Fruit trees, vines and bushes are among the most rewarding and enjoyable plants to grow in your landscape and gardens. Growing fruit is not that difficult if you choose your species and varieties well and provide the plants a few basic requirements.
Edible landscape additions
You don’t really need a backyard orchard area, although a small orchard is a nice addition if you have the space. Fruit plants can be grown in and among other landscape plants as a component of edible landscaping, where their blooms or attractive fruit add to the beauty.
Persimmons are quite ornamental, especially with their orange fruits that adorn the trees in fall even after the leaves turn orange to red and drop. Grapevines work well growing on a fence or over an arbor, where they provide a nice shady spot to escape the summer sun.
Citrus trees and bushes have wonderfully fragrant blooms and evergreen foliage, making them a great addition to a patio or other outdoor sitting area, or along a walkway. Kumquat, Satsuma orange, key lime, Mexican lime and Meyer lemon will perform fairly well in a large container, so they can be moved into a garage when a hard freeze is forecast. Kumquats and satsumas are hardy enough to survive most winters here as an in-ground plant if you can toss a cover over them when temperatures drop in to the mid-20s or lower.
Blueberries detest our soils and our water. Yet determined blueberry fans may have some success growing them in very large containers with a peat and sand growing mix and watering them with captured rainwater. Oh, the lengths we are willing to go for tasty fruit.
Blackberries can be maintained in a narrow row along a fence line or to divide the lawn and landscape from the edible garden area. They aren’t fond of heavy clay soils, but a raised bed with improved soil can provide the internal drainage their roots prefer.
Keys to success
When it comes to growing fruit, four key factors are sunlight, soil drainage, chilling hours and pollination.
For fruit plants to be productive, they need an area that receives a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight a day, and more is even better. Without lots of sunlight, the leaves are not able to make enough carbohydrates to set bloom buds or to ripen tasty fruit.
Most fruit species need well-drained soil. If your soil is poorly drained, build up a large raised mound of soil at least as wide as the mature spread of the fruit species on which to plant the tree or bush.
Most deciduous fruit plants, including peaches, plums, pears, apples and blueberries, require a certain amount of winter chilling — around 45 degrees — to break dormancy, bloom and produce fruit. It is very important to choose varieties that have a chilling requirement that matches what is typical for your area during a normal winter.
Here in Brazos County we average around chilling 600 hours in the winter. The actual number may vary 100 hours more or less than that depending on the year. If you plant a variety with a lower requirement, it may be blooming in February and your crop will likely be lost to freeze damage. If you choose one with a significantly higher requirement, it may be very slow to leaf out in spring and fail to produce a crop that year.
Some types of fruit — including peaches, figs, strawberries, persimmons, blackberries, true grapes, some blueberries, a few muscadines and a few plums — are self-fruitful. That is, they don’t require a second variety for cross pollination. However, other types of fruit, including apples, pears, most older muscadine varieties, most blueberries and most plums, require a second variety to set a good crop of fruit.
Always check before buying the plants to insure you have compatible varieties for cross pollination when required. You wouldn’t want your prize fruit plants to become members of the lonely hearts club. Also check that the variety does well in this climate.
Diseases and pests
Most fruit plants have their share of diseases and pests that can become a problem if not managed in a timely manner. If you want fruit without spraying, figs and persimmons are probably your best bets. Some species, such as apples and grapes, are definitely going to need sprays to protect them in our humid, rainy climate.
Resources to help
There is a wealth of great information on the Aggie Horticulture website. You’ll find a free, downloadable publication on virtually any fruit that will grow in Texas.
Your county extension office also can assist you with choosing species and varieties adapted to the area, and with diagnosing problems and choosing an appropriate remedy.
Now is the best time to purchase and plant fruit trees, vines and bushes. Consider adding a few to your landscape and enjoy the dividends for years to come.
Robert “Skip” Richter is the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Horticulture Agent for Brazos County, 2619 Texas 21 W., Bryan, Texas 77803. For local gardening information and events, visit brazosmg.com. Gardening questions? Call Skip at 823-0129 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.