I was recently asked about growing fruit trees and bushes in existing landscaping, or even using them as shade trees and esthetically pleasing wildlife food. I’m all for it! We do it here on the hill. We have blueberries, thornless blackberries (thank you Don & Georgiann!), two kinds of figs, and last year I planted two Asian pears. We may plant a strawberry bed in the future. There are naturally occurring mulberry and persimmon, as well as hickory nuts.

There are fruits that I don’t grow nor do I recommend growing them, simply because I refuse to spend the whole growing season monitoring for pests, diseases, and spraying for them. This part of Tennessee is ripe for fungal diseases as well as borers and miners. I’m not a fan of spraying, if I don’t have to, and I don’t have to if I don’t plant a problem-maker.

Apples, peaches, cherries, plums, apricots and grapes are on my no list. Yes, we love these fruits and we buy them from reputable growers, who hopefully don’t spray loads of toxins. I know dirtfolks who do grow these as a business, and yes, they start spraying before bud-break, until harvest. Many organic applications are available for these growers and I have to trust their word when they say they use non-toxic products. I simply don’t have the energy, time or the “want-to” for this much extra labor.

My first advice is to talk to local grower/producers about the fruits that they enjoy growing, the ones that don’t require so much extra product, and the ones that yield the best.

Back to folks like me, who want some fruit plants to share with wildlife, to enjoy watching their forms develop in the landscape, and not have to slave over them to get a few bites a year.

What do you want to grow? Again, especially if you’ve moved here from a place that fruit was abundant, talk to someone who knows. It may be that what you most want, isn’t a good idea. Know your growing zone and pick varieties that will work for you here. For instance, figs are considered marginal here, but mine do great. They typically die back to the ground each winter but bear abundant fruit the next year.

Decide where you want to plant. Are you planting full-sized varieties or dwarf? It matters! Dwarf, or colonnade take far less space than a standard fruit tree. As with anything that grows well, the soil should be loamy, well-drained with full-sunlight exposure. Some plants, such as blueberries, will need a more acid soil, so a soil test may be in order. Blueberries typically do well in a regular landscape/flowerbed because many things we plant in there are lower acid-lovers as well.

Understand the pollination needs of your plants. Certain fruit trees won’t bear unless they’re near another compatible tree for pollination, and this can be pretty specific. There are also self-pollinator varieties. As you plan the layout of the orchard, you’ll need to keep this in mind. Everything has its own space requirements.

KNow when and how to plant the orchard. As with any plant there’s an optimal time to put it in the ground. Are you starting them from seeds? Bare-root plants? Potted? Ball-and-burlap? Do you want fruit in your lifetime or does it matter? For instance, pecans can take a couple decades to bear a crop! Something that’s grown from seed won’t bear nearly as quickly as an established tree/shrub. Also, knowing how do dig the hole and prep the planting space is essential.

Water wisely. No matter how big the new plant is, I consider them all babies the first year, so watering is essential. I like to make a berm/trench around the root zone so whatever water is there, will stay and soak in. If they’re far from the house, you might bury a small bucket, with holes drilled in it, beside the tree, or large PVC tubing, buried to the depth of the roots. These are for water to be poured into, and go in slowly.

Our pear trees are planted in a space off to the side, in the front yard. The blueberries, blackberries, and figs are all inside the fenced garden, also close to the house. I love the idea of sharing these with friends, both human and critter!

Bottom line: do your homework before starting.

Sherrie Ottinger, aka: “The TN Dirtgirl,” is a regenerative Earth thinker, teacher, columnist, author and speaker. Her passion is all things “dirt.” She may be reached at velokigate@yahoo.com with comments or questions.

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