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Fruit Tree Selection

Growing some fruit trees in your backyard does not have to be an overly complicated process. You could just go out and get a tree from your local nursery and be done with it. Some people though, like to research and do more extensive planning. From my own experience, I certainly wish I had considered additional factors before installing my plants. I'm glad I put them in. But still, there may be things we don't think about when we're first getting started. I want to share some perspectives that are worth consideration as you make your plans.

Fruit Preferences

There are several methods for choosing your fruit varieties. Everyone has different tastes and goals. Your backyard orchard should reflect you and your values.

BROADEN YOUR PALATE: There's a lot more out there than apples, peaches and grapes. Right now you might already know what you want to grow. But have you spent much time learning about the many uncommon fruits that could be grown in your area? In my temperate zone 6 climate, I was surprised to learn about jujubes, persimmons, hardy kiwi, maypop passiflora, Che, aronia, paw paw, goumi and many more.

Do you want to learn more? There are some really great sites that offer dozens and dozens of choices. I recommend signing up for their catalogs: Raintree Nursery, One Green World, Edible Landscaping and Bay Laurel Nursery. Also, a book that you should consider reading is "Grow Fruit Naturally" by Lee Reich.

RARITY & MONETARY VALUE: As you learn about new and exciting types of fruits, you might soon realize how rare some of them are. In my home of Western Pennsylvania a little known native fruit is the paw paw. Despite its indigenous nature, I personally had never eaten one until I was in my 30s. I first heard about paw paws from a fruit tree catalog. Afterwards, it took more than two years before I could get my hands on a small slither for tasting.

This taught me the foolishness of wasting my limited real estate on common apple trees. On my small (1/13th acre) lot, every square foot counts. If I had more space, it would have been fine. But it might be worth growing things that you can't buy cheaply at a local grocery store. Some fruits are rather expensive per pound. Why not grow some of those varieties?

NUTRIENT DENSITY: Are you interested in growing your own food so that you can enjoy improved health? Many fruits have been touted as "superfoods" due to their rich antioxidant content. It might be easy to purchase enough calories for a healthy diet. But supplementing our meals with nutrient-dense fruits and veggies is an excellent idea.

So why not grow some of the most nutrient dense fruits and berries? If you are limited on space, this strategy can yield the highest return for your investment. Consider blueberries. Or better yet, aronia and sea berries. Goumis are a good candidate as well. Each of these offer various levels of Vitamin C, lycopene, anthocyanins and more!

General Planting Prerequisites

At this point, you might have compiled a lengthy list of fruit candidates. Perhaps it's more than you can fit on your lot. Let's look at the basic growing factors that may eliminate a few of those prospects.

POLLINATION REQUIREMENTS: Some fruit varieties are self-pollinating. In this case, you only need a single type of that fruit in order to achieve good fruit set. Other trees and shrubs might be dioecious, requiring special pollinators. For example, most kiwis require a male vine, in addition to the fruiting female vines. Sea berries also need a male pollinator. This increases your space requirements as you must include this additional plant. Finally, there are some varieties that are "partially self-fertile". They will produce a partial crop even with just a single plant. But they may bear larger crops with a second variety.

Even within a certain plant family, you might find variance. For example, the Issai hardy kiwi is famous for not requiring a male plant to set fruit. Read the descriptions closely for any variety you are considering. An interesting "hack" is to grow a multi-grafted tree. Some nurseries sell fruit trees that have multiple scion types on a single trunk. These may be cross-pollinating selections that eliminate the need for two individual plants!

ZONE HARDINESS: Zone hardiness is the easiest way to eliminate a large swath of fruiting options. It is imperative that you identify the growing zone for where you live. The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is used as a guide to estimate the coldest that it might get in the area where you reside. Different plants can withstand varying levels of cold. Tropical plants simply won't survive the harsh Winters of a cold temperate climate. So if you live in Vermont, you can quickly eliminate plants like Citrus, Bananas or Olives.

You can try to push the envelope. You might grow a plant that is rated for Zone 7, even though you live in Zone 6. Mulching the plant will help out. In particular, you could plant it in a warm micro climate. A sheltered spot on your lot might protect the plant just enough to sustain it during those coldest nights. An obvious work around is to grow your Mediterranean, tropical and sub-tropical plants in large pots. Then these can be brought inside during the Winter months.


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