Fruit trees can add beauty in the garden as well as sustenance—think French jardin potager! They are a bit different from typical large canopy shade trees, though. Here are some unique fruit tree characteristics that will help you provide both food and ornament to your garden.
• Fruit trees are edible, of course, so they are especially attractive to deer—so much so, that if you have a problem with deer in your area, you should leave the task of growing fruit to professional orchard farmers with fencing and whatever other tools are needed to protect the trees
• Fruit trees are short-lived. Expect a fruit tree to last about thirty five years. They expend a lot of energy to produce, and they burn out when relatively young (for trees).
• Fruit trees can go through an early decline unless you keep the soil pH up with regular applications of lime. Fig trees in particular like a lot of lime to keep them healthy.
• Late cold snaps can zap the fruit or flower production of fruit trees. Either way, you end up with aborted fruit. In areas where late cold snaps are a problem, you can choose varieties that bloom late in the year to avoid this problem.
• Fruit trees require artistic pruning for optimal production. On commercial fruit orchard farms, strategic pruning is a major part of the cultural practices for results. The professionals prune for maximum sunlight, concentrated energy, and proper aeration to prevent diseases.
• You can purchase special dwarf varieties of fruit trees so all the crop ends up being low-hanging fruit!
• A lot of times fruit trees are grafted onto a hardy or disease-resistant root stock.
• Fruit tree varieties can be picky about where they like to grow. Contact your local agriculture extension agent to find out the best choices for your region.
• With some fruit trees you can espalier their limbs to force lateral growth, which results in more fruit-bearing limbs. This can result in some Pinterest-worthy images—so adorable!
• Fruit trees can grow a large amount of weak water sprouts that need to be pruned away. They sap away all the nutrients that should be going to productive limbs.
• Some fruit trees require a minimum amount of cool days to fruit, so if you live in a warmer climate, you may have difficulty growing some cultivars of apples or cherries.
• If you live in a colder climate, one option to grow fruit trees is as houseplants in huge containers, especially citrus trees.
• Some fruit trees require cross-pollination by compatible pollinator varieties grown nearby.
• You will probably need to wait a few years before your fruit trees produce enough for both you and the birds.
• It is probably no surprise that a lot of insects and pests are attracted to fruit trees. Good, clean cultural practices and healthy soil can prevent a lot of problems, but commercial operators resort to fungicides and pesticides. It makes no sense to attempt this on a residential or ornamental landscape. Choose varieties that can resist the pests and accept imperfection in the fruit.
• Understand there will be trade-offs when choosing fruit trees for an ornamental landscape design. Some fruit trees are not very ornamental. Some ornamental fruit trees have pitiful fruit production. They don’t call them Crabapples for nothing!