What makes a fruit tree perfect? I can think of a number of things.
Disease and pest free; easy to grow; minimal care; suitable for your soil type and climate conditions; unattractive to birds; fruit has a good shelf life; fruit with good flavour; fruit that contains high levels of vitamins and minerals; and which produces fruit which is normally is expensive to buy.
That’s about ten points and the closest fruiting tree that has nine of these conditions is the FEIJOA.
Its only failing is that the ripe fruit do not have a long shelf life. I asked a number of garden centre owners what currently are the most popular fruit trees by volume of sales annually. The general answer was citrus, feijoa and plums. Some of the newer types of peaches were also good sellers.
Apples have dropped off the list but pears still have a place. Tamarillos are popular in summer along with passionfruit. Persimmons are becoming popular along with a number of newer sub tropic fruiting plants.
From this I gauge that gardeners are growing fruit that is great to eat and has less amount of spraying and care needed to obtain a good crop each year.
The two evergreens, feijoa and citrus come tops in the fruit garden stakes.
These trees can be purchased at any time of the year but are better planted in autumn/winter period rather than summer, as summer plantings will need more watering care.
Everyone should have a feijoa for its ornamental, easy care aspects even if you by chance, don’t like the fruit. Choose a type such as Unique which is self fertile and produces large fruit early in its life. It’s perfect for the home garden.
The original Feijoa sellowiana is a very hardy tree, ideal for hedging and screens but the fruit is small. You can trim them to make a nice hedge and they look great in the summer with their white flowers and bright red stamens. A larger fruiting type such as Unique, could be grown in a large container as a smaller specimen tree. A bit of selected pruning would make it a great feature amongst other container plants.
With citrus, the lemon (and most likely the Meyer variety) would be the most sold fruit tree ever.
The real problem with citrus is they resent wet feet and if during winter, or summer for that matter, they are in a wet situation for a period of time, they will develop root rot. If you have free draining soil that never water logs then no problem. Otherwise make a mound that is amply wide and about 30cm tall and plant into this mound. This keeps a good part of the root system above the wet soil below. I grow mine in really wet areas by planting them into plastic rubbish tins, with large 6cm holes drilled in the base and around the sides near the bottom rim. The bin is then planted in the ground leaving the top half above the soil level. I feed mine with old chook manure and Bio Boost on top of the mix each year and a monthly sprinkle of some Fruit and Flower Power during the flowering period through to harvest. They don’t grow to be a big tree as they would in open soil but become a nice size with ample fruit.
You can grow any fruit tree in a container about the size of a plastic rubbish tin or a wine barrel. Rubbish tins are not expensive but avoid black ones as you can cook roots. I use a mix of compost and a little top soil in the containers and add worms to the mix to keep it open. The containers can be sat on the ground or dug into a lawn or garden. A big advantage is if you shift house you can take your fruit trees with you.
Fruit trees do take a few years to establish so don’t be impatient, the good size crops do come with time.
You can speed up their growth by giving them proper, natural foods such as compost, sheep manure pellets and blood and bone. Don’t use NPK chemical fertilisers. The natural foods will reduce the instance of disease and pests which reduces your need for sprays. If you have a problem of any pest or disease then use the natural products that do not harm the soil life such as Neem Tree Oil, Neem Tree Granules, Liquid Copper spray, Liquid Sulphur Spray and Perkfection. Avoid using chemical herbicides around your fruit trees as well.
For most fruit trees you will need to go to your local garden centres. At this time they are starting to arrive and in many cases half of the new trees are already booked by keen gardeners. Ask about what is coming in and put your name down for the trees you want to grow if they are not already in.
Dual plums, apples, pears and peaches are a great way to obtain two varieties of fruit on the one tree. Where pollinators are needed you find that they are one of the two grafted. Often the two types ripen at different times which means you have an extended harvest period. There are also triple grafted which can also be good but unless you keep a good balance by pruning, two of the types are likely to flourish to the demise of the other. If you are unsure of this just go for duals.
First year trees will likely produce a number of flowers in the spring and likely a few will set fruit. You can opt for a small crop if this happens but if you remove any small fruit that form, you will have the new tree put all its energy into growing and this will make for bigger crops faster. A couple of years of doing this can make a year or two’s difference in obtaining a reasonable harvest in the future.
Fruit trees need plenty of sunlight and do not do well in more shady situations. Shelter from prevailing winds is a great help and in open ground or a container, a stake can be used to give support for the first year.