ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — Shawn Jadrnicek from Virginia Cooperative Extension is back to give us “All the Dirt” on growing fruit trees!

This time, Shawn started with tips on how to prevent critters and birds from getting first dibs on your harvest.

Shawn says there are cultural, mechanical, and sometimes repellant options to help prevent or eliminate problems. “A lot of these are specific to the pest,” he says, “but with birds, a common technique involves placing bird netting over the entire tree making sure it’s cinched in on the bottom so birds can’t come up from below.” 

For deer, Shaw suggests using tree tubes around individual trees. However, he says they need to be 5 feet high to prevent deer from eating the tops.  Deer fencing and deer repellents are also options.

“Squirrels are tricky,” Shawn says. “But you can place a 2-foot wide metal collar 6 feet off the ground to prevent squirrels from climbing up the tree but you’ll need to also prevent them from accessing the tree from other trees, wires, and roofs.”

Last month Shawn talked about how easy it is to grow Asian Persimmons. But he’s got another favorite and easy-to-grow fruit tree to grow at home. Asian Pears!

Shawn says Asian Pears may require more pruning than persimmons to maintain size and form but are much easier to grow than the European apples and pears we’re used to seeing in the store. 

Asian Pears do get a disease common to all pears and apples called fireblight which looks like the tips of the branches were burned with a torch but that disease can be cut out with sterilized pruning shears.

But some good news — birds also don’t like Asian Pears or fruits like the Asian persimmons so they are generally ignored. 

As for the difference between Asian and European Pears, Shawn says European pears are picked hard and then allowed to ripen off the tree getting slightly soft before eating.  They also have a more grainy texture to them.  These pears also don’t travel well and bruise easily. With the Asian Pears, you pick and eat them when they’re hard like an apple.  The texture is crunchy and juicy at the same time with a more floral flavor.  Shawn says they also store and transport well.

Shawn says there are some great native fruit trees that are easy to grow in our region.  Juneberry, also known as serviceberry, is a beautiful tree with showy white flowers in spring and red and yellow leaf colors in the fall.  It’s common to see them in commercial and residential landscapes around town.  Shawn says the fruit tastes and looks like blueberries with a hint of almond.

Shawn says Paw Paws are our largest native fruit and are found on easy-to-grow trees with great yellow fall color.  He says there are a lot of improved varieties, his favorite is “mango” which alludes to the flavor and texture of the fruit creamy and sweet with hints of banana and mango.