Enhance your edible garden with fruit trees and shrubs

05/29/2014 12:00 AM

05/28/2014 6:03 PM

When it comes to growing our own food, the natural starting point for most of us is a vegetable garden.

Yet by stopping there, we are missing out on a lot.

Growing fruit gives us control over what is in our food and where it comes from. But homegrown fruit also provides incredible flavors and a larger selection of varieties than is typically found in the grocery store. And by growing fruit organically, we are reducing the demand for conventionally grown fruit – and that supports the environment.

But for some, adding fruit to the garden can be intimidating. Yet by using sound gardening practices, it’s possible to grow a wide variety of delicious fruit from healthy trees and shrubs in your own backyard or even on a deck or patio.

In speaking with many food gardeners who are not currently growing fruit, a few objections kept surfacing.

In no particular order, these are some of the most common reasons expressed for not growing your own fruit:

•  Not enough room. Sure, if you’re growing a standard tree, but with so many options today for miniature, dwarf and semi-dwarf, and the fact that almost any tree can be grown in a container, the lack-of-space argument is no longer valid. You might not be able to have an orchard, but there’s no reason you can’t have multiple containers of fruit-bearing trees and shrubs.
•  Pest and disease problems. One of the most often raised concerns is fruit trees’ and berry plants’ potential susceptibility to pests and diseases. Keeping a clean planting site is key.

Prune and destroy diseased limbs, remove mummified fruit (especially in late fall or winter) to avoid re-contamination of diseases and spores, avoid planting in poorly drained sites, and avoid overwatering to prevent root-rot and water molds.

Yes, some fruit trees, such as apples, are hosts to their fair share of pests. But there are numerous effective conventional and organic controls, and many of the perceived problems are only cosmetic.

Personally, I’d prefer a blemished apple that’s perfectly fine to eat to one that has been sprayed with a pesticide just to prevent a little cosmetic damage.

•  Too time-consuming. The biggest issue raised pertains to the time invested in a pest-prevention regime if you choose to do so. Using best practices to choose and site your plants properly from the start will help prevent many of the most time-consuming issues. A good local nursery specializing in fruit can be a huge help in selecting plants suited for your site.

Other important duties involve early pruning to train your trees for size and shape, and of course the all-important harvesting – the greatest benefit of growing fruit.

•  Too messy. It’s important to maintain a clean environment both for aesthetics and to reduce pest and disease problems. Unless you are growing a large orchard, this task should be easy to manage along with your other weekend chores. Being vigilant about picking off young fruit eliminates excess fruit drop later.
•  Lack of success in the past. To borrow a phrase: “Past results are not an indication of future performance.” With all the resources available today, as well as newer, more resistant varieties, your options and chances for success are greater than ever.

Joe Lamp’l is host and executive producer of “Growing a Greener World” on National Public Television and founder of The joe gardener Company.

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