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Dwarf fruit trees can be iffy in northern climes

Q: I would like to plant an apricot tree in my yard, but I have a few questions. You say that early spring is best for planting. I assume that mid-May is too late to be considered early spring in northern Illinois. In this zone, we are encouraged not to plant most things until after May 15, which is when the frost danger passes. Is this too late for apricots? When would be ideal? What varieties do you recommend for this climate? Is there a well-producing dwarf variety?

My yard is not terribly big and I wouldn't mind having a smaller tree. Is it a bad idea to plant a tree next to the house? How much space should I allow? I realize this may depend on the size of the tree. I don't want to have problems with the roots running into the foundation.

A: Plant bare-root plants as soon as the frost is out of the ground and before the planting stock breaks dormancy. Nowadays, trees and shrubs can be planted during the growing season because most are containerized, so there is no or very little root disturbance.

Some good choices are moongold, sungold or goldcot. Plant two for best fruit production unless you have neighbors within one-quarter mile who have apricot trees. If there are any dwarf varieties, I am unaware of them. Generally, dwarf fruit trees are not dependably hardy in our area. Somewhere in the education of humanity, everybody was taught that planting trees close to a house will destroy the foundation.

Where I have seen that happen is when there is a break or leak in the foundation. If that happens, the roots will follow the flow of water and could hurt the foundation. Unless you have a weak foundation that leaks, you shouldn't have any problems, especially with an apricot tree.

I have pine, crabapple, birch and linden trees planted next to my foundation. Most have been there for 23-plus years, but no foundation problems have shown up. Plant the tree as close as is convenient for you and the tree. However, be sure to plant it outside the drip line of the roof.

Q: We are planting eight Nanking cherry trees. I am wondering about mulching around the base of the plants. They will be planted in fairly heavy soil. However, I have amended the soil to lighten it somewhat. What would be a proper mulch to put around the base to hold moisture and to repel grasses and weeds?

A: Everyone will have an opinion on this. Use bark chips or shredded bark, with the nod going in slight favor of the shredded bark because it seems to stay in place better once installed.

To contact Ron Smith for answers to your questions, write to Ron Smith, NDSU Department of Plant Sciences, Dept. 7670, Box 6050, Fargo, ND 58108-6050 or e-mail