Trees of all kinds are the backbone of a garden. They provide the visual structure and the key elements of any landscape and are usually the first components to be planted, since they take longer than most other plants to become established and fulfill their role. There was a time when a simple shade tree was all that was needed, but increasingly people are looking for more than just beauty from their gardens. The idea of growing plants that will contribute to the kitchen and pay their way has caught on as people have become more concerned with both the quality and the cost of eating well.
When we see how the extent that farming is now a mega-business and that our food was picked weeks before it arrived at the store, the value of having garden-fresh produce has become much more apparent. Fruit in particular cannot be delivered to your table tree-ripened because most fruits are too fragile when ripe to be stored or to travel far without deteriorating. Almost all our fruit is picked long before it is ripe and then stored in oxygen-free warehouses before being treated with ethylene gas to artificially ripen it just before it goes into the stores. So our children are growing up in a world where the taste of tree-ripened fruit is unknown to them.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Many fruit trees are remarkable easy to grow and produce a bumper-crop of fresh fruit with little effort. You will be amazed how much harvest one tree can give and how easy making jams and preserves can be, so that you save in that part of your grocery bill too.
Growing and picking your own fruit is also a great way to involve your children in the garden as they love growing things they can eat. They will grow up to appreciate where food comes from and understand the bounty that nature has for us in return for a little effort. Plus of course if you grow your own fruit trees you will be the one to decide what chemicals go on them and if you want truly organic food the choice will be yours and you will know exactly how your food has been grown.
Types of Fruit Trees
There are three broad types of fruit trees that you can grow. Each variety has its own advantages and disadvantages, so it is worth doing your homework before you begin growing a fruit tree.
Some fruits grow on real trees, with trunks and branches like any small or medium-sized garden tree. These tree fruits include apples, oranges, peaches, plums and cherries. These kinds of fruit trees can be grown in the garden in the same places where a shade tree or a flowering tree could be grown – in fact many of them make excellent shade or flowering trees with the bonus of a fruit-crop too. Since they are trees they do take up some room so you need a good sized garden to be able to grow more than one or two.
However one mature tree can produce a huge harvest that you will be able to share with your neighbors too. One great solution is to get together with those neighbors and agree on who is going to grow what – apples for you, plum for the garden next door, cherries down the street, and then share the bounty. That way everyone does a little and everyone gets more. Another way to grow more trees is to train them on walls and fences so they take up less room and fit better into a smaller garden.
The second kind of fruit trees are really bushes and not trees. They are usually called berry bushes or ‘soft fruits’, because many of them are soft compared to say, an apple. They take up much less room than tree-fruits and can often be grown on a trellis or in rows. In a small garden they can be fitted in among the shrubs and flowers but on a larger property having a separate area for them is a good idea because they can then be grown to maximize their yields.
Dedicated gardeners and plant breeders have produced new varieties that are more compact than older types; these take less work to grow and they are happy in pots and planters, meaning you can have fruit without even having a garden. Soft fruits include strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and all the other Berry Bushes.
Vine fruits are the third kind of fruit trees you can grow in your garden. They need a trellis, fence or arbor to grow on and are an attractive way to hide an ugly fence or building on your property. Grapes and Kiwi Plants are the most common types of vine fruits grown in gardens.
What Fruit Trees Should I Grow?
That is the first question to ask and to answer it there are two things to consider. One is your winter minimum temperatures. This is pretty easy and knowing your climate zone will answer that question for you. Here at the Tree Center we show you the climate zones in which each plant will grow, so you can easily see if the trees you are interested in will grow in your area.
The other factor to consider is the chill factor. This is not how cold it gets in winter in your zone, but how long it stays cold. Many fruits need a certain number of cold days to develop flowers properly and if you live in a warmer area, especially if you have warm nights in winter and spring comes early, you may not be able to grow some fruits, but you will be able to grow others that don’t need so much chilling.
As a general guide we can split most of the country into three broad areas and look at which fruits can be grown in them.
Cool Climate Fruits
If you garden in zones 4, 5, 6 and 7 you can grow a wide variety of fruits that are hardy, including Apple Trees, Pear Trees, Cherry Trees and Plum Trees. You can grow all the different Berry Bushes and Grapes too. If you have an acid soil you can also grow Blueberry Bushes as well. In the colder parts of this area you will need to pick suitable varieties of the different fruit trees to be sure they are hardy enough and in warmer areas you can add in fruits like Nectarine Trees and Fig Trees. In warmer areas you should also take care when choosing your fruits to check that they will get enough chill time.
Warm Climate Fruits
Gardeners in zones 8 and 9 can grow most of the same fruit trees as cool climate gardeners, but it is best to grow different varieties of many of them as you may not have very much chill time. However, especially in zone 9, you get to grow a whole lot of other fruits, like Citrus Trees, Figs Trees, Avocado Trees and Pomegranate Trees that will not grow so well in cooler areas. You may even be able to grow some hardier varieties of tropical fruits like Banana Trees. Most of the Berry Bushes will also grow for you if you use the correct growing methods, so you have a wide range of fruit trees that you can grow.
Tropical Climate Fruits
If you live in southern Florida or the warmest parts of southern Texas or California you will be in the warmer parts of zone 9 and perhaps in zone 10. Although apples will not succeed you can grow not only all the warm climate fruits like Citrus Trees but also Banana Trees and Tropical Fruits like Pineapple, the Guava Tree and the Starfruit Tree.
Fruit Tree Pollination
The majority of fruit trees will only set a limited amount of fruit if grown alone. This is because they cannot always make fruit from their own pollen. They need to be cross-pollinated, that is, they need a suitable different variety of the same fruit nearby so that pollen can be transferred from one tree to the other. Apples, Pears, Plums and Cherries are the main fruits that need cross pollination. Peaches and Nectarines do not and can be grown as a single tree. None of the berry bushes need cross-pollination either.
Pollinating in Urban and Suburban Areas
If you live in an urban or suburban area it is quite likely that somewhere nearby there will be other fruit trees and so you can often plant a single tree and set a good crop of fruit. In some cases, such as with plums, there may be wild relatives of your tree growing nearby that can act as pollinators, but if you live in a more remote area then planting a second variety is usually necessary.
Pollinating in Remote Areas
If you are in a remote area you probably have lots of space so having several trees will not be a problem anyway. The best advice is to always plant a suitable pollinator if you have the room, but if you live in the city you can often do fine with just a single tree. This is where working with neighbors is a good plan as you can each grow one tree that can then pollinate each other.
Fruit Trees in Pots and Containers
If you have a well-lit place to keep your trees in the winter, you don’t have to let where you live control what you grow. Many fruits are now available in varieties that stay smaller than their brothers and sisters and adapt well to being grown in pots. They will thrive outdoors all summer and they can then be brought in for the winter.
Perhaps the easiest is the Fig Tree. Not only is this tree happy in a pot and will even fruit better with the restricted root zone, but you don’t even need a place with a window to overwinter it. Just let the leaves fall off and store it in a shed or garage, making sure the soil does not go completely dry. When you bring it out in spring it will burst back into growth.
Pots are also a great way to have your own Blueberry Bushes if you don’t have the right soil. Blueberries need acid soil, but newer hybrid varieties like the Sweetheart Blueberry are ideal for pots. They do not need to be brought indoors because they are quite hardy and the only reason you are growing them in pots is to give them the acid soil they need. Choose a soil suitable for growing Azaleas and a fertilizer for acid-loving plants and you can enjoy a crop of these delicious fruits.
However most people in cooler areas are more interested in growing warm climate and tropical crops and for those you do need a bright indoor location for the winter months. This can be natural light, artificial grow-lights or a combination. If you have that, then you can grow almost anything, even exotic plants like the Coffee Tree and Guava Tree as well as fruits like Citrus Trees and Avocado Trees. There is real fun and a lot of pride to be had from picking lemons in Minnesota.
Fruit trees in pots need some extra care and in particular they should be fertilized regularly during the growing season. Liquid fertilizers are usually best as they are quickly absorbed by your trees. When watering make sure to thoroughly wet the soil until the water comes out of the drain-holes and then wait until the soil begins to dry a little before watering again.
How to Plant and Care For Your Fruit Tree
You should take some time to plan what fruits you are going to grow, choose suitable varieties for your area, consider pollination if necessary and organize where you are going to plant your trees so they will have enough room to mature. Once properly planted your fruit trees will need some care to give you their best, but once you start harvesting the bounty these fruits will give, you will know that the little work you had to do was more than worth it.
Pruning should begin as soon as you plant your trees. Never let your tree grow large and then suddenly decide to prune it. If you need a saw you have left it too long, hand pruners are all you need if you start early and continue to prune correctly.
Tree fruits are pruned for three reasons. Firstly they are pruned to control their size and keep the growth lower to the ground to make harvesting easier. Left alone trees will grow tall, so the top of the tree is removed so that the branches grow out at an angle, forming a vase-shape, instead of growing too tall and upright.
Secondly they are pruned to allow more sun in to ripen the fruit. This is done by limiting the number of main branches and keeping the centre of the tree open and free of growth. So the vase you are creating is an empty one, full of sunlight to ripen your harvest.
Thirdly they are pruned to encourage fruiting. This is done by shortening side branches so that the trees develop what are called fruiting spurs – short branches where the flowers and fruit will be carried each year. These spurs would develop naturally over time but pruning encourages them to develop sooner, giving you crops just a few short years after planting your trees. The exact methods of pruning vary from fruit to fruit, and we have described it in more detail in the description of each fruit tree.
Pruning Berry Bushes
Berry Bushes are usually pruned quite differently. They typically fruit on new branches produced the year before, so old branches are cut right out after harvest to make room for the new ones that will have already begun to grow and will fruit the next year.
Because you are harvesting a crop from your fruit trees, they need more food than trees grown for decoration. You can choose to use suitable fertilizers out of a box, or rely on compost and manure, but unless you have very rich soil some kind of fertilizer will make a huge difference to your harvest.
Fertilizer is best applied in spring and should go in the area where the roots are growing, which is underneath the ends of the branches, not close to the trunk. When mulching with organic material keep it a few inches away from the trunk of your tree.
There are lots of alternatives available to control pests and diseases that may develop on your fruit trees. With mature trees a few pests may not be much of a problem since you will probably have a large crop and it won’t matter if nature takes back some of it.
There are regular chemical ways to control pests or you can use organic and more natural methods or a combination of both. The choice is yours but when you grow your own fruit you will know exactly what has or has not been done to it.
Should You Grow Fruit Trees?
Growing Fruit Trees takes a bit more planning and work than growing trees and flowers, but the results are really worthwhile and the day you bring in your first harvest of fresh, tree-ripened fruit to feed your family and friends you will know that it was worth it. You can be proud that you have fed yourself the best possible produce – your own.