Mixed Fruit in Your Garden


If you would like to add fruit trees to your garden, this is the ideal time of year to do so.

In early January, fruit tree growers delivered bare-root trees to local nurseries. The young, dormant trees bearing fruits like peaches, plums, apples, persimmons, pluots, figs, and others, look like a stick with a wad of roots at the bottom. Since the trees are in the plant equivalent of hibernation, bare-root trees experience little, if any, transplant shock. In spring, they will leaf out like normal. Also, bare root is the most inexpensive way to buy these fruit trees.

Most years, winter is a little too cold to plant subtropical evergreen fruit trees like citrus, guava, and avocado. But this winter has been warmer than usual, and gardeners are planting these trees without problem.

Here are some tips to plant fruit trees now and to do it right. However, there is no “one size fits all” when growing fruit trees, many gardeners instinctively group and plant their fruit trees together. Different types of fruit trees have different needs for soils, light, and especially amounts and frequencies of irrigation. Why is that? Well, these fruits originate in many different regions of the world. For example, apples originated in Central Asia, especially in eastern Turkey and southwest Asia Minor. Peaches are from northwest China, avocados from Mexico, olives from the Mediterranean, figs from Western Asia, persimmons from China, Oranges from China and India, and kumquats from China. Mangos originate in Eastern India and Burma, while pineapple guavas are from South America.

Get the picture? These plants come from all different climates and habitats, so we cannot expect to treat them all the same way. Instead, they need to be grouped according to their cultural needs, especially according to their irrigation needs. Here is how I recommend grouping them:

Group 1 – Deciduous Trees: Deciduous stone fruits, pears, apples, almonds, and persimmons. These trees need regular, deep irrigation from the time new buds appear on the branches until leaves start to drop in Autumn. In winter, when branches are bare and there is regular rainfall, trees need no irrigation. When winter is dry, they need deep water only once a month or twice a month, depending on where your garden is and the kind of soil the trees are planted in.

Group 2 – Citrus Trees: All citruses are evergreen, meaning that leaves cover their branches year-round. These trees need regular, deep irrigation, once every week or two, year-round. In winter, irrigate less often than in hot summer months.

Group 3 – Thirsty Trees: Avocados and mangos are the thirstiest fruit trees. They require regular, deep irrigation year-round, at least once a week – less often for those planted in clay soil.

Group 4 – Dry Trees: Figs and pomegranates are among the driest growing fruit trees. Even abandoned fig and pomegranate trees make fruit, though they produce far more when watered deeply at least once every few weeks when branches are covered in leaves. Don’t water when branches are bare.

Group 5 – Low Water-Use Trees: Pineapple guavas, tropical guavas, loquats are evergreen but surprisingly use low water. Water deeply year-round, primarily in the warm months. In winter, water only in long, dry spells.

Plant all groups of these trees into native soil – no soil amendments. Irrigate with in-line drip tubing arranged in concentric circles on the soil surface and around the base of each tree. Space the circles about a foot apart, starting about 10 inches away from the trunk and extending about a foot past the widest branches.

Fruit trees, especially citrus and avocado, have a significant root mass in the upper foot or two of soil. That is why it is important to irrigate from the soil surface down to the roots. Do not use bubblers, deep root watering, vertical PVC pipes, and so on. They are NOT suited for fruit trees.

Cover drip irrigation lines and the entire planting bed in a 3- to 4-inch-thick layer of mulch. Keep the mulch at least 6 inches away from the trunk. Mulch against trunks keeps them damp and vulnerable to pests and diseases. But that’s a discussion for another day!

To see how bare-root fruit trees are bred, grown, and harvested, please watch “From Fruits to Nuts,” an episode of A Growing Passion at opens in a new windowagrowingpassion.com/episode-601-from-fruit-to-nuts.

Garden expert, designer, educator, and author Nan Sterman specializes in low water, sustainable, and edible landscapes. Nan hosts, co-writes, and co-produces opens in a new windowA Growing Passion, a show that explores the power of plants in our world. Nan is also author of California Gardener’s Guide vII, Waterwise Plants for the Southwest, and Hot Colors, Dry Garden. More information is at opens in a new windowwaterwisegardener.com.