Most of us think of fall as a time of winding down on gardening activities. True, there are fewer chores to do than when the spring garden was begun followed by mulching, harvesting, canning, and so on, but fall is also the preferred time for planting most fruit and nut trees.
That is unless you live where winters are severe, and it’s not practical to plant young trees in the fall. If you’re unsure about the proper time to add trees to your place, check with knowledgeable neighbors or contact your local county extension agent.
First of all, consider how much space you have before selecting your trees. If your area is small, it might be better to consider something in the dwarf range instead of planting a standard tree that may reach 20-30 feet high at maturity and be just about as wide. There are many dwarf-type fruit trees available, but most nut trees are definitely not for the small garden.
Almost anyone with a garden can have a fruit tree or two as they come in all shapes and sizes. Some can be trained against a wall, wooden fence, or other flat support. This is generally done where space is limited, and the gardener wants to use the available open space for growing other things.
It is best to use dwarf varieties of fruit trees, as they are more adaptable to espaliering, the term used for this type of training. Also, a gardener needs to learn about the fine points of espalier growing and be familiar with tying branches, pinching out unwanted shoots, etc., before embarking on this aspect of gardening.
Columnar is another form of growing fruit trees in limited space. These trees grow 8-10 feet tall but only about two feet wide and, of course, can be kept smaller by pruning.
Columnar trees are grown in large containers for use on patios or for the garden. They do not have to be grown trellis style and are less trouble to raise. They’re definitely conversation pieces and, if cared for properly, will yield some delicious fruit.
If you’re wondering what to give a gardener who is somewhat restricted in his/her activities, a columnar tree would be something special.
Although specialty trees mature sooner than standard trees, do not expect fruit the first year on any of them, as they will probably not begin bearing until the third year at best, depending on the variety. Also, unless stated otherwise, you’ll need at least two different varieties for proper pollination.
As to standard size trees, there are hundreds from which to choose. Pay attention to the planting zone map for your region and see if your choice is compatible with where you live.
There’s no point in selecting a tree, no matter how much you enjoy a particular fruit, if it just can’t do well in your area. For instance, here in southwest Arkansas (Zone 8), it is useless to plant Bartlett pear trees.
Bartletts are highly susceptible to fire blight, as are many other types of fruit trees, and a young Bartlett that starts out healthy looking will in a year or two die from the blight. On the other hand, they do great in cooler climes such as from New England to Michigan or on the Pacific Coast. These are the areas that commercially produce most of our Bartlett pears.
Happily, there are alternatives to the desirable Bartletts. They may not have the mouth-watering appeal of the Bartletts, but they’re more adaptable to growing in a larger portion of our country, giving gardeners the pleasure of picking their own pears.
The Orient pear is a variety that is highly fire-blight resistant, and we have never had a problem with the Orient. Pears are of a rounder shape than most pears, and flesh is white and juicy. Some weigh a pound apiece.
Fruits are excellent for canning in halves for use in desserts and salads, and they also make good pear honey. Orient trees are heavy producers and are recommended for Zones 5-9. Heat and humidity don’t seem to bother them, and pears begin ripening in mid-July in Zone 8.
The Keiffer is a dependable pear that has stood the test of time. This is a late-ripening pear. In our area, depending on weather conditions, the first Keiffer pears are ready to pick by late September. One does not have to worry about fire blight attacking the Keiffer as it is a very hardy tree.
These trees can often be seen marking where an orchard existed a long time ago. One has to wonder how many bushels of pears the battered old trees have yielded during their existence. If a new owner will give them some TLC, there’s no telling how long they will continue to produce, as these old-timers are generally long-lived trees.
Keiffer pears are not known for juiciness, but they make the best pear preserves ever to come out of a country kitchen. You can’t go wrong planting a Keiffer if you’re interested in putting some choice preserves or pear honey on your pantry shelf.
The pears may not be the best quality for eating right from the tree, but pick a few, leave them on a cool shelf for a few days, and then try them. There’s the old sweet flavor that brings back good memories of less hurried times.
Most pears should be picked when the fruit may be bent upward, and the stems separate easily from the limb. If the fruit is hard to reach, obtain a “fruit harvester.” This is a handy tool resembling a small metal basket with extending prongs.
Mounted on the end of a long pole such as bamboo, the fruit picker can easily claim those beautiful pears, apples, etc., that always grow on upper limbs. This eliminates doing a balancing act on a ladder, as you can easily reach the fruit while standing on the ground.
Sometimes folks resort to shaking a tree in order to bring down the fruit, but the end result is bruised fruit. With the picker, bruises are virtually eliminated. The newer vinyl coated harvesters are even easier on the fruit than the metal ones.
Remember, if you want to can pears, process them within a few days of picking them, while they’re still firm. If you want them for eating fresh, let them lie on a cool shelf for several days, and you’ll find that they have ripened and acquired a mellower taste and texture.
As a test for zone information, do your homework and find out if there are other trees of your choice succeeding in your neighborhood. For instance, several cherry varieties are shown as suitable for Zones 5-8, but you won’t find them thriving in the south unless it’s in the cooler and higher altitude areas.
Sour cherries are more adaptable than sweet cherries but don’t bet on either of them if you live where winters are extremely cold, or summers are hot and humid.
Fortunately, peach trees are not as finicky as cherry trees. Peach trees may be the best overall choice of fruit trees for the home garden. These trees may be grown almost anywhere, and some varieties succeed as far north as Canada.
Peach trees do have some drawbacks, as they are not noted for their longevity. Commercial growers often have new orchards planted next to their producing orchards. The average lifetime of a peach orchard is 10-12 years and requires quite a bit of maintenance—pruning, spraying, etc.
To avoid further costs, some orchards now contract their entire crops to commercial harvesters leaving none for those of us who like to buy fresh fruit from the roadside stands. The gardener with one or two trees will harvest plenty of peaches for home use and, by giving trees good care, will extend their lives a bit longer.
To reap a nice crop of peaches, one must be vigilant about caring for the trees. Peach leaf curl and brown rot are the most serious fungus diseases that attack the trees, so it is necessary to implement a spray program to control these culprits. (Once started, they spread like wildfire.)
It’s best to contact your county extension agent’s office as they should have the latest disease control information from the Department of Agriculture. If you don’t develop a spray program and instead rely on nature to give you good peaches, chances are you may get a few edible peaches, but the biggest part of the crop will be a total loss.
If the fungi were not enough to deal with, there are peach tree borers that go to work on the tree trunks at ground level and work their way up. These are easily recognized by the gummy masses that ooze from the trees.
One way to control borers is to put wood ashes from a fireplace around the base of the trunks during dormancy. I have also used ashes around other trees subject to borers and have had no trouble with these pests.
There are other diseases and insects, but these mentioned here seem to be the most widespread. At least, with care, they are controllable.
A widely distributed fruit in the south is the fig. It’s usually referred to as a door-yard fruit as so many fig trees are grown in backyards. All the owner has to do for a supply of figs is to step out in the backyard and pick them. During the height of the fig season, this has to be done almost daily until the season has passed.
There is, however, quite a bit of competition between humans and birds. Bird control can be accomplished by loosely tying lengths of dark-colored sewing thread here and there among the branches. Birds are frightened but not hurt when their wings brush against the threads.
The most common fig varieties are Brown Turkey, ripening in mid-summer, and Texas Everbearing, ripening throughout the summer into fall and producing figs about three times as large as Brown Turkey but not as sweet.
Figs are canned whole, made into preserves and jam, etc., just like other fruits, but they are also delicious dried. In its dried form, the fig can be eaten as a chewy snack, chopped over cereal, or rehydrated for use in cakes, puddings, and other sweets.
Fig trees are easy to grow but are not for the small garden, as they grow about 8-10 feet high and spread out about as far. The good part is that these trees don’t seem to be subject to the diseases that plague other fruit trees. If properly taken care of and watered during prolonged dry spells, a fig tree will reward its owner for many years.
Trees will withstand winter temperatures as low as 15°F., but may be killed back if the thermometer drops much below that and stays there several days. We have had our trees die back, but have always had them put up new growth when warm spring weather prevailed. After a setback, trees will begin bearing again in about three years.
Fig trees may be grown in the north, but it is advisable to grow them in large pots or tubs that can be moved inside during winter to a protected place such as a cellar. Some northern fig growers put their trees in the ground during warm weather and then dig them up for storage in late fall.
Balls of earth are bound around the roots with burlap or some other biodegradable wrapping, and the plants are kept reasonably moist in a cool place until spring. Then they are replanted, beginning the ritual all over again. Some folks are true fig lovers.
One of the easiest fruits to grow is the blueberry, and the bushes will fit in almost anywhere along the edge of the garden or as boundary shrubs. However, don’t expect them to thrive in alkaline soils or ordinary garden soil.
Blueberries love acid soil (pH 5.0-6.0), so what better place to use your leaves and pine needles than around the base of your blueberry plants? Not only does this serve as mulch, but it feeds the plants as it decomposes.
The development of the Rabbiteye varieties of blueberries gave many otherwise deprived gardeners the opportunity to grow some low-maintenance, almost disease-free, delicious fruit. If your soil does not meet the requirements, try converting the soil to acid by digging a trench, filling it with leaf mold from the woods, well-rotted sawdust, peat moss, etc.
Avoid black walnut leaf mold as it has a toxic effect on some acid soil plants. Plant your blueberries in compliance with instructions from the nursery and keep them mulched with organic matter, as mentioned. If you have problems with birds helping themselves to the blueberries, use the thread method used to protect ripe figs.
Blueberries are easy to put away. Just wash them thoroughly, discarding any stems or damaged fruit, drain them for a while in a colander, put them in freezer bags, and they’re ready for the freezer. (Don’t forget to label and date the bags.) Later, when you’re not rushed, you can use them in recipes, make jams, etc.
Not only do gardens and fruit trees go together, but there’s something for everyone when it comes to growing trees. Maybe you’re a nature lover, a bird watcher, a harvester of wild fruits and nuts, or even a photographer. If you need shade trees or have room for trees attractive to wildlife, why not plant some native trees? The list of choices is almost endless.
In the spring, one of our showiest natives is Flowering Dogwood (Cornus Florida L.). Covered in white blossoms and scattered throughout forests, the trees are a beautiful sight. The worst enemies of dogwoods are loggers, who often run them down with heavy equipment while harvesting timber.
Dogwoods have a wide territorial range and may be grown in ordinary soil. Young trees should be mulched with leaves, pine needles, etc. and given a goodly amount of moisture during drought. Once established, they are hardy trees. In the autumn, leaves turn to deep red, and ripe red berries provide food for migrating birds.
Depending on growing conditions, dogwoods may attain a height of 40 feet, but the average height in forests is about 25 feet. These trees grow well as understory trees in shade or as yard specimens in full sun.
The earliest native tree to bloom in many areas is the wild pear (Amelanchier canadensis L.). This tree completely covers itself in white blossoms before putting out a leaf.
Like most early flowering trees, the wild pear is a boon to beekeepers. It produces edible fruit in the form of clusters of small round fruits that begin ripening in autumn and continue throughout the winter.
Because of the long ripening process, many birds depend on them for food during winter. A sweet jelly may be made from the fruit, but it is hard to come by as the trees are thorny. This is one time when it’s wise to let the wildlife have the whole crop.
The wild pears are spectacular in the fall when their leaves change from green to shades of deep orange and yellow. They attain a height of about 50 feet and are excellent shade trees in summer. They are easy to raise, grow fast, will thrive in ordinary soil, and are very hardy and long-lived.
If you have plenty of room and want a large tree, pick an oak. There are lots of oaks—Northern Red, Southern Red, Live, Post, Black, Pin, White, and on and on. Some low-growing species prefer dry, rocky hillsides, whereas some of their cousins live in swamps.
The evergreen Live oaks are reminiscent of the south, where they grow to large proportions—80 feet high and as wide. Some oaks have acorns that mature the first year, and some require two years.
Oaks are among our most valuable trees, and many forms of wildlife depend on them. They have a large territorial range, and some grow faster than others, but they will pay off if you want to provide for wildlife and enjoy some wonderful shade trees.
Native pecan trees are also security for many types of wildlife. Humans like the edible nuts, too, especially where that delectable concoction called pralines is concerned.
Our paper shell pecans are among the best pecans grown, but if you want a really good pecan flavor, try the natives. They’re tedious to pick out, but their flavor is superb.
Pecan trees need space, whether native or not. Over time, the natives may reach 100 feet in height, but that will require many years. Native pecan trees are generally found growing in well-drained loamy soils of river flood plains from central Texas eastward to the Atlantic coast, whereas paper shell pecans are everywhere— orchards, parks, yards, and so on.
It’s so easy to preserve pecans. Just pick the kernels out, being sure they are free of shell fragments, put them in freezer bags, label, and put them in the freezer. Not every year is a heavy yielding year for pecan trees, so we have learned to put away plenty of pecans when there’s a bumper crop.
Whatever your choice of trees, always remember to mulch and water young trees during long dry spells until they become established. Depending on conditions, this may require the first 2-3 years. Once your trees begin to develop, however, you’ll be glad you put out the effort.
Also, if there are nibblers around in the form of mice and rabbits, it may be necessary to use some type of treeguard to protect the trunks of your little trees until they develop strong bark of their own.
Follow planting instructions that come with trees, as the people who grow trees in nurseries have had years of experience.
Don’t be lazy when digging a hole for a tree. Make the hole substantially larger than the root system. You can’t expect a tree to do its best if you jam its roots into a small hole.
This article was submitted by Jason N Clark.