Growing Fruit in the Garden
Growing your own fruit may conjure up images of space-hungry orchards and strawberry fields, but with a bit of careful planning, fruit trees, bushes and vines can be included in even the smallest garden designs.
Buying and Planting Fruit
When you have decided what crops you’d like to grow, you then need to decide how, where and when to buy your plants; whether you need more than one; and the best way to plant them.
Buying New Fruit Plants
Fruit plants are widely available in large garden centers, which offer a reasonable choice all year. Trees and plants are usually supplied in containers and can be taken home and planted immediately. Nurseries generally offer a wider selection of fruit, often supplied bare root in fall, and often by mail.
Containers offer a useful way to grow fruit in gardens where the soil is poor, the site is cold and exposed or you don’t have space in the borders. Another advantage of container-grown plants is that they can be planted at any time of year, if well watered afterward. Some fruit, such as blueberries, need an acid soil and are usually grown in containers, as are tender crops like peaches, which can be moved to a sheltered spot during winter.
You should also inspect plants for health and vigor before you buy them. When buying container-grown fruit, avoid those with weeds in the compost or bulging pots. Ease the plants from their pots, and reject any that are pot-bound, which will root poorly. Plant as soon as possible; keep them watered if this isn’t possible.
If you have a sunny wall, this is a spectacular and space-saving way to grow fruit. You can buy some plants already partially trained, or you can do the training yourself. Fruits, such as peaches and nectarines, thrive when grown this way, particularly on warm brick walls, and are easier to cover with fabric or netting to protect the blossom and fruit. A wide range of trees from cherries to pears are suitable for wall-training. Grapes are an obvious candidate. Wall-training requires some skill, which can be learned over a few seasons.
Bare Root Plants
Lifted and sold when dormant, bare root plants are available only in fall and winter. They are supplied without soil surrounding their roots so should be planted right away, or temporarily planted, “heeled in,” to prevent them from drying out. Bare root plants are often cheaper than container-grown specimens, and the range available is larger. They are usually supplied by specialty nurseries, although garden centers may also sell some bare root plants, such as raspberry canes.
If you don’t have space for full-sized trees or want to grow several on a smaller plot, choose dwarf or grafted varieties. The yield will be smaller than larger trees, but the quality and flavor are identical. Choose trees on rootstocks to suit your needs, whether growing them in pots or borders. Also consider family trees, with two varieties on one stem.
Although grown for their crops, many fruit trees and bushes are highly decorative. Spring-flowering apples and cherries are as attractive as many ornamental types, with the bonus of fruit in summer and fall. Fruit bushes, such as blueberries, give a good show, even in containers, easily rivaling conventional flowering shrubs.
You might also consider planting fruit in mixed beds and borders. Most fruit trees can be underplanted with ornamentals, and some make attractive focal points, while many bushes are good companions to border and patio ornamentals. You can even add delicious summer strawberries to your hanging baskets.
Flower Pollination in Fruit Trees
The blossoms of fruit trees and bushes are pollinated by insects, and many varieties must be cross-pollinated by another plant of the same species in order to fruit. If you have limited space, buy self-pollinating varieties; you will only need one plant, although trees fruit better if cross-pollinated. Alternatively, find out what type of pollinator your tree needs before buying, and check nearby gardens to see if there are suitable varieties. For successful cross-pollination, compatible trees must flower together (be in the same “pollination group”). Some apples and pears are “triploids,” meaning their pollen is sterile and they require two pollinators to fruit.