 2 more. This is what we have learned from our experience.

  • Problem #1: roots do not want or simply unable to spread into the terrible soil we got in our region. In some places of our yard it was composed of just solid as a rock compounds of clay. It was so hard we couldn’t even dig a hole deep enough with a shovel.

    Solution: If your soil is similarly pour and dense, consider over-digging the hole for the tree as much as you can and fill it with good soil, compost and natural fertilizers. If you are hiring nursery employees to plant the tree for you — pay them extra and have them dig the hole twice as big as they intended to. The employees most likely tell you it is not necessary. But our experience shows the opposite.

  • Problem #2: trees are planted with roots bounded in a metal cage and often a burlap around it. Root ball is very tightly woven, instead of being spread out. As a result the tree is having hard time to establish and spread the roots. Upon removing some of our dead trees we discovered that they never spread their roots outside the cage root ball even after a year or even two.

    Solution: make sure the nursery employees cut the wire cage as much as possible. Another thing, we started doing with all our newly planted plants (bushes and flowers included) is to loosen up the roots as much as we can. Sometimes the root ball is so tight it is not possible. But if you are buying a smaller tree in a pot you might be able to really loosen that root ball. Don’t worry about harming the tree. We do it with all the plants we plant (flowers as well as house plants) and they all do well afterwards. Note, nursery employees will most likely advise against it or say it will cancel your tree warranty (because it is not their usual practice) — so it is up to you whether or not to follow this bit of advise.

  • Problem #3: the dense clay soil doesn’t allow drainage. Trees not planted on the elevated areas got ruined or killed from root rot resulted from standing water inside the hole where tree was planted.

    Solution: Do not plant a tree near areas of drainage or collecting water. We have lost 3 trees to root rotting from drowning. To solve this problem we have added a 2′-3′ berm all along the back side of our yard where a lot of water was coming from the neighbor’s lawn. We also added a french drain to draw the water away to the edge of our yard. Lastly we planted some willow plants to help and absorb excessive water.

    One of the trees that was drowning, but still alive was replanted on the berm and did great ever since. The others died as they were too big to move on our own.

  • Problem #4: the dense clay soil also doesn’t saturate with water, but instead the water just runs off it. Trees and other plants planted on the tops of our berms are always under-watered and struggle.

    Solution: We noticed the couple trees and other plants planted on top of the little man-made hill we have in our yard always struggle and upon inspection we noticed that they often were dry, even after I run irrigation. We noticed that the water was simply sliding off the sloped area and then pooling at the bottom drowning other plants. Deep root watering helps, as well as making a bowl-shaped barrier few feet around the tree trunk, so you can fill it with water and let it soak in instead of running off down the slope.

  • Problem #5: and then you get a winter kill when it is too cold too early before the tree is ready, and/or too cold without snow.

    Not much could be done in those situation though.

Other general notes

In case you are new to owning fruit trees here are few things to know:

  • Fruit trees need full sun all day long to give fruit!
  • You can buy a regular-sized tree (meaning it will grow to a LARGE tree, or a dwarf or semi-dwarf variety which will be much smaller trees when fully grown. All of our trees are semi-dwarf as we have limited space and didn’t want to shade the rest of our garden with large trees.
  • Some trees are self-pollinating, while others require another tree to pollinate. This means that some trees will not produce fruit unless there is another tree of the same type (another apple tree, for example) planted within certain proximity to it.
  • You can get grafted trees which will offer multiple varieties on the same tree. One of our apple trees has 5 varieties on it. You can find grafted apples, pears, plums and probably many others. We could not find them in Colorado Springs, and got ours from Boulder.
  • Watch for birds and squirrels when fruiting time starts. Although miraculously squirrels have been leaving our peaches alone.
  • Watch for birds in spring at blooming time. This year purple finches ripped nearly all of our plum tree blooms. Not for eating, just for fun as it seems, as the ground was covered in flowers. No flowers = no fruit.
  • Some years your tree might have SO MUCH fruit that branches will need support so they do not break.
  • When the fruit is abundant you might need to rip some of the fruit off, as it could be too much for the tree to nurture. And you might end up with a lot of small, underdeveloped and tasteless fruit.

    Last year our peach tree had a tremendous amount of peaches. But at the end they were all small and not very sweet. This year we had a fraction of the same harvest on that tree and each peach was very large, juicy and sweet.

  • We had epic aphid infestations on our plum tree. Ladybugs really work! I bout a couple of jars from Ace Hardware (you can also order online). Do not shake them out though, because they just end up falling on the ground. Instead crack-open the lid and hang or stick up on the tree near the leaves with aphids. Ladybugs will crawl out on their own and find good places on the tree to settle down.
  • Here is a effective and chemical-free pesticide control for crawling types of insects (some of them can ruin your harvest, like those worms that dig into apples and pears).
  • Deer — if you get deer (which we don’t) do the best you can to protect your tree as they will eat fine branches and also tree’s bark. And while the branches can grow out, but once the tree’s bark has been damaged the tree will likely struggle and even can die. We usually placed clear rigid plastic or meal mesh around our tree trunk for the winter, a that is the time we occasionally get deer wonder in looking for food in our neighborhood.

What worked well for you in your garden?

If you are also a gardener in a high altitude area — I’d love to hear any of your own experience. Leave some comments about which fruits trees do good for you and any gardener’s advise or tricks. ๐Ÿ™‚

growing fruit trees in Colorado

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