Growing Deciduous Fruit Trees
If you ever, as a child, got home covered in raspberry stains from top to toe or got stuck in an apricot tree, because you had to be the one to get that last, perfect, juicy, tangy bite, you would understand the pleasure of eating a fruit straight from the tree.
‘Food forest’ has become a buzz word in creating a sustainable and diverse environment for growing your own, healthy food, and fruit and nut trees are an integral part of this system. Although very few people in urban areas have the space for an orchard nowadays, that is no reason why you shouldn’t grow your own fruit even in the smallest of gardens.
See our comprehensive blog all about Food Forests by clicking |HERE|.
Deciduous fruit trees generally bear their fruit in spring and summer, lose their leaves in autumn and go dormant in winter, which is the best time to plant your new fruit tree. With a wide range available right now, you will be spoiled for choice!
Planting your Deciduous Fruit Tree
All deciduous fruit trees need a full sun position throughout the year to ensure good fruit production. A loamy, well drained soil is ideal. Prepare the planting hole well in advance and add a generous amount of compost and bone meal or organic 2:3:2 to the soil to give your tree the best start possible. Find more comprehensive information on tree planting |HERE|
Growing Deciduous Fruit in Pots
Fruit trees growing in containers need more care than those growing in open ground.
- Make sure the container is big enough to avoid having to transplant the tree too often – a pot at least 50cm in diameter is a good yardstick.
- Plant in a good quality potting soil enriched with a handful of bone meal. Add water-retention granules or perlite/vermiculite to bolster moisture retention.
- Because their root system is inhibited by the container, and because regular watering tends to leach nutrients from the soil, these trees need more regular feeding.
- Fruit trees in pots will need more regular watering, especially in hot or windy weather when transpiration is high. Check regularly and water as soon as the top 2-3cm of soil is dry. Ensure good drainage form the bottom of the pot – the trees shouldn’t be waterlogged either.
The Art of Espalier
Espalier allows the keeper of even the smallest of gardens to grow their own fruit trees. It can be described as the art of training trees against a flat surface, such as a wall or trellis. The ideal position in South Africa, because of the hot afternoon heat, is against an east facing wall. Traditionally apples and pears were most commonly used for this method, but figs and peaches are equally suitable due to their natural spreading growth habit. Planting against a garden wall is preferable to a house wall. Initially an espalier requires a lot of time, patience and attention and some radical pruning. Once established, though, it will only need light pruning to maintain its shape and will give you years of reward and pleasure!
The art of Espalier and Potager Gardening go hand in hand – have a read by clicking |HERE|.
Caring for your Deciduous Fruit Tree
Fruit trees do require quite a bit of care and pruning, especially when they are young, but the results will far outweigh the effort. A typical year in the life of your tree would look like this:
Plant new fruit trees of your choice and mulch well. Finish pruning existing trees now. Spray with an organic fungicide after pruning and again 2 weeks later. Water your trees every 10 days and more often if planted in pots.
Apply a layer of mulch around all trees to help with moisture retention during the dry, windy months. Continue watering as above. Fertilise all trees with organic 3:1:5 fertiliser in the ratio indicated on the packaging. Your trees should start flowering this month.
To understand more about Fertilising click |HERE|.
At about 75% blossom drop, spray or put out bait in traps against fruit fly. Continue spraying or topping up traps every fortnight. Thin out the fruit on heavily laden trees when they are about 5mm in size. This will improve the quality and size of the fruit and prevent branches from breaking under the weight. Maintain the mulch layer and water regularly if it doesn’t rain.
The first apricots and peaches should be ready for picking this month. Continue thinning out the fruit as above. Fertilise all trees with organic 3:1:5 fertiliser in the ratio indicated on the packaging. Spray or put out bait to protect apple and pear trees against codling moth towards the end of the month. Pick up all fallen and rotten fruit and either feed them to your chickens, if you have those, or place in a black plastic bag in the sun to kill off all pests. Don’t throw infected fruit directly onto your compost heap. Continue watering during dry weather.
Continue treatment against fruit fly and codling moth. Harvest fruit regularly. Continue watering during dry spells.
DECEMBER – MARCH:
Continue treatment against fruit fly and pick up all fallen fruit as above. Once trees have finished bearing fruit, give it a light summer pruning to allow maximum light into the middle of the tree. Remove all water shoots and suckers. Feed with and organic 3:1:5 fertiliser in December and February. Spread the fertiliser along the dripline of the tree and water thoroughly.
APRIL – MAY:
Pick the last of the fruit and do a final application of organic 8:1:5 or 2:3:2 fertiliser. Top up the mulch layer around trees and water regularly if rain is scarce.
Start Pruning trees from late June while they are dormant to ensure a good crop in the coming season. Pruning your deciduous fruit trees in a vase shape will allow maximum light on all the inside branches and prevent branches from rubbing against each other.
During the first 3 years after planting all deciduous fruit trees can be pruned in the same way to create the ideal shape:
Your new tree will be one season old when you buy it and the main, central stem would most probably have been pruned by the grower. If not, cut the stem to 50-75cm above ground level. Make the cut at an angle above a healthy node. Trim side branches and remove branches that are close to ground level.
Identify 4-5 strong side branches that will help create a vase shape. Cut the branches to about 75cm just above an outward facing bud. Remove all other branches and shoots.
Select 3 good shoots on each of the 4-5 branches you selected last year to create a secondary framework. Cut these to about 50cm. Remove all other branches and shoots. Also remove all dead, damaged and diseased wood and root suckers.
Spray with an organic fungicide after pruning and again after 2 weeks. Water your trees every 10 days and more often if planted in pots.
After the third year pruning becomes more specific to the type of fruit tree. With a little bit of research and assistance from the knowledgeable staff at Lifestyle Home Garden, you can find out exactly which cuts are the correct ones to make to ensure baskets full of juicy fruit each season.
Companion Planting with Deciduous Fruit Trees
Inter-planting your fruit trees with flowering perennials and herbs not only looks beautiful, but the plants also attract pollinators and other beneficial insects and confuse and repel insect pests. Try tansy, lavender, Nasturtiums, rue, rosemary, borage, dill, fennel, rose-scented geranium and citronella. Ground-covers like chamomile, yarrow, pennyroyal and Oxalis will keep weeds at bay and serve as a living mulch. Companion planting is an excellent way to use nature as your guide when it comes to which plants grow well together, benefiting each other.
Choosing your Fruit Tree
Deciduous fruit can be divided into stone fruits (e.g. peach, nectarine and plum), pomme fruits (e.g. apple, pear and quince) and others like fig and pomegranate.
Let’s take a look at the various deciduous fruits available at Lifestyle Home Garden and the most recommended cultivars of each;
Peaches and Nectarines
Blossoms…blossoms are what make these trees so very beautiful and of course the juiciness that follows! Peaches and nectarines are very suitable to the Highveld with its cooler winter and rainy summers. These trees need to be pruned back harder than the other deciduous fruits.
‘Oom Sarel’: A yellow clingstone peach with firm flesh. A very good bearer. Ripens from Mid-December.
‘Professor Malherbe’: Very similar to ‘Oom Sarel’, but ripens earlier in late November.
‘Elberta’: A yellow dessert peach. Freestone. Compact and upright growth which makes it ideal for small gardens and large pots. Dark red blushed skin and slightly tart, yellow flesh with a red tinge around the pips. Ripens mid-January.
‘Orion’: White dessert peach. Semi-clingstone. Small fruits with light green, red-blushed skin and white, sweet flesh. A heavy bearer so fruit thinning is recommended. Ripens early November.
‘Alpine’: Clingstone with bright red skin and yellow flesh. Small to medium fruit size. Ripens mid- to late November.
‘Flavortop’: Freestone with large, sweet fruit. Compact and upright growth which makes it ideal for small gardens and large pots. Very productive. Ripens early January.
Apples and Pears
Definitely also blossoms… apple pie, and pears in red wine……mmmm! Once their shape is established, only a light annual pruning and shaping is required. Apples and pears make excellent espalier and topiary specimens and are very suitable to grow in pots if watered and fed as needed. Please note that certain pear and apple varieties need cross pollination by a different variety.
‘Granny Smith’: Bright green apples with a sweet-tart taste. Excellent for cooking and baking. Ripens from late March. NB: NEEDS CROSS POLLINATION. USE ‘Early Red One’ or ‘Golden Delicious’.
‘Early Red One’: Sweet, crisp flesh with a dark red skin when ripe. Ripens from March. NB: NEEDS CROSS POLLINATION. USE ‘Granny Smith’ or ‘Golden Delicious’.
‘Golden Delicious’: Yellow-golden skin with very tasty, aromatic flesh. Smaller growth habit makes it very suitable for small gardens and large pots. Ripens from late February. NB: NEEDS CROSS POLLINATION. USE ‘Granny Smith’ or ‘Early Red One’.
‘Buerre Bosch’: An old heirloom variety from France. Classic shaped fruits with golden brown, russet skin and cream coloured, sweet and juicy flesh. Ripens late February. NB: NEEDS POLLINATION BY ‘Bon Chretien’.
‘Bon Chretien’: Bell shaped fruit with green-yellow skin. Fragrant, sweet and juicy. Ripens from early January. NB: SELF-POLLINATING
‘Rosemarie’: Skin is light yellow with pink to red blush. Good quality eating pear with juicy cream flesh. Ripens from late December. NB: NEEDS POLLINATION BY ‘Packham’s Triumph’.
Beautiful spring blossoms, blissful fruit and a neat growth habit make the plum tree an excellent ornamental shade tree for the smaller garden. Plum trees are easy to care for and only light pruning is required once the shape is established.
‘Harry Pickstone’: Clingstone fruit with deep red skin, and sweet, juicy, yellow flesh. Ripens from mid-January. NB: SELF-POLLINATING
‘Methley’: Small clingstone fruit with dark purple skin and dark red, sweet flesh. A very rewarding plum to grow. Ripens from late November. NB: SELF-POLLINATING.
Apricots are not always readily available and, if so, then for a limited time. If you’re a lover of this velvety fruit and its many applications (drying, canning, cooking and making jams) this is your chance to ensure a steady supply this summer.
‘Cape Bebeco’: Large, freestone fruit with yellow, slightly blushed skin and orange, tasty flesh. Good for fresh eating, canning and drying. Ripens from early December.
‘Bulida’: Medium, freestone fruit with yellow, slightly blushed skin and firm, yellow flesh. Excellent for jam and canning. Ripens from late November.
‘Soldonne’: Medium, freestone fruit with orange-yellow skin and very tasty, firm, orange yellow flesh. A good all-rounder for fresh eating and all forms of preserving. Ripens from late November.
Quinces are old time favourites making a comeback in the culinary world. Used to be there wasn’t a farm without a quince hedge lining the path from the orchard to the house. Quinces are hardy and water wise. They can be pruned to form fruit-bearing hedges and screens. With their ornamental white-pink flowers in spring and summer and their lovely autumn foliage they are ideal for the small home garden. The quince fruit is very fragrant but the only way to eat it fresh from the tree is with salt as it can be very tart and astringent. It really is more suitable to use cooked in jellies, jams, preserves and desserts.
Recommended varieties are ‘Cape Select’ which ripens from late March and ‘Portugal’ which ripens from mid-September.
Think fig preserve and blue cheese…fresh fig and goat’s cheese salad…you’ll never regret growing a fig tree (unlike Adam, but there were other factors!). They are hardy, water wise, easy to take care of and love hot, sunny conditions. Figs are one of the fruit trees that will grow well in pots and containers even on a sunny balcony.
‘Tiger’: Yellow and green striped fruit with pink flesh. Excellent for pots. Ripens: Late March.
‘Ronde de Bordeaux’: Dark purple skin with dark pink, sweet flesh. Excellent for pots and small gardens. Ripens late December.
‘Deanna’: Large, green fruits with straw coloured, sweet flesh. One of the best fig varieties. Large crops that ripen early January.
Now here’s a blast from the past that’s been completely re-invented! Everybody loves the healthy, juicy little surprises (arils) hidden inside the hard outer shell and they’re not always easy to come by. Pomegranates are really more shrubs than trees and can be planted as hedges or screens. They bear striking orange-red flowers from which the unusual red fruit develop. Pomegranates are heat and drought resistant, easy to grow and very suitable to grow in small gardens and pots.
‘Old Cape’: An old fashioned heirloom variety with tough skin, hard seeds and a sweet-sour taste. Ripens from April.
‘Pazz’: Rich, dark red and sweet and juicy arils with very soft seeds. Ripens from early March.
‘Gose’: Attractive pinkish-red, sweet and juicy arils with soft seeds. Ripens from early March.
There are many many more varieties of deciduous and other fruit available to select from in our fruit section. Make your choice and make a start, big or small, towards growing your own healthy, tasty organic fruit right there for your picking.