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Fruit Tree Glossary

Here is a start on terms that you will find around the web site. Some are linked to more in-depth pages. Also see our checklists and tutorials, pollination primer, introduction to diseases and pests, and more resources on our Learn Trees hub.

Apple Shop for apple trees

The forbidden fruit, the lunchbox fruit, the smartphone fruit – where would we be without the apple? At Cummins Nursery, we grow some 687 varieties in our scion block. Over 2,500 varieties are grown in the USA, and 7,500 worldwide – though you will only find a dozen kinds in grocery stores. You can shop here for apple trees, including disease-resistant cultivars, cold-hardy, cider, heirloom, and more.

Apricot Shop for apricot trees

Few Americans properly appreciate the apricot – the "finest of summer's fruits." Fewer still have enjoyed the most sublime of all harvest moments: plucking a fresh, ripe apricot off a tree... and eating it. You can shop for apricot trees, including cold-hardy and other varieties, in our store.

Bare Root

We sell only bare root trees. A plant that is stored and shipped with no soil around its roots is commonly referred to as “bare root” (in contrast to “potted”). Bare root trees are industry standard for orchard and home plantings, and trees sold in this manner are generally two years old. Although “bare” might seem to imply that the roots are exposed, we pack the root ball in wet sawdust and tightly wrap it in plastic to prevent the roots from drying out while in transit.

Biodynamic

Biodynamic (not to be confused with biologique, the French term meaning “organic”) describes a specific approach to horticulture that is characterized by a holistic view of growing systems. The principles of biodynamic farming are rooted in the teachings of Rudolph Steiner, a late-nineteenth century philosopher and esotericist from Austria.  He is also the founder of the Waldorf teaching style. 

Bloom Dates

The bloom date is the range of days during which a given variety or species is flowering. If two trees are to successfully pollinate one another, they must be in flower at the same time. Therefore a tree’s bloom date is an essential piece of the puzzle when determining pollination compatibility. 

Budwood

A hardwood cutting that is harvested during the growing season may be referred to as budwood. These cuttings are made for the purpose of plant propagation and they are distinguished from scion wood cuttings, which are made when a tree is dormant. 

Cambium

The cambium, or the cambial zone, is the layer of plant cells not far beneath the hard outer bark. It plays a number of essential roles in tree health and growth: it produces the phloem layer, which delivers nutrients to the tree, and it generates the xylem, through which water is delivered to the tree. The most important thing to know about cambium is that you should avoid damaging it! When grafting, cambial contact is vital. The cambium of the rootstock and the scion need to be aligned in order for the two plants to fuse into a single tree. 

Cherry Shop for cherry trees

Life is not a bowl of cherries, but you can still have cherry pie in a cherry-red 'Vette with a cherry on top. Shop for cherry trees here, including cold-hardy, crack-resistant, self-fertile, sweet, tart, and more.

Chip Budding

Chip budding is a method of plant propagation that is commonly performed during the growing season, normally during the month of August.  

Chill Hours

Each variety of tree has its own chill hours requirement. This refers to how many hours at 32°-45°F a tree requires to break down its dormancy hormones in winter. A tree will not wake from dormancy and bud and flower in a regular manner if it does not receive sufficient chill hours. Trees, like people, need a good night’s sleep. Different varieties of apple can vary quite dramatically in terms of their chill hours requirement, and it is important to pay attention to this detail if you live in a warmer climate with shorter, mild winters. 

Cider Apple Classifications  Shop for cider apple trees

There are the four categories to which European and American cider varieties are traditionally assigned. The categories are known as the Long Ashton Classifications, after the Long Ashton Research Station in Bristol, England, and they are based on the various ratios of tannins and acidity present in the pressed juice of the fruit. The categories are: sharp, bittersharp, bittersweet, and sweet.

Conventional 

Conventional farming employs synthetic chemical compounds such as fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides in order to promote growth and control diseases and pests. This can be contrasted with organic farming, where no synthetic chemicals are used, and with the blended practices of integrated pest management (IPM). 

Custom Trees Get Custom Trees

We accept custom orders. These are orders that customers place for trees that are not included in our speculation inventory. Custom orders allow our clients to define in advance the desired varieties, rootstocks, and quantities in their order.  

Diseases & Pests

Organisms that are harmful to your trees and fruit are diseases and pests. These include animals such as deer, insects such as moths and beetles, and pathogens such as fungi and bacteria. Not all such organisms are diseases and pests, and some are essential to your trees. For example, many insects provide pollination services, and these are sometimes called “beneficials.” 

Dormant season

Also known as winter!  As the Earth turns away from the sun, trees first lose their leaves and then cease to grow. This hibernation, or dormancy is a normal part of the yearly cycle of a fruit tree, and it enables the tree to survive harsh winter conditions such as freezing temperatures and lack of water. This  is also the time when major pruning is best performed on apple and pear trees. Stone fruit, such as peaches, should be pruned later, after dormancy.

Dutch Cut

A Dutch cut is a type of pruning cut used to encourage regrowth. The cut is made at an angle such that the remaining stub is wider at the base and narrower at the top. This encourages new growth to emerge at a nice wide angle from the underside of the cut.

Dwarf

Although grafting has been practiced in Western agriculture since the Greeks and Romans, dwarfing trees are a relatively modern invention. Dwarfing is enabled when scion wood is grafted to a rootstock that controls the size of the mature tree. A fully dwarfed tree is about 25-35% of the size that the tree would reach if it was grown from a seedling. 

Fruit Appearance

As you would imagine, fruit appearance refers to how fruit looks. Fruit appearance encompases the size, shape, color, and surface texture of a fruit. It is generally determined by genetics, although the health of a tree can play a significant role. Commercial producers tend to be more interested in fruit appearance, while home growers often care more about flavor and texture.

Fruit Storage

Some apple varieties remain edible in storage until the following spring, while others may last for only a few weeks before turning into a mushy, unpleasant mess. Fruit storage refers both to the ability of a given variety to “hold up” in storage and to the practice of keeping fruit in storage for any period of time.

Grade

At Cummins Nursery, as at other commercial nurseries, we assign “grades” to our trees. Though all trees are the same age (two years), the vicissitudes of Mother Nature mean that not all trees grow as large and as vigorously as their neighbors in the field. We assign a grade to each tree as a way of providing a shorthand descriptor for the tree’s size and overall quality. 

Grade #0 or "Fancy"

This is our highest, fanciest grade of tree, the cream of the crop. Trees in this grade have grown to the upper limits that its genetics allow in a given season. Generally trees in this grade have a trunk caliper greater than ¾" and five or more branches. Bear in mind that this is a general description, and that the grade definitions for each specific variety will be relative to the overall vigor of the variety. 

Grade #1 or "Feathered"

This was previously the highest grade we offered at Cummins Nursery, before the introduction of Fancy Grade. These trees typically have a trunk caliper between 1/2" and 5/8", and they are bearing three or more branches. Bear in mind that this is a general description, and that the grade definitions for each specific variety will be relative to the overall vigor of the variety. 

Grade #2

These trees are strong, sturdy whips. Grade #2 trees typically have a trunk caliper between 5/8" and 3/4" and fewer than three branches. Bear in mind that this is a general description, and that the grade definitions for each specific variety will be relative to the overall vigor of the variety. 

Grade #3 

These trees are mid-sized whips. Grade #3 trees typically have a caliper of 1/2" and 9/16" and bear few or no branches. Bear in mind that this is a general description, and that the grade definitions for each specific variety will be relative to the overall vigor of the variety. 

Grade#4

These are acceptable whip trees. Grade #4 trees typically have a caliper between 5/16" and 7/16" and bear few or no branches. Bear in mind that this is a general description, and that the grade definitions for each specific variety will be relative to the overall vigor of the variety. 

Grade #5

These trees are small whips. Grade #5 trees typically have a caliper between 1/4" and 5/16" and bear few or no branches. These are our smallest trees, but they are still a good option if you are on a budget and you have a lot of love to offer. 

Graft

“A graft” is a tree that has been created by joining dormant scion wood to a rootstock, while “to graft” is the act of creating such a tree. Grafted trees can be contrasted with “budded” trees, unions of scions and rootstocks that are created during the growing season, and “seedlings,” trees that have been grown completely from seed. 

Graft Union

The point on the plant where the tissues of the scion or variety have knitted to the rootstock is called the graft union. As the tree heals, a lumpy raised scar is formed around the union, and this is sometimes called the graft collar. The area of the graft union and graft collar is often vulnerable, especially on younger trees. 

Grafting Checklist: How to Graft a Fruit Tree

Performed during dormant season, grafting is a method by which the wood of a specific variety (the upper part of the tree) is joined to a specific rootstock (the mostly underground part of the tree). Grafting is actually commonly practiced with many other types of plant besides fruit trees, such  as grape vines and rose bushes. In these crazy modern times, people are even grafting their tomatoes and cucumbers.

Growing season

Also known as spring, summer and fall! This is the period when trees and plants receive sufficient daylight and warmth to put on new growth. The length of your growing season will depend on where exactly you live, but it is an important factor to consider when choosing a tree. Some trees require quite long growing seasons in order for their fruit to ripen, while others prefer long winters to complete their dormancy cycles. If a tree we sell has unusual requirements, this is mentioned in the tree description. 

Growing Zones

America is a huge country, from Alaska to Florida, and it contains many very different types of climate. We use the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) zones as a shorthand for indicating which areas of America a specific tree will grow well in. 

Head 

To “head” a branch is to perform a heading cut on it.

Heading Cut

When you first plant your tree, you should perform a heading cut. That is, you should cut off the growing end about 30" from the ground. Although this might seem a bit drastic, it will stimulate your tree to put out new growth. The initial heading cut is best made at an angle, to discourage water-logging in the wound. Any later cut made along a branch, not removing the entire branch, is also a heading cut.

Heeling In

A tree whose root ball has been temporarily packed into soil or another protective medium for storage or transportation has been “heeled in.” We carefully heel in our trees when we are preparing them for shipping so that they remain healthy during transportation. If you are not quite ready to plant your trees when they arrive, you do need to keep the roots cool and moist, but you do not need to heel them in again.

IPM (Integrated Pest Management)

IPM or Integrated Pest Management is a practice that combines conventional farming with other methods of pest and disease control so that the use of synthetic chemicals is minimized whenever possible. The aim of IPM is to grow economically viable crops whilst also doing the least amount of damage to human health and the environment. IPM practices are often used by home growers and small farms when fully organic cultivation is not feasible.

Kerf

A kerf is a slice made in a tree. When training fruit trees, a kerf is used to spread a branch that has grown too large to be spread using less aggressive measures. To make a kerf, a cut is made with a pruning saw on the underside of the branch, about 1/4" deep and 5" long. The branch can then be pulled down to the desired angle using weights or straps. This is not a standard pruning technique and it is typically only used when proper training has been neglected earlier in the tree’s growth.

Liner

“Liner” is an alternative name for a rootstock that has been planted out in a nursery bed in preparation for chip budding. 

Mystery Tree

We grow over 650 varieties of tree at Cummins Nursery. We do our best to keep track of them all, but sometimes a tree slips through the cracks, loses its label, or escapes from its bin. If the variety name and or rootstock has become unclear for one reason or another during the growing season, this is what we call a Mystery Tree. 

Nectarine Shop for nectarine trees

Nectarines are smooth-skinned peaches – and possibly the most polarizing of the fuzzless fruits. People either love them or make no space in their lives for nectarines at all. If you want to make space for nectarines in your orchard, shop for nectarine trees here.

Notching

Notching is a method used to stimulate desired growth on blind wood (areas, usually on the trunk or central leader, where the tree is not putting out branches). To make a notch, simply use a razor to slice into the tree above a node. This interrupts the flow of auxin at that portion of the plant, which encourages the plant to generate a limb just below the cut. Notching is most effective when performed on younger trees and it should be done about two weeks before bloom. Growers should be aware that notching, or any unnecessary wound, increases the risk of fireblight and other infections. 

Organic

Organic farming emphasizes biological controls for pests and diseases, natural fertilizers such as manure and bone meal, and other non-synthetic tools and methods for managing the growing environment. Most conventional, synthetic chemicals such as pesticides are not used, although in some cases “organic” chemicals will have the same composition as their conventionally branded counterparts. 

Peach Shop for peach trees

Peaches are fuzzy nectarines. They used to be peach-shaped, but now you can them donut-shaped, too. In America, Delaware was once the Peach State. Then Delaware became the First State and Georgia took the Peach State. Now China grows 60% of the world's peaches. You can grow your own own peaches in your very own kingdom – shop for peach trees here, including cold-hardy, disease-resistant, freestone, flat (donut) peaches, and more.

Pear Shop for pear trees

True fruit lovers know that every apple wants to be a pear.  Few apples on earth can claim to be as delicate, as refined – as splendidly French, really – as even the plainest pear.  Let's be honest:  Would you rather eat a poached apple or a poached pear?  Exactly.  You can shop for pear trees here, including European, Asian, cold-hardy, perry pears, and more.

Plum Shop for plum trees

Plum pudding. Sugarplum Fairy. Little Jack Horner. The stuff of legends. You can shop for plum trees here, including European, Japanese, hybrid, cold-hardy, and more.

Pytosanitary

Phytosanitary is an adjective that means “relating to the health of plants.” It is used most often in relation to moving plants over national or international borders.  A phytosanitary inspection is required in order for nurseries in the state of NY to ship plants into the state of California. 

Pollination

Pollination occurs when pollen grains are transferred from the male anther of a flower to the female stigma of a flower. As with fertilization in animal reproduction, trees will not produce fruit unless pollination has occurred. 

Pome Fruit

“Pome” comes from the Latin word pomum, which simply means fruit. In English, pome fruits are specifically those with a core containing several seeds and surrounded by a tough membrane. This membrane is delightfully packaged in the fleshy, edible part. The main pome fruits are apple, pear, and quince.  The study of pomes is called pomology, and a person who studies apples, pears, quince, or other pomes is called a pomologist.

Precocity

If a tree is precocious, it tends to bear fruit early in its life. Rootstocks can have a significant impact on the precocity of a variety. 

Ripening Dates

The ripening dates are the range of days within which a specific variety ripens and is ready to be harvested.  

Rootstock

A rootstock is a plant that is bred specifically for grafting or budding. The rootstock will form the lower part of the tree, the root system and the first few inches of trunk above the ground. It is the rootstock that controls the size of the mature tree. It also exerts a strong influence on soil adaptivity, productivity, precocity, and disease resistance. The upper part of the tree, which is attached to the rootstock, is often called the “scion” or simply the “variety.”

Scion

“Scion” is a word that means roughly the same thing as “variety.” When a tree is grafted or budded, the scion is the upper part of the tree, almost everything that is above ground. The scionwood that is used during grafting will dictate the variety of the final tree, whether it is a Gala or a Granny Smith.

Scionwood

During the dormant season, we make hardwood cuttings from hundreds of different varieties of tree so that these can be grafted onto rootstocks. These are our scionwood cuttings.

Seedling

A tree propagated from a seed (as opposed to grafted or budded) is a seedling. In apple world, each seed contains a unique combination of genetic material, so growing from seed is not a reliable way to replicate a specific variety. (There are a few exceptions to this rule, such as Antonovka). Seedling cultivation is most often used by growers who are developing new fruit varieties. Also, a number of rootstocks are grown from seed. 

Semi

The term “semi” refers to the class of trees sized between dwarf and semi-dwarf. Mature semi trees are about 35-40% of the size of mature seedlings of the same variety. 

Semi-Dwarf

The term “semi-dwarf” refers to the class of trees sized between dwarf and standard. Mature semi-dwarf trees are about 50% of the size of mature seedlings of the same variety. 

Semi-Standard

The term “semi-standard” refers to the class of trees sized between semi-dwarf and standard. Mature semi-dwarf trees range from 65-95% of the size of mature seedlings of the same variety. 

Speculation Inventory

Our speculation inventory is the list of trees that we propagate and make available for general sales. This list is shaped by sales patterns in previous years, and we aim to satisfy growers of all types when we plan our inventory. 

Standard

The term “standard” refers to the class of trees that is full sized. Mature standard trees are 100% of the size of mature seedlings of the same variety. 

Stone Fruit

Stone fruits can be contrasted with pome fruits (apples and pears). A stone fruit contains a single pit or stone in its center, as opposed to the numerous seeds of pome fruits. The stone fruit trees we sell are peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums, and cherries

Stub Cut

A stub cut, as you would imagine, leaves a stub. These are typically avoided, as the aim of pruning is often to encourage regrowth (using heading or Dutch cuts) or to discourage growth (using thinning cuts). A stub of dead wood on a tree provides access for diseases and insects. 

Tree Height & Spacing

The tree spacing or orchard layout should take into account the height and width of the mature trees and the type of training system that will be used as the trees grow. Spacing can vary dramatically depending on these factors, from 2.5' x 12' (1300 trees per acre) to 40' x 40' (25 trees per acre).

Variety

The term “variety” can be used interchangeably with “scion.” It refers to the specific type of the species, for example, Honeycrisp is a variety of the species apple.

Vigor (%) (Size Class)

The vigor % refers to the mature size to which a given variety will grow. This will fall somewhere on the spectrum of 25% (dwarf) to 100% (standard).

Wildlife Plantings  Shop for wildlife trees

Some landowners are interested in growing apple or pear trees to attract wildlife, either for hunting or because they enjoy watching a deer and other animals gobble up fruit in the yard. You can learn more and shop for wildlife trees.

+x or -x, e.g. “Shenandoah (+25)”

The + or - glyph and numeral which often appear next to a variety name indicate its ripening date with reference to the ripening of a specific standard variety. In the example “Shenandoah (+25)” this means that Shenandoah ripens 25 days later than Bartlett, which is the ripening standard for all other pears. 

The standard varieties are:

  • Apple = McIntosh (sometimes Red Delicious is used)
  • Pear = Bartlett
  • Peach = Redhaven
  • Plum = Stanley 
  • Sweet Cherry = Bing
  • Tart Cherry = Montmorency
  • Apricot = Harcot







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