Why relegate fruit trees to the backyard?

JOHN Miller never saw a fruit tree that wasn't an outstanding ornamental, something you could grow with pride anywhere in your garden. ''Why make only the backyard beautiful when fruit trees grow just as well out front,'' he contends.

Mr. Miller is biased, of course. He is the third-generation owner of the Miller Nurseries here, and fruits - all kinds from red strawberries to, believe it or not, black-skinned apples - are his business.

He sells fruit trees and fruit-bearing shrubs in a region that includes the Northeast and adjacent states. And, like his colleagues and competitors all around the country, his job also includes educating homeowners.

Too many of them believe fruit growing involves a lot of space, and almost none thinks a fruit tree belongs out front. Folks are wrong on both counts, Mr. Miller insists.

There are peach, apricot, and other fruit trees now available in such dwarfed form that they can be grown in tubs not much bigger than those required by tomatoes.

Folks will drive out into the country during apple-blossom time just to drink in the beauty of the blossoms. Each spring, thousands of people vacationPz ;ashington, D.C., just to see the cherry blosswmw why not plant fruit trees in the front garden, Mr. Miller wants to know, where the beauty you travel so far to see will be all around you? Come late summer and fall the fruit will be an added bonus.

In promoting their products, fruit-tree growers make this additional point: Everyone knows that home-grown is better when it's done right.

The trouble is, not everyone in a family appreciates home-grown when it comes in the form of vegetables. But fruit is another matter altogether. As Marie Antoinette might have put it, you will find it much simpler to ''let them eat fruit.''

Right now at Miller's and similar operations around the country the busy season is in full swing. The bare-root planting season has already begun in parts of the South, and it will move steadily northward as the season advances.

Mail-order nurseries ship all plants in a dormant, bare-root (no soil around the roots) state. When you get yours there will be some immediate steps to take:

* Remove the tree from its wrapping and soak the dehydrated roots in a pail of tepid water for one or two hours.

* While the roots are soaking, prepare the planting site by digging a hole somewhat larger than the size of the roots.

* When digging, place the topsoil on one side of the hole and the subsoil on the other side. Remove half of the subsoil and substitute peat moss or some other organic material, such as compost or thoroughly decomposed manure.

The importance of this organic matter cannot be overemphasized, according to Mr. Miller, because it stores the moisture so important to a tree early on.

* Mix the soils and peat moss together and throw some into the hole, forming an inverted cone.

* Prune off any damaged roots and, if the tree has not been pruned by the nursery (most are these days), prune away one-third of the top to compensate for the one-third root loss when the tree was dug from the nursery. Remember when dealing with roots: The fine hair, or feeding roots, are much more valuable to the tree than the thick ones.

* Now, place the tree on this cone and spread the roots out around it. Add half the remaining soil, firming it into place around the roots, and water well. Add the remaining soil and trample it into place.

* Build a soil ridge around the tree to form a saucer that will hold water. Water again and keep the tree watered every few days until it is growing well.

Note: If you are unable to plant the tree straightaway, dig a shallow trench in the shape of a check mark. Lay the tree roots in the trench and cover with soil. This way the tree can be safely kept for a week or so without damage.

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