Thinking of putting some trees in your landscape but also concerned about making good use of the water, space and time? Some people like to plant fruit trees around the home landscape.
The obvious reason to grow fruit trees is the fruit! Just like there is no tomato as good as the ripe one picked right off the garden vine, there is no peach like the tree-ripened peach just outside your door. Growing fruit is not without challenges. Some people discover that the work required for a good harvest is more than they are up for. However, for others it is part of the gardening challenge that keeps us coming back for more.
Just like any other tree, fruit trees can play an aesthetic role in the landscape. They can be highlighted, or they can hide the blight beyond your fence. They can provide shade, cooling the outdoor spaces. They also can provide some level of wildlife habitat, whether it’s for the native bees that might pollinate the flowers or the little brown dickie birds pecking divots out of my ripening peaches. Well, they gotta eat too, I guess.
Fruit trees need all the things that any tree needs, which is sufficient rooting volume (it’s wider and shallower than you think), consistent moisture into that rootable soil and a mulch of some sort that covers and protects the soil. When they are grown for production in a commercial orchard, fruit trees also receive regular fertilization that may not be needed for a well-grown home tree usually producing more fruit than is needed. If you have fruit trees that produce more than you can use and give away, considering contacting a gleaning organization like Food is Free Albuquerque. They can bring volunteers to your property to pick the fruit, which is distributed through food banks to the local community. Fruit trees also benefit from regular annual pruning to maintain shape and size.
A large number of fruit species will grow well in our area. With peaches, one down side to them and other stone fruit species is their relatively short life spans, maybe 15-25 years in most urban settings. Other stone fruit species that do well for us are plums and cherries. Apricots grow well here but their early blooming often leads to last-frost crop death. Don’t worry, the tree is still fine. Of all the fruit trees, apricot may be the best for shading.
Apples also do well and are longer-lived than stone fruits. However, the fruit is more susceptible to insect damage, most notably the codling moth caterpillar (the infamous worm in the apple core). These can be controlled, with varying degrees of success, by trapping with pheromone traps. Timing is critical for that, and control may be incomplete, but more apples will be worm-free than without trapping. Codling moth also attacks pear fruit but to a much lesser degree. Fruiting pears can do well for us, though in some cases fire blight bacterial disease may cause a lot of damage and even death. Jujubes, Asian pears, Japanese persimmons and figs are all good choices as well.
There are several sources where you can buy your new fruit trees. I’m partial to online ordering from established mail-order nurseries. This approach offers the combination of variety choice and cost effectiveness. Keep in mind that mail-order trees are young and shipped out in later winter as dormant bare-root sticks. For a few reasons, this is an ideal type of plant to start working with if you have the patience to wait a few more years before getting fruit. Buying from local nurseries is fine as well, though it really pays to inspect the root ball condition carefully. If you’re very careful, even the big box stores can have good specimens.
Read up on proper planting techniques and early structural pruning approaches. For a tree, the transition from potted (or bare-root) conditions to fully in the soil is critical. Tree growth and longevity can be made or broken at this point. In a nutshell: Dig a shallow and wide hole, have the highest root at the top of the soil and mulch well. As the young tree grows, prune for strong attachments, ease of access and to help control total fruit load that can break branches in a bumper crop year. Early and aggressive thinning of the fruit can really help to prevent branch failure and also produces larger pieces of ripened fruit.
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