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Planting a Low Maintenance Fruit Garden and Orchard

A fruit garden is an essential part of growing your own food. Don’t worry, growing fruit is not as hard as it appears when you start with a little planning.

image of lemons ripening on a tree

Growing fruit at home is a fantastic way to reduce your grocery budget, add beauty to your home, and even feed wildlife and livestock. Most fruit is perennial which means you plant it once and you get years of harvest. I my opinion, this makes growing fruit less maintenance than growing vegetables which are usually annual plants.

That being said, growing fruit is a long game. You will probably not get fruit or much fruit the first few years, however, in time you’ll have more fruit than you know what to do with.

Planting fruit trees is an optimistic endeavor, requiring gardeners to take the long view.

image of apple ripening on tree

Location of the Fruit Garden

If you’re growing annual fruit such as melons, they can be planted in the vegetable garden. However, since most fruit is perennial you’ll want to find a location that won’t be disturbed each year.

Soil and sun are the most important considerations when planning a fruit garden. With the exception of cranberries, all fruit trees and bushes like to be planted in well-draining, loose soil.

Depending on what you plant you might need to amend the soil, for instance blueberries like very acidic soil. But for the most part any place on your property that doesn’t get water logged is a good place to plant fruit trees.

If you really want to plant where there is a low spot, you can build up the soil in that area with compost, top soil, and mulch first.

Most fruit trees and bushes prefer full sun which means at least 6 hours of unfiltered sun light a day, although some can tolerate part shade. So finding a sunny spot on your property is important.

If you live in an area with very harsh summers, finding a spot that gets some afternoon filtered sun instead of full sun is also helpful to the fruit trees and bushes.

Many trees will benefit from some wind and frost protection, especially when they’re young. So you if you have a wind break such as a wooden fence, barn, or hedgerow consider how to use that as a windbreak for the fruit garden.

You don’t have to grow all the fruit in one area. I like to create several fruit gardens based on what growing conditions the fruit needs. For instance I have all my citrus trees in one area. I grow bananas and elderberry in an area that stays a little wet longer after a rain than other areas of our property.

In the front which is the south side of my house I grow figs, goji berry, Barcelona cherries, and pineapples to give them some protection from northern winds. In the back of our property I have our official “orchard” which has apples, peaches, plums, pears, and grapevines.

image of peaches growing on a tree

Choosing Fruit to Plant

I think the best place to start when deciding on what fruit trees and bushes to plant is by asking, “What fruit does my family like?” Because regardless of how well a certain fruit grows in your area, if no one in your family will eat it, it’s a waste of time and money to grow it.

After you have a list of what your family likes to eat, do some research to find out what will reasonably grow in your area. If you live in Northern Canada don’t try to grow citrus outside. It just will not survive. If you live in the tropics, don’t try to grow apples. They won’t set fruit because they need many hours below 45°F. These are called chill hours.

You need to know how many chill hours your area gets and choose trees that need about that many chill hours. If you plant trees that need more chill hours than your climate gets, the trees will produce fruit. If you plant trees that need less chill hours than your climate gets, you run the risk of the tree blooming before the last frost.

Don’t overlook fruit that grows wild in your area. If wild passion fruit grows in your area (it does in much of the US) forage a fruit or two to see if you like it. If you do, get cuttings and start some plants for your property. As more and more land is developed it gets harder to find areas to safely forage. If you have the plants on your property you know they haven’t been sprayed or exposed to chemicals.

image of immature pear on a tree

How many fruit trees to plant?

Some fruit trees are self fertile meaning they will produce fruit with just one tree. Other fruit trees need a pollinator that is the same species but a different variety that blooms at the same time. And there are some fruit trees that are semi self fertile meaning they will produce with only one tree but they’ll produce more fruit if they have a pollinator.

Mature fruit trees produce a lot of fruit, so don’t give into the temptation to plant more than one or two trees for each fruit. If you have room for 10 fruit trees, it’s better to have 8 different fruit trees that will give you fruit almost all year long instead of planting 4 of only two different fruit trees which will only give you fruit for a couple of months at the most.

I limit our fruit trees to just one for self pollinating fruits and two trees for species that need a pollinator when we first plant a species. If it does well and we like the flavor I can always plant more in future years.

For fruit bushes and grapevines, I allow 2-6 plants per fruit when we first plant. If they do well and we like the fruit from that variety I’ll plant more in future years.

image of fig tree starts in pots

Where to get fruit trees and bushes?

Fruit trees and bushes can be expensive, especially if you purchase potted trees instead of bare root trees. That’s why I think it’s so important to limit yourself and do research on varieties before buying fruit trees.

My very favorite place to get fruit trees and bushes is from other gardeners. There are many fruits that are easy to propagate from cuttings or send up shoots from the roots that can be divided, just like you divide herbs. If you know someone who grows these fruit, ask for a cutting – figs, mulberries, elderberries, passion vines, grapes, rabbiteye blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, currants and gooseberries are good ones to start with.

After asking other gardeners, I like to check our local nursery. Local nurseries will only stock fruit trees that will grow in your area so you don’t have to be as concerned with chill hours as you do if you were ordering off the internet.

In some areas you can get free fruit trees from the city or state conservation department. Your County Extension office is a great place to ask if there are any such programs in your area.

Fruit gardens as part of a sustainable lifestyle

A sustainable lifestyle means different things to different people, but I think that for most of us it means producing more and consuming less. This lifestyle can feel overwhelming at times.

You don’t have to do all the things at once, just start where you can. Plant just one fruit tree a year and in time you’ll have a fully productive fruit garden.

This article was inspired by the book, Attainable Sustainable – The Lost Art of Self-reliant Living by Kris Bordessa. It’s not a gardening book, it’s a sustainable lifestyle book. And gardening is part of this lifestyle.

Attainable Sustainable is a primer on simple living and in it you’ll find lessons on how to do almost anything that relates to this lifestyle – preserving food, growing food, making medicine, surviving outdoors, natural cleaning, and much more.

This book is filled with easy to follow directions, beautiful photos, and inspiration of what a simple life can be. You can get your copy here.

image of ripe lemons on a tree

Thanks for sharing!