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Home Grounds, Gardens and Home Pests > Home Grounds Blog > Posts > Plant a Multi-purpose Landscape - Grow it and eat it, too!

Question:  I’ve been reading a lot lately about where our food is grown, how it’s treated during the process, and how fresh it is when it gets to the grocery store. The interest in turning completely ornamental landscapes into one that provides fruits, berries, or nuts is very appealing to me.  Before we jump into this project and add a few fruit trees to our medium-sized landscape, what do we need to know about growing them?  How much more trouble are fruit trees, really?  And if we ever “downsize” into a smaller home, can we grow fruit on less space?

blueberries.JPGAnswer:  Your question is very timely since fall-into-winter is recommended as the prime planting window for most trees and shrubs. By planting during cooler fall temperatures, trees have a chance to establish a healthy root system and put on a growth spurt with the arrival of spring.

While learning to grow fruit crops takes a bit of time and patience, most backyard growers consider the payoffs worth it.  Food you pick from your backyard or garden and eat the same day just tastes better.  Learning which varieties are less prone to insects and diseases, which grow best in your particular hardiness zone, and how much maintenance the plants require is available to us in several formats.  

Get to know these plants before you dig that first hole in the ground.  Select fruit trees that grow best in your hardiness zone.  This information is available online from several ".edu" sites*, those associated with universities, and from gardening magazines, books, and videos.  Visit your local library if you don't want to buy a book.  These sources cover aspects of growing and selecting plants for consumption, covering “golden oldies” such as soil testing, best location for maximum production, growing organically, pruning – pros and cons, whether you’ll need a male and female tree for proper pollination, and how many trees or shrubs can be planted in the space you have available.

Want more ‘hands on’ or face-to face instruction?  Check out the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s (A.C.E.S.) October 7th workshop “Creating a Fruitful Landscape” (205) 879-6964 x 10, or the Fall Gardening Extravaganza on Oct. 10th; http://www.aces.edu/counties/Tallapoosa. Both of these events will discuss ‘planning, planting, and variety selection’ of trees, some edible and some ornamental.

If you live in or downsize to a smaller property or garden home, you are not excluded from planting trees for their fruits or berries.  Many varieties of semi-dwarf or dwarf fruit trees can be grown in large pots on your patio or in a flower border. Topping out at about 8-10’ tall for dwarf varieties, apples, figs, and pomegranates are a few examples of a plant that looks pretty and tastes good too!

Are these a bit more challenging than purely ornamental plant material?  Probably.  But they're offer tasty treats, and a whole new opportunity for your family to enjoy the freshest in-season fruit available!

(*use this phrase when searching the internet, "site:.edu", to find Extension information across the US)

written by Sallie Lee of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, C. Beaty Hanna Horticulture & Environmental Center, which is based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. 


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