The fruit trees you should start growing right now
We should plant more trees in our neighbourhoods, along streets, in parks and in our own gardens: Trees beautify and add value to whole suburbs, they provide shade and clean the air.
Fruit trees are a particularly good choice for gardens and public spaces. I remember on a visit to Rome a few years ago, I came across a street lined with orange trees.
Now, that’s not your typical street tree in Australia. But the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced we should plant fruit trees in our cities, too.
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt as The Hungry Gardener, it’s that there’s a fruit tree to suit every situation.
As we settle into winter, which is a dormant time for most plants, it’s the perfect time to buy many varieties of fruit trees.
During the cooler months, you’ll find a wide range of deciduous trees are available at local nurseries as bare root stock – so it’s a great time to choose some new additions for your garden.
Generally speaking, deciduous trees are those that shed their leaves in autumn, stay bare through winter and return with new leaf growth in spring.
Some classic examples of deciduous fruit trees are apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums, figs and quinces.
Many of these trees require a bit of maintenance to encourage fruit production and good tree shape – this is work that is traditionally done during the cooler months. However, this tends to promote foliage growth.
A new trend is to prune the trees back once fruit has been harvested. This method keeps foliage growth to a minimum and maximises fruit numbers down the track.
The fruit trees to grow now
One of my favourite fruit trees to grow at home is the quince. It’s an easy-going fruit tree that’s self-pollinating, that is – you only need to have one tree in order for it to produce fruit (a plus for small gardens). That said, pollination is improved with multiple trees, so keep this in mind if you have room for one or two more.
Another good thing about quince trees is they require minimal pruning. Just a bit here and there will keep the trees in shape. My rule of thumb – and this applies to other fruit trees, too – is to keep them pruned to a manageable size. Basically, you want to avoid lifting and climbing ladders if possible. This approach also makes it easier to net your trees when they’re fruiting to keep the birds out.
Quinces have the most amazing flowers, which hint at their close botanical relationship to roses. The fruit is perfectly suited to cooking and preserving: Think roasted quinces, jams, jellies and even fruit pickles. What better way to relax in front of a winter fire than with a glass of red and a few bites of cheese and some homemade quince jam?
The other fruit tree that everyone should have is a lemon. Lemon trees are evergreen, which means you’ll have the benefit of foliage all year round, and they’re great trees for pots and smaller gardens. But the biggest selling point for me is they tend to produce fruit during the cooler winter months when not much else is producing.
Lemons stay fresh on the tree until you want to use them or, like quinces, you can preserve them to use in all types of cooking. You can even use the rind to make a batch of limoncello.
You can use the lemon rind from your homegrown lemons to make limoncello – bonus! Picture: Fabian Capomolla
Here are some quick tips for growing fruit trees and making the most of your homegrown fruit.
1. Location, location
Think about the spaces in your garden that are best suited to the type of fruit tree you want to plant. Lemon trees require full sun, whereas quinces can tolerate partial shade.
Always mulch around your fruit trees to stop competition with weeds. I recommend using an organic mulch and being careful to avoid contact with the trunk of the tree as this can damage the bark.
Give your fruit trees a feed of organic fertiliser every season. Look out for one that’s rich in potassium as this will promote flower growth leading to fruit.
Follow my lead and keep your fruit trees compact – a little bit of pruning each year will make them easier to maintain, particularly when they’re bearing fruit.
If you have space, I recommend growing a range of fruit trees to give you crops throughout the year. Quinces fruit in autumn; lemons generally do so in the cooler months, but may produce all year round depending on your location and the variety. Orange trees are ready for harvest in spring and a peach tree will see you through the summer months.
Fresh fruit should never go to waste. There are so many ways to preserve your crops, whether as jam, jellies or fruit pickles. Try combination jams using apple and quince, or apricot and lemon. They’re perfect on toast all year round.