As Autumn Arrives, Plant Fruit Trees!
We’re about to roll into September, so it’s hard to think clearly about next spring’s small kitchen garden. But this is an important time to do just that—especially if you want to grow fruit. You don’t need to rush out immediately, but if you want to plant perennial fruit-producers, autumn is the best time to do it. Thinking about it now can save some energy in autumn… and if you need to order plants through the mail because you can’t find them locally, it’s good to get a head start.
Fruit for Your Small Kitchen Garden
OK, not all perennial fruit plants want to be planted in the fall. Forget about brambles: raspberries, blackberries, and loganberries. They prefer spring planting. However, blueberries, grapes, apples, cherries, pears, peaches, and plums will all do best when you plant them in the fall. You can also plant strawberries, but as October approaches, select ever-bearing plants; summer-bearing plants should be in by the end of September. (My summer-bearing plants have sprouted new stolons—runners—in the past two weeks; they know when they like to be planted.)
Don’t you Plant Fruit Trees in Spring?
There’s a serious culture of people who plant fruit trees in the spring. That’s OK, but it creates challenges for the owner of a small kitchen garden. When you start in the spring, you introduce young, tender plants that are emerging from sleep. These plants are going to need a lot of water to get established, and in only two or three months, water could be scarce. Equally challenging: summer heat puts extra stress on plants. You might soon be pumping even more water to keep the tree perky.
Planting in the fall provides several advantages:
- Even as the air temperature plummets, soil cools down more slowly; roots will continue to grow into November or even December.
- With autumn comes the rain. It’s not a rule, but even if rainfall doesn’t increase in autumn, your new plantings are going dormant so they simply don’t need as much water.
- Perennials don’t need so much fertilizer when they’re going dormant. If you plant in the fall, you can leave off the fertilizer until the ground starts to thaw in March.
A perennial that you plant in the fall will most likely be much happier in the spring than one that you plant in the spring. By planting in the fall, you leave more time in the spring that you can use to plant spring vegetables… or sit in your easy chair.
Plant Fruit Trees for a Small Kitchen Garden?
It seems I’m often encouraging you to depart from the basic premise of this blog: a small kitchen garden is one that provides food you consume throughout the growing season… with little left to store or give away. It’s hard to grow fruit trees that provide such a modest amount of fruit without serious human intervention early in the season.
But what if you want to have fruit growing in your yard? In fact, your entire small kitchen garden could be a single fruit tree. (I hope we can still be friends.) Clever nursery operators have designed dwarf varieties of apple, pear, and peach trees that produce full-sized fruit. For those who have, perhaps, only a patio, deck, or balcony, there are even trees that will thrive in containers. Sadly, for some types of fruit trees, there are no dwarf varieties. For example, a sour cherry tree grows a crown out to 15 feet or more, and a sweet cherry tree is going to be twice that diameter! Plums have the same problem. Make it clear to the salesperson (or sales web site) when you buy your plants exactly how much space the tree(s) will have. And ask whether the trees are self-pollinating. In some cases, if you buy one tree, you’re going to need a second or you won’t get any fruit.
While dwarf trees might fit in your small kitchen garden, look around for trees that have several varieties of fruit grafted onto a single plant. These may require more space, but they solve pollination challenges, and they provide variety in limited space. My dad once planted an apple tree that produced five types of apples. I’m sure you can find similar chimeras at your local garden store.
To Be Continued…
Please don’t dive into fruit-growing without considerable thought. As a truly lazy gardener, I can assure you: it’s much more of a pain to care for perennial fruit trees than it is to care for annual vegetables. With vegetables, you plant in the spring, harvest through the summer, and put it all to bed for the winter. Even a single fruit tree can provide year-round chores: mulching, fertilizing, pruning, culling, spraying, watering… to get the best production, all these things matter.
I grow fruit because the trees came with my yard. I’d miss them if they weren’t here, but I sometimes resent their demands for attention. Worse: when I neglect them, I’m annoyed that they don’t shrug their shoulders and produce good fruit anyway.
My next post will continue this topic about planting fruit in the fall—with even greater emphasis on the small kitchen garden. Please check back and I’ll encourage you to plant fruits that are best suited for gardeners with very limited space.
Here’s another article with further thoughts about planitng fruit:
Fruit Trees – If you select a fruit tree which needs a mate in order to produce fruits, you’ll also need to make sure you plant the two trees close enough together. Putting them at opposite ends of your large yard may cause you to never have any …