Share this post…

ask-ruth-pictureDear Ruth,
I am thinking about planting some fruit in my yard. How much room do I need? Is now a good time? What kind of place does fruit like to be planted?
Asheville, NC


Dear Sarah,
Fruit is a great addition to any yard! It is a thrill to walk outside your door and bite into something wonderful. Kids love it. Grownups love it. Even some pets love it.
Before I answer your question though, I want to encourage everyone to check out the enticing list of classes at the True Nature Country Fair this year. It’s on September 26 & 27, Saturday & Sunday, in Barnardsville, NC – just 20 miles north of downtown Asheville. Learn from the experts…and three of the classes are about fruit & edible landscaping!

So Sarah…now is a good time to plant most fruits. You can actually plant containerized fruits any time of year as long as the ground is not frozen. One advantage of planting now is that the fruit will be making roots all winter long, and thus will have a head start come springtime.
Most fruits require full sun (a minimum of 6 hours for good production), good air drainage, good root drainage, yearly pruning, and good sanitary practices for disease prevention. Ideally, fruit trees should be planted on a north or northeast-facing slope. In these locations, they will warm up slower in springtime, bloom later, and therefore be less susceptible to frost damage. Frost collects at the bottom of slopes, and above hedges or fences, so plant your trees midway down the hill to avoid frost pockets.
Since most fruit requires good root drainage to prosper, dig your planting hole 2-3 times wider than the plant’s container. Plant it even with or slightly above the soil line in the pot (or the soil line on the bare root plant) – no deeper. Amend your backfill with a soil conditioner like Nature’s Helper to about 50%. Amending with compost can be beneficial and add great microbial activity, but the compost must be very well finished. Compost that is still “hot” can burn newly forming roots. Be very cautious using compost when planting blueberries, as their roots are especially sensitive. Worm castings should be safe to add to your planting hole. Roots need to have an affinity for their surrounding soil, so always mix in at least 50% native soil with your planting hole amendments.

Some of our favorite teachers at the Organic Growers School (see upcoming classes below) recommend adding a few handfuls of kelp meal and rock phosphate (and sometimes Azomite) to the soil backfill when planting. Phosphate is a root fertilizer, so mix it in close to the roots, as it is very slow-moving. Kelp (a potassium source) and Azomite provide wonderful micro-nutrients – I like to call them “magic dust.”
For the whole first year, water your plant deeply – to the bottom of the roots – once or twice weekly. Use your common sense and your God –given moisture meter (your finger) to determine proper watering. Neither bone-dry nor swampy is good.

After leaf-fall in autumn, rake up and remove leaves and diseased or dead wood. These will carry over diseases. Broadleaf weeds also harbor insects and disease, so keep orchard areas as clean as possible. This advice could prove more challenging for urban plantings, which are often incorporated right into your home landscaping. On that note, fruit adds a very attractive element to any yard. Most fruit has showy flowers in spring, fruit in summer or fall, and some have pretty fall color (leaves) too. When considering your choices, remember there are many small fruits you can squeeze in to small spaces or plant on a trellis. Dwarf fruit trees grow to only 8-10 feet tall, and semi-dwarf fruits get 12-15 feet tall. Most blueberries get 4-6 feet tall. Other fruits to consider: raspberry, blackberry, tayberry, kiwi, elderberry, grapes, persimmons, paw-paw, serviceberry and more obscure fruits like medlar, Cornus mas, etc.
Other quick fruit notes: Blueberries require acid soil. Get a free soil test from Cooperative Extension to see if you need to acidify your soil, adding sulfur if you do. Figs and other questionably hardy fruit are probably best planted in spring, so that they have well-established root systems by wintertime. Mulch figs with a 5-6” layer of pine straw over winter to protect their shallow roots. Mulch should never touch the actual trunks of your trees or shrubs, since that could cause root-rot and provides damaging critter habitat.

Favorite and unusual fruits are available locally from area garden centers, tailgate markets, and micro-nurseries.
Upcoming Classes on Fruit:

  • Sept. 26 at 4:30 p.m. – Perennial Plant Foods with Chuck Marsh, True Nature Country Fair, $5 per person
  • Sept. 27 at 2:30 p.m. – Great Edible Landscaping with Chuck Marsh, True Nature Country Fair, $5. per person
  • Sept. 27 at 4:30 p.m. – Orcharding- Fruit Cocktail with a Twist with Bill Whipple, True Nature Country Fair, $5. per person
  • October 10 at 10 a.m. – Home Orchards with Andrew Goodheart Brown, Reems Creek Nursery, free of charge

Good luck!


Ask Ruth © 2013 Ruth Gonzalez & Organic Growers School

Ruth Gonzalez

Author: Ruth Gonzalez

Ruth Gonzalez is a former market farmer, gardener, and local food advocate who wants to see organic farms proliferate and organic gardens in every yard. She serves on the Organic Growers School Board of Directors, and in her job at Reems Creek Nursery, Ruth offers advice on all sorts of gardening questions, and benefits daily from the wisdom of local gardeners.

Share this post…