Barriers to Growing Fruit Trees, Vines & Shrubs
Growing fruit trees can be a fun and rewarding experience. If you've thought about planting one, I can assure you that it's absolutely worth it! Whether it's a single tree or a dozen, a backyard orchard can be any size you want. I advise anyone who owns their own land to take advantage of that precious resource.
Of course, there are barriers to successfully growing fruit trees. But more often than not, the biggest challenges start with our mindset. So let's address some common concerns that often deter people from planting that first hole. We'll see how you can tackle these barriers!
- Reasons Why People Don't Grow Fruit Trees
- How Long Does It Take Fruit Trees, Vines or Shrubs to Grow?
- Are Fruit Trees Too Hard to Manage?
- Can You Grow Fruit Trees, Vines or Shrubs in Bad Soil?
- How to Manage Large Fruit Harvests
"It Takes Too Long." In speaking with non-gardeners, I would say this is the most common deterrent. People don't want to be bothered with something that will take years and years before they ever see their first harvest.
Naturally, we want to enjoy a rich bounty as soon as possible. But our modern society fuels our impatient tendencies. We live in an age of instant gratification. Learning the art of patience is a vital skill that can benefit us in all aspects of our lives. Even still, I can assure you, a harvest is nearer than you may think!
How Long Until a Tree, Vine or Shrub to Makes Fruit?
FRUIT TREES VS NUT TREES: In my 1st year of home-ownership, I planted a peach tree. One year later I already harvested my very 1st peach! Several factors come into play. For example, nut trees often require more years of waiting than fruit trees. Among fruiting trees there is a range of time until maturity. Picking the right varieties can bring results sooner.
LIMITATIONS OF SEEDLINGS: When it comes to maturation time, there is a major difference between nursery stock and seedlings. Let's say you want to grow an apple. You could take a seed from a tasty apple and plant it in the Fall. In the Spring it germinates and commences growth. From that point, you have to wait for several years before the apple reaches fruit bearing age. In the meantime, you might find that the genetics of that variety are not well suited to your site. Or perhaps the fruit itself is not as delicious as you'd hoped, due to genetic variation.
Video: Buy Fruiting Plants
for Your Home Orchard / Food Forest!
Why Nursery Grown Plants Are Better
Of course, there are some good reasons to grow fruit trees from seed. But if time is a big factor, consider the advantages of buying nursery stock. Many professionally grown trees are grafted onto a specialized root stock. Each rootstock option offers unique strengths. This can be matched up with your growing site.
Rootstocks can be selected to induce early fruiting in younger trees. The upper scion limbs (where your fruiting occurs) can be selected for taste. This ensures that the wait will be worth it! Often, these trees are a year or two old when they arrive at your door.
What that translates into is a huge savings in time. You could stand to save several YEARS of waiting. Suddenly, the entire process seems much more realistic!
"Fruit Trees Are Too Hard to Manage." Have you heard this sentiment? We may envision an unending regimen of sprays and specialized pruning. Insect pests and diseases pose an ominous threat that turns many people away. Such considerations are certainly valid. I've experienced these issues firsthand. But not all fruiting plants require that much care. In fact some are rather easy to manage.
Selecting Resistant Fruit Tree Varieties
First of all, some fruit trees truly ARE more work than others. Many varieties of apples, pears, peaches, plums and cherries are prone to diseases and pests. But an easy place to start is with pest or disease resistant varieties. Look for cultivars that have been bred to resist common pathogens or certain insect pests. For example, the Liberty apple cultivar is well known for having a broad range of disease resistance.
THE ADVANTAGE OF ROOTSTOCKS: Nursery bred fruit trees are typically grafted onto specialized rootstocks that offer increased vigor and pest resistance. For example, the Nemaguard rootstock allows certain stone fruits to withstand soil nematodes. Do you have a small space? Dwarfing rootstocks can be selected as a way of reducing pruning requirements.
Do You Need to Spray Fruit Trees?
Spraying trees is a common concern. In some situations, a basic organic spray can really help your fruit trees. A dormant oil, neem or copper spray might be just what they need for "optimal" health. The most critical time to spray the trees is at the end of Winter right before they break dormancy. Another good time is at the end of the Fall after the leaves have dropped. At the same time, some growers just let their plants go and they still get a decent harvest. Superficial blemishes aside, the fruits themselves may be quite succulent and delicious!
VULNERABLE VARIETIES: Not all fruiting plants are created equal. Some of the more common fruits (like apples) have been cultivated for centuries, cloned again and again through grafting. Their genetics have remained unchanged and poorly adapted for resilience. This has allowed pest populations to thrive, unchallenged. Thus, humans have to go through special measures, coddling their prized fruit varieties. I've seen this with my stone fruits like peaches and nectarines as well. If you want to avoid the aggravation I suggest learning about other less common fruiting trees or vines.
Consider Less Popular Fruiting Species
Widening your scope might be your best option. Some less common fruits don't require intensive care. They might be excellent fruits, but we just never see them in our grocery stores. Persimmons, jujube, paw paw, che, seaberries and mulberries are a few examples. Each of these offer a variety of advantages over other more common fruits. Selecting the right fruit tree might mean: No spraying, Few diseases and Few pests!
So take some time to read up on varieties you've never heard of. You might just find the perfect fruit for your property. -One that requires much less management, but offers a delicious bounty!
"I Have Bad Soil..." Is the ground on your property infertile? Does it have poor drainage? Or perhaps it drains too freely. Is there anything that can be done? Or should you just accept defeat?
COMMERCIAL VS HOME GROWERS: In a large scale, commercial operation selecting the right spot of land is critical. But for a small scale home-owner, you have a lot more options. When you're only planting a few or even a single tree, you can doctor up the dirt to address just about any prohibitive soil factor.
How to Improve Soil For Fruiting Plants
POOR DRAINAGE: The quickest way to kill many fruit trees is through poor soil drainage. Your site might consist of shallow topsoil on dense clay or bedrock. Is your ideal planting spot on low grade? Perhaps you have a very high perched water table. Certain fruiting plants may do well in these conditions such as pears, quinces or mulberries. Additionally, some trees have rootstock options that are better suited for heavy soils. But what other options are there?
RAISED / MOUNDED BEDS: This is where raised or mounded beds can really save the day! We're not talking about a massive terraforming operation here. This could be as simple as bringing in a couple cubic yards of top soil. For added fertility, try a 50/50 mix of top soil and mushroom compost. You could mound up a stylish landscaping bed. Or you could box in a raised bed with boards or some other edging material. Even just a 12 inch deep mound can dramatically improve drainage.
BOOSTING FERTILITY: Interestingly, this bed construction technique can also address the issue of soil infertility. Bringing in organic, enriched soil will jump-start most of your plantings. This same approach can mitigate issues of mild heavy metal toxicity. It can allow you to customize the pH of your site, if needed. For example, a mound of peat moss can acidify the soil, creating the perfect spot for blueberries.
Applying a wood based mulch will also help to kick-start microbial activity, while offering other benefits.
"There Would Be Too Much to Harvest." This is an odd objection. As anxious as we might be to start getting fruit, we can also wonder if someday we might get buried in TOO MUCH fruit. That's understandable. Have you ever driven past a property that had a fruit tree in the front yard? I've seen many apple trees that were completely inundated with apples. The lawn was barely visible -just a pile of half-rotting fruit.
We don't want to be wasteful. And we don't want to be burdened with more produce than we can handle. But, I can assure you that this problem is easily avoidable. Think too about the instability of our changing climate. There may be a day that you desperately wish you had more fruit than you can handle. Even still, here are some strategies that can easily mitigate the "problem" of having plenty.
Tips for Easier Fruit Harvests
LIMIT FRUIT OUTPUT: If you fear having crates and crates of fruit from each tree, you could simply limit what each tree can produce. Selecting a dwarfing rootstock results in much smaller tree sizes. Smaller trees means less fruit. As an added bonus, the fruit is easier to harvest. Special pruning techniques can also be employed to forcibly dwarf your trees even further, making them very easy to manage.
As an additional technique, you could select partially self-fertile fruits. Often these produce larger crops with a 2nd pollinator. However, by limiting that variety to a single plant, you can avoid experiencing excess harvests in later years. For example, the hardy kiwi typically requires a male pollinator for the female fruit producing vines. But there is a variety called "Issai" which is self-fertile, requiring only one plant. It is also less vigorous than other hardy kiwis. So harvests can be plentiful but not overwhelming.
STAGGER HARVEST WINDOWS: You'd like a couple of peach trees. But you don't want to have 50 pounds of fruit that all ripens at once. No problem. Select different varieties that have unique harvest windows. Pick an "early", "mid-season" and "late" peach. Instead of getting all of your peaches in a single week. Each tree will ripen at a different time. You can also broaden your search. Consider fruit trees, vines and shrubs that ripen all throughout the season. Your first taste of fruit might be some honeyberries in the late Spring. And in the late Fall you could still be bringing in fruit as you pick your persimmons!
Preserving Your Fruit Crops
KNOW THE SHELF LIFE: The fear of excess fruit can be eased once you realize that you don't have to eat 50 pounds of fruit within 2 weeks. In the right conditions, some fruit will last for MONTHS before it must be consumed. Apples are a perfect example of this. They are great candidates for cold storage. On the other hand, paw paws must be eaten or frozen within a couple of days. So learn what the shelf life is for each fruit and how to best store it. This may take some pressure off of you.
FRUIT PRESERVATION: Beyond cold storage, there are plenty of food preservation methods that can allow you to enjoy your harvest throughout the entire year. Freezing works great for fruit that will be used in smoothies or mixed in with yogurt. Most of the nutritional value remains intact, as you can ration your fruit throughout the Winter months.
Dehydration, which includes fruit leather, is an excellent way to have some nutrient rich fruit snacks on the go. With a little extra effort, you might trying canning. Many people love making fruit preserves, jams or jellies. You can even try soaking some fruits in alcohol!
What to Do with Too Much Fruit?
YOUR SURPLUS CAN HELP OTHERS: While you're busy stressing out over some rotting pears on your kitchen table, you may have neighbors who would love to have a few succulent pears. If we ever find ourselves with a bumper crop, that affords us the opportunity to share with family and friends. We could help those in need. In fact, why not ask others to help you? Grandchildren could be tasked with berry picking. In return, they get to keep half of what they pick!
BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES: Excess fruit could be used as a bartering medium. Trade your surplus apples for some of your neighbor's pears. Sell a few baskets of plums at the local farmer's market. Make mulberry jam and sell some jars for a little extra cash.
IS THIS "FOR THE BIRDS"? Some people love wildlife so much that they plant trees and shrubs that serve as a food source. Many cultivated fruits and berries are appreciated by birds just as much as us. A massive mulberry or cherry tree might offer enough bounty for both us and our fine feathered friends. Or we may scoop up some fruit for our domesticated fowl. Our chickens wouldn't mind one bit!
Don't Miss This Opportunity!
You may be able to think of a few reasons to avoid starting your own backyard orchard. But there are too many reasons for why you should just do it. The biggest is yourself. Well, not "you" today. But the "you" in 5 years or 10 even. Do you want to look back and kick yourself for not doing it sooner? Whether it's for you or as a legacy to leave for others, it's ALWAYS worth planting edibles in your backyard!