Mention you grow fruit trees and berries and everyone gets a bit dreamy as they think about luscious peaches, crisp apples and blackberry pies. The reality can be less “fruitful” however, when we encounter disease, insects and fruit thieves. Developing the right mindset and making a few good choices before you plant is vital to success.
Fruits are the dessert of the natural world, with their sugars and juices ensuring that some animal will pluck the fruit, eat it, and drop the seed in a more favorable place than under the tree. The tree doesn’t care if their fruit have spots or are on the small side. They just want to reproduce. So remember, large, perfect fruits are our goal, and generally are only available under a strict chemical spray regime. Get used to a few spots and bugs and enjoy your imperfect but delicious fruits.
Before you plant it is essential to know how much sun you have available for the fruit trees and berry plants. They will bear more fruit and be more resistant to diseases in full sun. Figs and blueberries may tolerate a little less than full sun, but tree fruits will decline over time without it.
Well-drained soil is the next critical piece. If you have clay soil or low-lying terrain, you need to build raised beds with organic amendments to prevent the roots from sitting in water-soaked soils. Get your free soil test at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture Agronomic Division to make sure the pH is 6.0-6.5, and that fertility is adequate. Blueberries are unique in that their soil pH must be low—a pH of 4.8 is ideal. Elemental sulfur can be added to lower the pH if you find it is above 5.0-5.3.
Choose the best varieties for our area. Extension specialists have devoted years to finding the rootstocks and varieties that hold up in our warm, humid climate, prone to late spring freezes. You may find a local bargain or get excited about a tasty variety you read about in a catalog, but ultimately you want plants that are known to tolerate high heat and humidity, are disease resistant, and can make it past our random late freezes.
Peaches and nectarines are probably the two toughest to grow in the home landscape, as they generally require regular chemical sprays to deliver good fruit. Try them if you like, but be prepared to plant them every few years as they decline. This is not a bad philosophy in general with home fruit production. Get them off to the best start, but if they succumb to a pest of some sort, simply remove them and start over in a new spot.
Here is a list of some fruits you can try in your home landscape, and a sampling of the varieties that do well in our area. Some need cross-pollination to set fruit so make note when selecting varieties. Also, you can extend harvests by selecting varieties that mature at different times. While these are the easiest to grow, it is not an exhaustive list; you might try pawpaws, goumi berries, cherries, pomegranates, and apricots, and end with delicious, but challenging, peaches.
Apples – Rootstocks affect tree size and disease resistance. Try Gala, Fuji, Gold Rush, Golden Delicious
Blackberries – Cheyenne, Kiowa, Apache
Blueberries – Climax, Premier, Tifblue, Powderblue
Figs – Celeste, Brown Turkey, Brunswick/Magnolia, Black Mission (less cold hardy)
Grapes – Muscadines are more suitable for the Piedmont. Varieties include Carlos, Doreen, Nesbitt
Kiwifruit (Hardy) – Ananasnaya, Issai
Nectarines – Summer Beaut, Sunglo, Redgold, Carolina Red
Peaches – Contender, China Pearl (the most cold hardy), Carolina Belle, Redhaven, Winblo
Pears – Shennandoah and Potomac (both are new and promising varieties), Moonglow, Magness, Kieffer
Pears (Asian) – Olympic (best resistance to fire blight), Hosui, Kosui, Shinsui
Persimmons (Oriental) – Fuyu, Jiro (all are cold sensitive)
Plums – Methley, Byrongold, Ozark Premier
Raspberries – Southland, Heritage, Dormanred
NC State University’s horticulture website has informational bulletins on fruits. (ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hfruitnew). The site also includes a how-to guide on growing and planting these. (ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/ag28).
Photos courtesy of Jeana Myers.
Jeana Myers, PhD, is the Horticulture Agent for Wake County. For gardening questions, contact the Extension Master Gardeners of Wake County at 919-250-1084 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.