If you have plenty of space in your backyard garden, you might want to set aside an area for planting fruit trees and nut trees. I usually think of survival gardening in terms of growing annuals, the type of plants that need to be replanted after each growing season. But perennials also provide important nutrients. Most tree nuts are high in protein, dietary fat, and minerals. And fruits provide carbs, as well as vitamins and minerals. So this blog post will review some of the basics of choosing and planting fruit and nut trees in your yard.
The first thing to understand about fruit and nut trees is that you cannot simply plant fruits seeds or raw nuts from grocery store and grow your own trees. From a practical point of view, it would take too long for these seeds to grow into a mature tree that would produce a substantial amount of fruit or nuts. Instead, you will need a tree from a nursery that has the rootstock from one tree (roots and tree trunk) with the branches from another tree grafted on to it. The use of particular root stocks controls the ultimate size of the tree, its resistance to certain diseases, tolerance to cold, dry, or wet weather, and other factors.
Nurseries that sell fruit and nut trees to home growers will choose root stocks that keep the tree a manageable size for harvesting and that produce its crop sooner (usually within a few years). When you order a fruit or nut tree, you are sent a young tree, maybe 3 or 4 feet high, with bare roots, a thin trunk, and relatively few branches. This type of tree will begin to bear some fruits or nuts within 2 or 3 years, but you won’t get a sizeable harvest for several years.
You need to make careful choices about which types of trees to plant. If you live in an area with cold winters, the tree must be cold hardy. The description of the tree by the nursery will say something like: “cold hardy to -25 degrees F” or to some other temperature. If the winter is too cold for the variety you have chosen, the tree will not survive. If you live in an area that is warm year-round, can you plant any type of fruit or nut tree? No, certain varieties of trees need a cold winter, or they will not produce. This concept is expressed as “chill hours”, the number of hours below a certain temperature needed for the plant to subsequently bud, flower, and produce fruit. See this article: Chill Out! for detailed information.
To simply the choice of which trees will work in your area, many tree nurseries and gardening websites will specify which varieties are proven to work well in each area of the country. You should be able to find this information for any popular variety of fruit or nut tree.
Another consideration is pollination. If the tree is not pollinated, it will not produce fruits or nuts. Some trees are self-fertile. You can plant just one tree, and it will bear fruit. Other trees require a different variety of the same type of plant in order to pollinate. For example, some varieties of apple tree are self-fertile; other varieties of apple tree require a different variety of apple tree to provide pollen, so you will need to plant at least two trees of different varieties (but the same species). A self-fertile tree will usually work to pollinate a tree that requires a pollinator, so one of the two trees can be self-fertile. Sometimes a different species of tree will work as a pollinator, for example, a peach tree can be pollinated by a nectarine tree. Some varieties of tree will not pollinate any variety at all, but can receive pollination from other varieties. If the nursery does not specify information about pollination, ask them. I suggest that the easiest approach is to buy only self-fertile varieties.
There is a saying about planting trees: dig a $25 hole for a $5 tree. Make certain that the hole is large enough for the roots to spread out and grow. For a bare root tree, dig the hole wider than the roots, so that they can be spread out in every direction with room to spare. Also, dig the hole deeper than you need and put a layer of top soil or gardening soil on the bottom. Plant the tree by carefully spreading out the roots. Unless the soil itself is very fertile, you might want to refill the hole with gardening soil that you purchase. But don’t use compost to fill the hole or the roots may become too damp and end up rotting. In general, well-drained soil is best for trees.
Most young trees will need some type of support while they are becoming established. You can drive a wooden stake straight into the ground a few inches from the truck of the tree at the time of planting. Then secure the trunk to the stake after the hole is filled in. Or you can drive a stake into the ground, at an angle, a couple of feet from the tree trunk, after the tree is planted. Then tie the stake to the trunk where they cross.
Some years ago, I purchased and planted a half dozen fruit trees from Raintree Nursery. They have a wide selection of fruit and nut trees, and plenty of information about each variety. There is a lot of good information on planting and caring for fruit trees in this book: The Fruit Expert.