Trees and Shrubs that Produce Edible Fruit

Trees and Shrubs that Produce Edible Fruit
Trees and Shrubs that Produce Edible Fruit

Trees and Shrubs that Produce Edible Fruit

Trees and Shrubs that Produce Edible Fruit

jujubeA 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 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 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. prior to 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 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 fruit without any disease or insect pressure whatsoever. The fruit starts out 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 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 a number of 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 does not have to be difficult

For several years, it has been a goal of mine to build a small backyard fruit garden for which pesticide use and maintenance would be kept to a minimum. I don’t like to use pesticides and time is precious.

edible fruits

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 in order to harvest an average crop. Surely there had to be plants that would produce fruit 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 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. 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. Plant five or six pineapple guava in sandy loam soil where it gets plenty of sun.

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