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Growing Fruit Trees: Your Complete Guide

No gardening space is complete without fruit trees or bushes. These perennials are an excellent way to add low-maintenance high-reward crops to your landscape. These are the best plants you can add to your space.

1. They provide nutrient-dense delicious food.

2. Provide habitat for birds and pollinators.

3. Their roots help to prevent soil erosion.

4. They produce shade on hot summer days. If planted correctly, they can provide shade in the house.

5. Fruit trees are tall perennials that require minimal weeding and maintenance after they become established in their first year.

If you’re a lazy gardener, fruit trees should be your favorite. Like other perennials, plant once and sit back and enjoy the harvests. Regardless of your growing space, a balcony, or a yard, fruit trees are the best addition to any garden.

With so many different options and varieties, it can take a lot of work to choose. Don’t worry. This article discusses the best fruit trees for beginners but for anyone to add to their garden: the low maintenance and the specific varieties to look for.

Remember that I live in Houston, so most of these recommendations will be for my zone. But the other information is still relevant, regardless of where you live.

Before we mention specific varieties, it is essential to understand chill hours. You can go back and listen to the episode on chill hours on the Just Grow It podcast or read more about them here. Here is a quick overview.

Chill hours are defined as any temperature below 45F. Depending on whom you talk to, some will tell you the temperatures must be between 45-34F. Sometimes people make things more complicated than they need to be.

Why are chill hours critical? For some plants to produce flowers and fruit, they need a dormant period. This dormant period is achieved whenever the plant is subjected to colder temperatures, known as chill hours. Fruit trees, berries, and nut trees all need these dormant periods to help regulate their growth. Without sufficient dormant periods, some plants cannot flower or fruit. Every fruit tree variety has its number of hours of chill needed for fruit production. Some fruit trees need as few as 100 chill hours. Others need as many as 1,000 chill hours or more.

Peaches, apples, and apricots are fruit trees most affected by chill hours. Apples have the highest chilling requirements of all fruit trees, followed by apricots and peaches.

Figs, olives, and quince have the lowest chill requirements, followed by persimmons, pomegranates, almonds, and chestnuts. Apples, apricots, cherries, peaches, and plums have higher chill hour requirements.

Where To Purchase Fruit Trees

Unlike vegetables and flowers, fruit trees do not come true from seed, and even if they do, like citrus, they can take twice as long to fruit as a grafted tree. You can take cuttings from some fruit trees, but to propagate, you need to learn how to graft.

Local Nurseries

This is my favorite way to purchase fruit trees. A good nursery will only stock varieties that do well in your area. Local nurseries will make sure to label the plant’s rootstock, and they will be able to help you make any decisions when purchasing. They will have multiple of the same variety so that you can choose one that fits your planting style.

Be careful purchasing fruit trees from big box retailers. They often do not label the rootstock, which is a problem. Specific rootstocks perform better than others, and since I expect this fruit tree to last at least a decade, I want to make an informed decision. Also, in these stores, you risk seeing plants mislabeled; I have witnessed figs labeled as peaches and blueberries labeled as blackberries. Don’t waste your time or money on these plants.

Online

This is your next best option if you can’t visit a local nursery. And in some situations, this may be your best option. I have purchased many plants this way and am still satisfied. You can shop a wider variety of plants online than you would find at your local nursery. The only knock is that I do not get to pick the exact tree that I want. I am leaving it up to someone on the other end to make the right decision.

When To Plant

When transplanting a tree, you will inevitably damage some of the roots. Since a tree is constantly regulating itself by releasing moisture through the leaves, you must be careful when planting in hot weather.

In my area, planting non-tropical fruit trees between the middle of December and the middle of February is best. For semi-tropical or tropical trees like citrus, figs, and bananas, plant in early march after the threat of a freeze passes. You want to plant them early enough in the season so that they have time to establish roots before the summer heat sets in.

Now, if you are planting a fruit tree with an established root system, one that has been in a 5-gallon pot for a season or longer, and you can water it, then you can plant at any time.

What Is A Bare Root Tree?

The most cost-effective way to purchase a fruit tree is in the bare root stage. Bareroot means that the roots do not have any soil around them. These trees were planted and then undug during the dormant season. They are the best way to add fruit trees to your garden if you follow some simple steps.

• Do not let the roots dry out

• Do not expose roots to freezing temperatures

• Rehydrate the roots before planting

• Plant within a short period- Once the trees leave the nursery, they need to be planted within one week.

• There are two planting windows, October- December, and March-May.

Advantages

• Bareroot trees have a smaller but stronger root structure than container-grown trees.

• Bareroot trees are more cost-effective. Since they do not require extra materials such as pots, soil, or even employees’ maintenance time worked into the price.

• Also, they are easier to plant. I recently added a Golden Dorsett I purchased as a bare-root tree to my garden. It was out of season, and I couldn’t locate a tree anywhere.

Disadvantages

• Only some plants are available in the barefoot stage—only some nurseries stock bare root trees. In Houston, I only remember seeing bare root trees available at one nursery, and they last sold them like that in at least five years.

• Narrow planting window. You have to get these trees into the ground at the correct time, before Bud break or after leaf fall.

How To Plant Bare Root Trees

If the tree is a bareroot, fill a 5-gallon bucket with water and allow the roots to remain submerged to rehydrate.

1. Find the ideal planting location. A place with good drainage, proper lighting, space, and protection from the cold.

2. Dig a hole big enough so that the roots can spread out. Dig a hole deep enough so the tree will be slightly higher than the planted area.

3. Place the tree in the hole. If bareroot, then trim some of the roots to ensure all roots are pointing outward

4. Backfill the hole. Do not add new soil or compost to the hole. This is the worst thing you can do.

5. When planting a grafted tree, find the graft line and ensure that the soil level is always below the graft line.

6. Top dress with compost and slow-release granular fertilizer.

People think adding compost back into the hole is a great idea. While it will create an amazing environment that the roots will love, what happens when they extend past the compost layer? They will be in for a shock. This can lead to stunted growth or other problems for the tree. Instead of adding the compost to the hole, top-dress the area with the compost after planting the trees.

Also, adding compost to the planting hole can create other problems. Replacing native soil creates an area where water will collect and drown the roots. The native soil helps stop this from happening and planting on high ground.

Pruning

Think about it, trees and plants have survived for millions of years without human interaction. The fruit trees you plant in your yard would do the same. What you find is that pruning and training helps maximize a tree’s productivity. If done correctly, your tree will repay you with bushels of fruit. If done incorrectly, the best-case scenario is unexciting yields. Worst case, it’s guaranteed to kill the tree.

Pruning is not one of the things that you learn through a podcast or article. You have to do it, experience it, and be in front of a tree with a pair of pruners to figure it out.

4 Reasons To Prune

1. Develop large branches that create a strong scaffold capable of carrying large amounts of fruit

2. Reduce disease.

3. Make harvesting more convenient

4. Encourage future fruiting

When To Prune

Most pruning should be done when the trees are dormant. So your best time is between December-February.

It would be best if you did the primary shaping of your tree during those winter months, but I am also pruning and training the tree by summer pruning my fruit trees.

I’m not too fond of winter pruning because you often remove your fruiting branches. I would rather the tree fruit, and I get to harvest and then do my major pruning. But again, this is just me and my ways.

Weather Effect On Fruit Trees

It’s best to purchase and grow proven varieties for your area. Commercially grown varieties available for purchase from your local nursery have been extensively tested for your area. Also, they will be grown on a rootstock that will thrive in your region.

Variations in temperature, weather, humidity, and even soil conditions affect the flavor. So just because you tasted a specific variety grown by a friend in your same region, there is no way to ensure your fruits taste the same.

Now that we know about chill hours and how to plant, let’s get to the good stuff. Now the plants made this list for the following reasons:

  1. 1. Ease of care. These plants require less maintenance than other fruiting plants fewer hours spent on spraying and disease prevention, and more time enjoying the rest of your garden.

  2. 2. Pest Control

  3. 3. Cold Tolerance/Chill hours

  4. 4. How much they produce

  5. 5. How quickly do they produce

  6. 6. Longevity

Here are the common fruit trees and bushes that we are discussing. Not all variations of a species share the same characteristics. Citrus fruit is relatively cold and hardy. But many oranges can withstand freezing temperatures hardier than limes but cannot withstand temperatures near freezing.

• Blueberries

• Blackberries

• Citrus

• Peach

• Plum

• Figs

• Pears

• Pomegranates

• Persimmons

Please remember that the word best is subjective. What you refer to as the best depends on your preference and what you’re looking for. I am separating the plants listed above into three categories Easy, Medium, and Hard.

Easy

1. Blackberries. These fruit bushes are capable of growing in any soil. They are long-lived and highly productive. Care for it properly; it will be one of the most productive fruits you can grow. A word of advice blackberries have a high probability of dying the first summer, so make sure you water them. After becoming established after that first summer, blackberries are drought resistant.

2. Figs. Figs are easy to plant, need good drainage, and don’t have many pests. They’re a productive, low-maintenance fruit tree that every southern garden should have. Depending on where you live, you may be able to get two harvests in one year. It takes about three years for the fig tree to produce its first large crop, but after that, you can expect it annually.

3. Citrus. These trees require minimal care. With minimal pest problems, citrus trees are productive and long-lived. They have high landscape value because they are evergreens that can also serve as a shade trees. The fruit is fantastic, but my favorite part about citrus trees is the smell of the opening blossoms in the air. They are cold, hardy( well wide varieties), and after being established for one season, they are drought tolerant.

4. Persimmons. These are among one of the most straightforward fruit trees that you can grow. Persimmons are indigenous to the South and southeast and are widely found growing wildly in Texas. They are highly productive, tasty, nutritious long, lived low, labor fruit trees. The only pest that I’ve ever encountered with persimmons or birds. Once established, this is an extremely drought Hardy tree.

Medium

1. Strawberries. strawberries are extremely tasty and only somewhat productive. They are too inconsistent for a short-lived. While they may not be hard to grow, they take a fair amount of Labor to reach harvest. These trees have many pests, such as sowbugs, slugs, and birds. You must keep the fruit off of the ground if you want to be able to get a harvest. The bed must remain weeded and watered year-round if you wish to produce strawberries. One of the problems with growing your own strawberries is that they either have great flavor and don’t store well or have horrible taste and store well.

2. Apple. Extremely productive low, labor fruit they can produce for up to 10 to 20 years. Ensure you purchase the variety with the right chill hours for your area. Be on the lookout for blight issues. Apples can withstand freezing temperatures. It is essential to plant apples in a well-trained area. You will have to apply fungicides to the plant, which is why it is outside the easy category.

3. Pears. Pears are easy to plant. They can be grown in areas with poor drainage and do not need to be protected from freezing conditions. These long-lived trees can produce bushels of fruit but are susceptible to blight. Besides blight, pears are usually pest and disease free. They are rampant growers and require pruning twice a year. Like with all other fruit trees, make sure to select a suitable variety for your area.

4. Pomegranate. These bushes are productive, long-lived, and a low-maintenance fruit. They do not require particular soil, and if you get the proper varieties, they do not have many pests. They are also drought-tolerant and produce a superfood full of vitamins and nutrients.

Hard

1. Blueberries. Blueberry bushes are challenging to grow because they require acidic soil. If you do not live somewhere with acidic soil, then be prepared to grow in raised beds. There is no denying that homegrown blueberries are amazing, but the plants are short-lived. The extremely shallow roots make this bush susceptible to drought conditions. If you decide to grow blueberries, make sure to install drip irrigation.

2. Peaches/ Nectarines. Peaches are a fantastic fruit tree to add to your orchard. The fruit is sweeter than any you have tasted at the grocery store. And the tree itself, when in bloom, is gorgeous. Peaches are not without their problems. They are often attacked by many pests or diseases – peach vine borer, bacterial canker, brown rot, and curculio. Each one of these requires treatment during the dormant season. The short lifespan of the plant and the excessive amount of maintenance is the reason why these fruits are so low on the list.

3. Plums

Now that you know everything necessary to grow fruit trees, what will you grow first? I hope this grow guide helps you feel more confident to JUST GROW IT. Whatever you decide to grow, make sure you have liquid or granular fertilizer. If you have any questions, you know how to get in touch with me.


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