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What to Consider When Choosing Fruit Plants
Not every type of fruit tree will thrive in every situation, so before you head to the nursery, you’ll need to think about your home garden and what conditions it has:
- Space. Many people think that because they don’t have a large estate, they can’t grow fruit—but that’s completely wrong. Not only are there plenty of fruit shrubs and vines that don’t take up much space (like raspberries, strawberries, and melons), there are also dwarf varieties of nearly every kind of fruit tree (from cherries to peaches to lemons).
- Sun. Most fruits need to grow in full sun in order to develop sugars—the sweeter the fruit, the more sun it needs. If your garden is sunny, then you’re in luck! However, if your space is a little shadier, don’t lose hope—sour cherries, raspberries, blackberries, and certain varieties of plums and strawberries will do just fine in partial shade.
- Temperature. Different fruits thrive at different temperatures, so when you’re choosing varieties, be sure to make sure your choices will be able to survive your garden’s winter. There are several varieties—including cultivars (cultivated varieties) of apples and crab apples, sour cherries, plums, pears, raspberries, and blackberries—that can withstand cold temperatures. If your area sees especially cold winters (below 0 degrees Fahrenheit), you can still grow fruit—simply choose dwarf trees and grow them in pots indoors.
- Soil. All fruit dislike having “wet feet,” when their roots sit in constantly wet soil. If you want to keep your fruit trees and shrubs happy and rot-free, make sure to plant them in well-draining soil (regardless of whether you’re planting them in the ground or in pots). While most fruits will do fine in basic mulch, certain plants (like blueberries) need more acidic soil—so plan accordingly.
- Pollination. Pollination is the process by which plants reproduce and bear fruit, and pollination methods vary between every type of fruit—and even between different varieties of the same fruit. When choosing fruits, the easiest kinds will be “self-pollinating,” “self-fruiting,” or “self-fertile” plants, which don’t need another tree or shrub in order to produce fruit. Most types of fruit will have a few self-pollinating varieties. If you choose plants that don’t self-pollinate, make sure to pick up at least two of each kind to ensure they pollinate and produce fruit.
10 Fruits That Grow Well in Home Gardens
If you’re interested in growing some of your own fruit, here are some of the best fruits plants to consider for beginners:
- Raspberries and blackberries. Called “brambles,” these fruits are hardy and require not much more than the occasional prune to keep them fruitful. While these bushes are well-known for being thorny, there are now new varieties that are thorn-free.
- Strawberries. Strawberries are one of the lowest-maintenance fruits, requiring only a small space and a little water. Simply plant them right in your vegetable garden or in pots in sunny areas. While they can survive cold winters, you may need to refresh the beds every couple of summers with new strawberry plants to keep the crop going.
- Plums. Plum trees are hardy and most will produce large crops every other year. There are only a select few varieties that are self-pollinating, so be aware that if you want a plum harvest, you may need to buy two trees.
- Cherries. Both sweet cherries and sour cherries are low-maintenance small-fruit trees that require minimal to no pruning and are very pest- and disease-resistant.
- Apples. Apples are one of the hardiest fruit trees, grown widely throughout the United States. Many varieties can withstand cold winters. However, be wary of pests and disease—apples are often more susceptible than other fruits.
- Peaches. Peach trees are naturally small trees, so they’re a great choice if you don’t have a ton of space. They do require a little pruning and thinning in order to get the best harvests.
- Apricots. Apricot trees are great low-maintenance, full-sun fruit trees. However, they don’t produce fruit their first year after planting, so don’t feel disheartened if they take a while to settle in.
- Pears. Pear trees are a great cold-hardy fruit, and if you’re worried about space, it’s easy to find dwarf varieties of the tree.
- Grapes. Grapes are a vine fruit, meaning grapevines can be trained to grow on a trellis or wire support. Just be vigilant during harvest season—grapes are a common target for birds.
- Figs. Figs are a very low-maintenance, everbearing tree. While standard varieties are frost-tender, there are newer varieties that are much more cold hardy—and can even be grown in pots so that you can move them indoors for the winter.
3 Tips for Growing Fruit in Your Garden
- Plant at the right time. To ensure your fruit plants are strong enough to last the winter, you’ll need to plant them at the right time. If you buy “bare-root plants,” or dormant plants whose roots are packed in damp shavings (most often the case with mail-order fruits), you’ll want to plant them in early spring to make sure they have a full growing season to settle in before winter. If you buy non-dormant shrubs or trees in containers (most often the case with local nurseries), the timetable is more flexible—just don’t wait until late summer.
- Take good care of pollinators. Pollinators like bees play a vital role in any garden because they spread pollen between plants, which will cause your trees to bear fruit. Never spray pesticides when your trees are blossoming, because this will kill and deter pollinators and can prevent your trees from pollinating and bearing fruit. If you’re struggling with pests, research nonchemical forms of pest control to keep the bee population thriving.
- Use space-saving techniques. Especially if your yard is low on space, consider some space-saving techniques to get the most of your tree fruits. Fan-training (also called “espalier”) is a popular technique, in which you plant trees close to a wall and splay out their branches against it, pruning growth to “train” the tree to grow tight to the wall. Cordons are another way to grow fruit trees in a confined space—plant the tree with a tall bamboo stick and prune the branches so that the tree grows in one tall stem rather than a wide tangle of branches. Finally, if you’re very low on space, make sure to get dwarf fruit trees, which can be grown outdoors or even indoors in pots.
Grow your own food with Ron Finley, the self-described "Gangster Gardener." Get the MasterClass All-Access Pass and learn how to cultivate fresh herbs and vegetables, keep your house plants alive, and use compost to make your community - and the world - a better place.