Our garden has 17 fruit trees and vines:
- Apricot (Travatt)
- Grape (White Sultana)
- Mulberry (Black)
- Avocado (Reed)
- Lime (Tahitian)
- Pomegranate (Azerbaijan)
- Plums x 2 (Elephant Heart and Narabeen)
- Apples x 2 (Cox’s Orange Pippin and Early Macintosh)
- Blood Orange
- Cumquat (Calamondin Green)
- Blueberries x 2
- Passionfruit (Nelly Kelly)
We are also about to plant and espalier a quince (Smyrna) and our local council is also giving us a nectarine tree through their Adopt-a-fruit-tree program, soon bringing the total up to 19 fruiting trees. That should give you an indication, really, of just how much space we are fortunate to have in our yard.
You’d think with that many fruit trees, we’d be drowning in fruit all year round. Sometimes, we are. Right now, we have so, so many limes. I’ve given them away to friends and family (I offered them to a friend the other day and she politely declined – clearly, we have given her too many!). I’ve made just about every possible variation of lime pickle, jam, and chutney that it’s possible for one family to make. I’m out of ideas. We are limed out. In Summer, we had the biggest crop of apricots ever. Same deal. We still have them in the freezer. I also still have pomegranates in the fridge from Autumn as we slowly work our way through them (we have five littlies left).
Yet, for other trees, like the mulberry and apple trees, that much fruit is just a dream. Either the fruit is minimal at best, or the possums have crunched it up before we get to it. If we ever get an avocado, you will never stop hearing about it. I’ll brag about it for the rest of my life.
The fact is, growing fruit trees is a labour of love, and sometimes just a labour.
My goal in planting all these trees was to one day, never have to buy fruit again. Now I know that dream is a crock. Right now, I could eat only limes, but I think my family would object greatly to that. The fact is, I cannot really control the amount of fruit the trees will produce, as so many factors influence this, with weather being the main factor.
That doesn’t mean that growing fruit at home is not worth doing. Homegrown apricots are glorious. Homegrown limes are juicier and tastier than anything you can buy. Pomegranates cost five bucks each! I never buy them, but when I have them from my tree in May, I can decadently toss the juicy red arils on top of every curry or a tagine like the Sultan of Brunei.
Planning your fruit orchard
Before planting anything, consider your space and aspect. Fruit trees need space for their roots to spread. They also need full sun, ideally all day, but at least four hours daily. If you want to grow an orange tree and only have a shady corner of the garden, consider growing something else, or plant it in a large tub that can be placed in a sunny spot.
Speaking of tubs and pots, some fruit trees can be planted in tubs quite successfully, while others will struggle. Our lime tree was miserable and constantly attacked by scale when in a pot. When we moved it to the garden, it doubled in size and has not stopped fruiting since. However, our blueberry bushes and cumquat seem to be fine in pots.
Consider too, what you actually like eating. I enjoy growing fruits that are not easy to buy at the supermarket and that I can use to make jam and sauces. My husband likes to grow fruit he can eat fresh from the tree. We have compromised, and that is why we have the mix of trees we have. The pomegranate, cumquat, blood orange, lime, and pepino are for my fun experiments. The others are for fresh eating and also some for jam if we have any left over. However, if we had a smaller space, some of the more unique trees would not be in our garden. Fortunately, we have the space to include a wide range for our interests and tastes. If I was more limited in my options, the ‘no brainers’ would be an apricot, a lime or lemon, and a passionfruit vine.
Don’t forget, if you are limited on space, you can always grow up. We have five trees growing on trellises, by espaliering them. This has allowed us to grow many more trees than we could have if we had let them grow out instead of up. We have learned to do this by watching YouTube and visiting Botanic Gardens with espaliered trees. It’s not the cheapest way to do it (you have to buy posts, wires, hooks, etc), and it takes patience and practice. But it is an option if you have limited space, and can invest some dollars (about $50 per trellis).
Planting fruit trees
The old adage is that you plant a ten dollar tree in a hundred dollar hole. That means you should spend more time and money on preparing the soil than you spend on the tree itself. Most trees will thrive when grown in soil prepared with good quality compost, well-rotted sheep manure, and a side dressing of an organic fertiliser once planted. This doesn’t mean putting fertiliser in the hole when you plant. Prepare the soil with compost and manure a week or so before digging the hole.
On planting day, dig a hole twice as wide and deep as the root ball.
Make sure to tease out the roots so you are not planting roots that are tightly bound up. I like to soak the roots in a bucket of diluted seaweed extract for an hour or so before I plant. Then I put the plant in the hole, and pour the bucket of seaweed extract over the root ball and into the hole. I let it soak in, then back fill. Water in well. This gives the plant a good head start.
If you are mulching, make sure not to place the mulch right up to the trunk, as this can cause collar rot. Leave about five centimetres (2 inches) of free space around the trunk.
Some trees require special attention when planting. For example, an avocado tree should be planted on a mound with several bags of compost, then surrounded by a shade barrier to keep out wind and sun while establishing. Avocado trees are very sensitive to sun and wind burn, so taking the time to build a shade barrier will be worth your while, especially as avocado trees can cost upwards of $100. Check with your nursery for special instructions when buying your tree.
Now is the time to plant deciduous fruit trees (think apples, pears, plums, quinces, apricots, etc). I have a quince waiting to plant next weekend.
Caring for your orchard
Feed your trees! You won’t get fruit if you only give them a handful of Dynamic Lifter once a year. Fruiting trees are hungry plants, because they put a lot of energy into producing fruit.
At this time of year (mid-Winter), I give each tree a bag of pulverised, aged sheep manure. This rots down slowly over the season.
Then once Spring hits, my aim is to feed each tree with roughly two cups of Dynamic Lifter and blood and bone (combined) every month, until the end of fruiting season. That’s my goal but tbh, I am a bit hit and miss with it.
I also side dress each tree with compost progressively as I dig it out of my bins. Today the lime tree, blood orange, avocado, and both apple trees got the compost. I’ll keep working my way around the garden until each fruit tree gets a bucket or two of compost in the lead up to Spring. The compost is made of a mix of my chickens’ composted manure and litter, garden weeds, kitchen scraps, and occasionally a bag of my neighbour’s pigeon manure (pure gold). It’s very well composted down over several months and the trees love it.
And don’t forget to prune. We prune Summer fruiting trees (i.e. apricots, mulberries) after fruiting (late Summer/early Autumn), and then give them a light pruning to shape in Winter. The goal for trees like our apricot and mulberry tree is to create a lovely vase shape that will let light into the tree, and to prevent it growing too large.
This year we also lightly pruned our pomegranate for the first time, to remove some of the excess growth at the base, and the lime tree for the same reason.
Caring for fruit trees takes time and thought. We do it partly because the flavour of fresh, homegrown fruit cannot be beat, and because it’s fun. I also enjoy looking out of my office window and watching the rainbow lorikeets playing in the trees (even though I know they will steal the apricots as soon as they can).