Recently, I saw an advertisement for a ‘fruit cocktail’ tree. I’m intrigued. What should I expect from planting one?
A ‘fruit cocktail tree’ typically has a peach, plum, nectarine, and apricot growing on a single trunk. They are also referred to as a four and one combination fruit tree.
The ‘fruit cocktail’ name is strictly a marketing name created by an out of state mail order nursery. They were available locally during the eighties but faded away. They’re once again being promoted because of the homegrown trend.
While they have great name recognition, the trees don’t always live up to their expectations. I’d expect them to disappoint many gardeners who don’t recognize the unique issues necessary in growing them successfully.
The diameter of the grafts are not uniform, so the tree looks unbalanced or awkward, but they will balance in time.
The plum and apricot grafts are usually pencil thin while the peach and nectarine is more the size of your thumb. The grafts are fragile. If one breaks off, you now have a three and one tree.
The four varieties do not necessarily have the same growth rate; hence, they’re pruned throughout the year to avoid overcrowding.
Each variety should be allowed to occupy only a quarter of the canopy space. During the winter months, you’d remove fifty percent of the peach and nectarine growth and half as much, twenty-five percent with plum and apricots.
The grafts can easily exceed fifteen feet without some diligent pruning to keep the height down. They’re planted seven to ten feet off a fence line to keep all the fruit in your yard.
Established deciduous fruit trees are watered deeply, twice a month.
So, the area under the tree should be left unplanted, to prevent overwatering. Apples, pears and asian pears are the exceptions.
Frequent watering is a quick method of attracting borers and eventually losing the tree. With today's small gardens, this can limit the available planting area.
If you a large enough garden then planting three to four trees in a single hole is a better option. The trees are spaced two feet apart in a triangle within a four-foot planting space.
You’ll have multiple varieties growing in a small space with sufficient room for each variety to develop. You’ll get to select your personal favorites, not someone else’s.
The key to choosing varieties is the ripening date. You don’t want all the fruit to ripen at the same time or while you're away on vacation.
I’d select Ultra Dwarf fruit trees over a semi-dwarf variety, as the Ultra Dwarfs grow to about ten feet. The nursery professional at your favorite garden center is an excellent resource for selecting combinations of fruit trees, as they’re all not compatible.