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Trees and Shrubs that Produce Edible Fruit
A time or two in this column, I have mentioned my goal of filling my small fruit garden with trees and shrubs that produce edible fruit. That is, those that require minimal pesticides and management. Unfortunately, many of our traditional tree fruits require way too much effort in the form of pruning and spraying for disease and insect pests. Even with the best management, the successful harvest of peaches, plums, or apples is never guaranteed.
So far, I’ve planted blueberries, blackberries, persimmon, pineapple guava, quince, loquat, pomegranate, chestnut, and banana. Eventually, I plan to add muscadine. Currently, we are also rooting some goumi berry (Eleagnus multiflora). It’s a woody shrub that produces small edible fruit about the size of large blueberries and picked at about the same time…great for jellies.
One of my most recent additions to the fruit tree garden is the Chinese Date (Ziziphus jujube). This plant is relatively new to me but has actually been in cultivation in China for about 4,000 years with over 400 cultivars! Seedlings inferior to the Chinese cultivars were brought to the U.S. before 1840. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that USDA brought in some of the improved Chinese cultivars that we have today.
The Chinese Date, or Jujube, is a small shrub or deciduous tree that may reach 40 feet in Florida, smaller in California. It has small oval leaves of one or two-inch length and glossy green. Branches grow in a zigzag form, often with thorns. Some cultivars are thornless. Flowers are small, inconspicuous, white to greenish-yellow, and slightly fragrant. fruit tree shape varies from round to elongate and similar in size to the kumquat.
Chinese Date tolerates many soil types but prefers well-drained sandy soils and is reported to grow in areas of high salinity or alkalinity. Heavy clay soils that are poorly drained should be avoided. Little or no fertilizer is required and pruning is not essential for plant performance. The plant root suckers extensively, but can be controlled by mowing.
My jujube tree was a root sucker from a tree that is several years old. It’s about 12 feet tall and bears loads of edible fruits without any disease or insect pressure whatsoever. The fruit starts green (immature). As it ripens it turns yellow-green with mahogany-colored spots, then fully red at maturity in mid to late summer. The best time to eat the edible fruit fresh is between the yellow-green and red stage while it is still crisp and sweet. The fruit can be dried as well for making tea. Recipes are available for jujube cake, candied jujubes, and jujube syrup.
There are many cultivars for early, mid or late season ripening. Examples include ‘Li’ (early), GA-866 (mid) and GI-1183 (late). Plants are suitable for USDA hardiness zones 6-9 and produce fruit without cross-pollination. Happy gardening!
Growing Fruit Trees Shrubs Does Not Have to Be
For several years, it has been a goal of mine to build a small backyard fruit tree garden for which pesticide use and maintenance would be kept to a minimum. I don’t like to use pesticides and time is precious.
For years I have observed home gardens and commercial orchards and seen first hand the trials and tribulations of those who have had to apply pesticides repeatedly to harvest an average crop. Surely there had to be plants that would produce edible fruits with minimal care.
Fruit trees and shrubs can be divided into three groups regarding maintenance and pesticide application. They can simply be categorized as low, medium, or high maintenance. Examples of those in the high maintenance category include the peach tree, nectarine, apple, and plum. These take a lot of time and effort including annual pruning and weekly spraying to minimize the effect of insects and disease.
Those in the moderate maintenance group include muscadine, pecans, strawberries, and pears. Those in this category require some pruning and all may require pesticide application.
The easy-to-grow category includes plants for which very little has to be done to enjoy a bountiful harvest. These are basically plant and harvest. Examples of these include blackberries, blueberries, figs, Oriental persimmon, quince, mayhaw, pawpaw, loquat, jelly palm, and pineapple guava. Some may be familiar to Southern gardeners while others may be entirely new.
Blueberries are probably the most popular and readily available low maintenance fruit plant. Six bushes will supply an abundant supply of berries for most families. Blackberry varieties are available without thorns that make picking safe and fun for all. Oriental persimmon is a tasty tree fruit that ripens in the late summer and fall. Be sure to choose a non-astringent variety for the best fresh eating. Quince, mayhaw, and jelly palm are well known for the excellent jellies that can be made from the fruit. Quince and jelly palm also have ornamental value.
Pawpaw, loquat, and pineapple guava are three lesser-known plants that can be grown for their fruit tree. Pawpaw is a native Southern tree with fruit that tastes a little like banana custard. The loquat tree has a tropical appearance and unique flowering time. It actually blooms in the fall and ripens fruit in the spring. The flowers are cold-sensitive so loquat is best used below Hattiesburg.
I’m especially excited about pineapple guava. This is actually a very attractive plant that has been widely used in Southern landscapes. However, the secret is out that both its flower and fruit are edible landscaping. Plant five or six pineapple guava in sandy loam soil where it gets plenty of sun.
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Tree and Shrub Care Programs
In many communities, some companies offer tree and shrub care programs. These programs are the health care plans of the plant world. They are designed to help you monitor and care for your plants, as well as treat problems that come up. It is even possible for you to design your own tree and shrub care program that can aid you as you take care of the plants yourself, with minimal help from the care specialist.
But one thing is certain: to keep your landscape looking healthy and attractive, you do need to take an active interest in some sort of care regimen for your trees and shrubs.
There are many benefits associated with having a care program for shade trees and shrubs. Benefits include catching infestations early and identifying diseases while they are treatable and before they do too much damage. A caterpillar infestation can cause defoliation, and if you move quickly to avoid this, your trees will look much better for longer.
Additionally, if plants have good care, they are more resistant to disease and will flourish, giving your landscape a more attractive look. A proper program of care can prevent these problems and save you money down the road. The old saying “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is certainly true, especially as it relates to plants.
Other problems that a tree and shrub care program can help with are less detrimental to the health of the plants and more practical in nature. Proper monitoring can ensure that weak branches are removed before they fall on and damage your house. Additionally, proper care and pruning of branches ensure abundant flowering and a thicker, fuller look in evergreens.
While better flowering and fuller plants may not directly affect the health of the plant or your wallet, they do add substantially to the attractiveness of a landscape and can contribute to the better enjoyment of your home.
Most tree and shrub care programs are developed and administered by specialized companies that provide care. They can also be arranged through an arborist or a master gardener. These programs do cost money, however. There are comprehensive programs that cover all costs related to monitoring your landscape plants and treating any problems or providing specific care.
Some programs provide monitoring services and then charge treatments separately. The idea is to use a program that fits into your budget and then reap the benefits of a landscape that is well cared for.
Start Your Own Fruit Trees
Another approach to the tree and shrub care program is developing and following one yourself. It may cost a little money upfront, as you will have to consult with a master gardener or an arborist, but in the long run, it is worth it if you take good care of your shade trees.
In some localities, an extension office may have a horticulturist on hand to answer your questions at no charge. The key is to figure out a care program that you can carry out yourself, or that you can carry out mostly on your own, with backup help from professionals when needed.
Developing your own plan can be very rewarding. It helps you get closer to your landscape, and it can also help you spot problems quickly. You should have a regular schedule for inspection of shade trees and shrubs, as well as other plants, and a regular schedule of care and maintenance.
To learn how to properly prune trees and shrubs, keep an eye out for community classes. You can even pay for a session with a professional. Paying for a two or three-hour lesson in pruning can save you hundreds of dollars in having to pay a yard service to do the work. Make sure you know the best times to prune and do your pruning on a schedule as well as the rest of the landscape maintenance.
No matter whether you pay for a professional tree and shrub care program, or whether you carry out such a regimen yourself, it is important to have a plan for the proper care of the plants on your landscape. This way you will find that you have a more attractive landscape and save money in trying to fix large problems that arise through neglect.