Big backyard or bijou balcony, enjoy the bounty of fruiting trees in your home garden
1. Cool-climate fruits
Climate is the first thing to consider when choosing what fruit to grow. Many of the cool–climate fruits, such as cherries, pears, apples and the berry fruits, require a definite winter chilling period to blossom successfully and simply will not fruit in mild–winter areas. Some of the stone fruit — plums, apricots and nectarines — while basically cool–climate plants will also grow in warmer areas, especially the newer low-chill varieties. Peaches in particular will grow in temperate and subtropical zones.
While most deciduous trees can withstand heavy frost in winter when they are dormant, spring frosts when the trees are in blossom will prevent fruiting and may even damage or kill the tree. Because of the earliness of its blossoming, apricots are particularly prone to frost damage. Cherries, likewise, need a site sheltered from frost and cold.
2. Warm-climate fruits
Warm-climate fruits — avocado, mango, pawpaw and custard apple — will not grow where they get frost and although they may perform in sheltered locations in temperate areas, they are best grown in more northerly locations. With many newer fruits available, such as lychee, rambutan and guava, tropical and subtropical gardeners may lead a revival in the home: growing fruit. Although citrus trees are classified as subtropical, they are not highly adaptable. Citrus does best where there is a warm to hot summer with good rainfall and a mild winter. They are intolerant of high winds and long, frosty winters.
3. Dwarf fruit trees
Dwarf cultivars are available for several types of fruit tree (apples, nectarines, peaches, pomegranates). They produce abundant crops of normal-sized fruits but the overall size of the tree doesn’t mean it will dominate a small garden space. These can be grown in pots and planters, so are ideal for courtyards and balconies.
4. Cross–pollination process
Some fruit trees (apples, pears, cherries, plums) cannot be fertilised by their own pollen and you need to have another variety of the same fruit in flower nearby at the same time. You can buy multi-graft trees that are grafted with two or three varieties, although this is not usually as successful as growing single-variety trees. Ask at your local nursery for advice about compatible types. For satisfactory fruit production, fertilisation is usually necessary and bee activity is essential for this.
5. Acquiring fruit trees
Most garden centres sell fruit trees and there are specialist nurseries. Choose an established and reputable nursery because there are laws in place (to protect the fruit industry) that ensure fruit is propagated from virus-free plants. Choose a top-quality named variety, even if it is more expensive. Seek advice on varieties suitable for your location. One of the advantages of growing fruit at home is that you can select an old-fashioned variety known for its flavour, but not widely grown by commercial producers.
Also look for varieties that have been especially bred for superior flavour. For example, the terrific-tasting Western Australian-bred Pink Lady and Sundowner apples have proven very popular with home gardeners in that state for several years. If given a choice of understock, choose one on a dwarfing or semi-dwarfing stock. As most fruit trees are budded or grafted, and as this is a difficult technical process, fruit trees for the home gardener are best bought from a nursery. Similarly, it is not worth planting seeds, except for the fun of it, for seedling trees are rarely a success or true to type.
6. General requirements
Nearly all the fruit trees require full sun. Good soil preparation will, as usual, pay long-term dividends. Fertile, well-drained soil is essential and most fruit will also need regular watering. Avoid wetting the foliage and fruit, which may result in scorch in hot weather and increase the risk of fungal disease.