Fruit trees and berry bushes are the first to arrive plants to arrive at the nursery as spring approaches. The seven gallon containers of trees begin filling the blank spaces of winter, right beside three gallon containers of blueberry and blackberry bushes, grape vines, and figs. The inner homesteader in all of us comes out when we see the young trees and shrubs promising a harvest of homemade applesauce, grape jams, and blueberry pancakes. But, before you start spreading apple butter on your morning toast, make sure you've got the right spot for fruit trees and berry bushes. Nothing is more frustrating than planting fruit trees and getting no fruit.
Follow these steps for success.
1. Sunlight: Fruit trees and berry bushes need full sun, defined as a minimum of six hours a day, for the most colorful and flavorful fruit. Fruit will ripen best if exposed to prime sunlight hours (10-4) during the active growing season. You can fudge on either side of that time frame a bit, but don't plan on fruiting plants performing their best in only morning sun (8-12) or late afternoon sun (3-6).
2. Size: Fruit trees come in dwarf (8-10' tall), semi-dwarf (12-15' tall), and standard (18-25'+ tall). Some trees, like peach trees are an exception, and stay in the 12-15' range. When you're choosing a size, remember that you'll be pruning the trees in late winter/early spring, and harvesting in summer. If climbing a ladder is out of the question for you, consider a smaller variety; many dwarfs fit into containers, and yield plenty for the home grower. Or try the patio blueberries, which are also perfect for containers, have a great yield and do well in zones 3-7. When planting, space, 8' apart for trees, 3-5' for berry bushes to promote good air circulation which helps minimize diseases.
3. Self-Pollinating: Many new fruit trees are called self-pollinating, meaning they are able to pollinate and bear fruit alone. Although, those same self-pollinators are more fruitful (with better quality fruit) if they have a buddy. Bottom line: plan on two for best fruit.
Cross pollinating: These need another variety of the same fruit tree, that blooms at the same time, to ensure pollination.
Trees must be within 100' of each other to pollinate. They can be closer, or course, but since two trees or bushes is better than one, make sure you have the adequate space.
4. Hardiness: B.B. Barns only sells what will grow in Western North Carolina, so a visit to the store will help you in picking out a favorite fruit. However, knowing what your zone is (click here to find out), and what is hardy in your area is crucial. Higher elevations can have a late spring frost that kills blooms and consequently fruit. Try a few natives. Pawpaw trees have a banana-like fruit, persimmons require almost no upkeep and of course, blueberries love ours acidic soil and higher elevations. If you need some ideas, here's a link from the NC Cooperative Extension. The natives also tend to be more maintenance free than the peaches, pears and apple trees.
5. Soil: Well-drained soil is essential. Some plants don't mind wet feet. Fruit trees and berry bushes do, and can drown in standing water. Make sure your selected site drains well. If your drainage isn't that great, consider raising the soil level, before planting, for better drainage.
Remember, homegrown fruit doesn't look like the perfectly manicured fruit you purchase in your local grocery store, but it tastes just as good, even better. So, allow for a little less than perfect in the garden, and that includes the gardener.
Written by Cinthia Milner, Garden Coach, blog writer.
BB Barns Garden Center serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina, and Tennessee.