assorted fruits on a fruit stand

Thinking about backyard fruit trees?

Start by thinking about your motivation. What made you consider adding fruit trees to your yard in the first place? Are you interested in preserving your harvest, or just enjoying fresh fruit for a couple of months each year?

Next, what kind of fruit you and your family like to eat. If you already are eating some of your produce locally or in season, think about the types of fruit that you always look for or always notice when the season arrives. Consider some of the practical factors. Be realistic.

How much space do you have? How much work do you want to do? How long do you intend to stay at your current address? Most fruit trees take at least a few years to produce much, and many require another tree as a pollinator. Even self-fertile varieties will set more fruit if you have two trees.

It’s okay to start small. If you aren’t sure about the answers to those questions, a container plant is fine to begin with. A couple of strawberry plants, a Meyer lemon, or a fig tree, for instance. If you have a lot of area that is partially shaded, a shrub or bush may work better than a tree.

What is your climate zone?

Most of the time, it is easy to find the USDA hardiness zone for plants in the United States. Keep in mind that most food producing plants need full sunlight. I recommend making a map of your yard that firmly identifies which areas are in sun or shaded, and during which hours of the day. Then you know where trees can succeed.

You may be able to identify some generalities about the soil in your area. Is it clay, sand, or loam, primarily? Is it more acidic, or more alkaline? Often, there is a county extension service that will provide soil testing, and there are also online based services. Make sure you use a representative sample for testing.

red apples on tree

What are the benefits of fruit trees?

Fresh fruit in season, obviously. More bang for your buck in the long run, in terms of food produced per annual inputs.

Something you may not have considered is that even if you live somewhere with contaminated soil, the fruit will generally be safe to eat even if the soil contains heavy metals. While annual vegetables might need trucked-in soil with a barrier beneath it, trees are capable of filtering out this type of contamination.

Reference here: Monitoring and mitigation of toxic heavy metals and arsenic accumulation in food crops: A case study of an urban community garden

What is a fruit tree guild?

A common concept in permaculture design, a fruit tree guild mimics the way that different plants co-exist in nature. It is a community consisting of a fruit tree, understory plants, and ground cover plants, designed to produce food and herbs. The idea is simple, but this is something that I am just starting to learn about myself.

A popular blog post on the topic from Tenth Acre Farm here.

Where do I get fruit trees?

While I do advocate starting at a local nursery (if you are lucky enough to have one) or a local plant sale, I recognize that often the selection there is limited. At big box stores, the plants are often shipped all over the place and you may not really know what variety you are getting. I have obtained plants this way and had some fail, and others do just fine.

It is easy to order trees online, and I have found that there is a much wider and more specific selection of heirloom varieties and native plants such as highbush cranberries, online.

Let me know what fruit trees you might be thinking of planting. Are there other permaculture concepts catching your imagination lately?

September starts tomorrow and I am dreaming of all the kinds of pie…

Let’s keep it cozy.