For a delicious taste of the season, you can't beat homegrown fruit. Here are our top picks for beginners.
There are several good reasons to grow fruit yourself. First, store-bought fruits are often picked, shipped, and sold before they fully ripen. Second, stores generally stock selections that look the prettiest but are not necessarily the best tasting. Finally, some fruits, such as blueberries and figs, make outstanding ornamental plants.
Given plenty of sun, apple trees grow in almost any well-drained soil and take summer drought without batting an eye. You can buy three different sizes: standard (matures at 20 to 25 feet tall and wide), semi-dwarf (10 to 20 feet), and dwarf (5 to 8 feet). Dwarf and semi-dwarf are good choices for most people; they take up less room and bear fruit at a young age.
Related: 26 Tempting Apple Desserts
Self-pollinating selections, such as 'Golden Delicious' and 'Grimes Golden,' will bear fruit without having another apple tree around. But most selections need cross-pollination with a different selection to bear fruit.
With their tropical-looking leaves and stout trunks, fig trees make picturesque additions to the yard. Even better, they require very little attention.
Figs are self-pollinating, so you need only one to get fruit. Most selections bear a small crop of fruit in June or July and a larger one August to October. If you live in the Upper South, grow fig trees in containers and bring them indoors for winter. In the Middle South, fig trees may die to the ground following cold winters, but will then resprout. They are fully hardy in the Lower, Coastal, and Tropical South.
These handsome shrubs sport dainty, white flowers in early spring, followed by leaves that turn orange and scarlet in fall. The berries ripen over several weeks, generally beginning in June. Pick only fully colored berries; leave pink ones until they turn blue.
Blueberries need plenty of sun and moist, well-drained soil. The soil must be quite acid (pH 4.5-5.5) and contain lots of organic matter. If you live in the Upper and Middle South, try selections of highbush blueberries ( Vaccinium corymbosum) such as 'Bluejay' and 'Bluecrop.' If you live in the Lower and Coastal South, plant selections of heat-tolerant rabbiteye blueberries ( V. ashei), such as 'Beckyblue' and 'Delite.'
Blackberries and Raspberries
Plant these sprawling shrubs in a sunny spot like you would a hedge, spacing plants 2 to 3 feet apart. A single row 30 to 40 feet long should supply more than enough berries for the average family.
If you don't want to bother with tying rambling blackberry canes to a trellis, choose self-supporting, upright selections, such as 'Arapaho' and 'Navaho.' These two selections are also thornless.
You can grow all types of raspberries in the Upper and Middle South. Elsewhere, plant heat-tolerant selections. 'Heritage' and 'Autumn Bliss' do fine in the Lower South. In the Coastal South, try 'Dorman Red' or 'Redwing.' In the Tropical South, plant Mysore raspberry. Give all types full sun and fertile, well-drained soil.
"Five Easy Fruits to Grow in Your Backyard" is from the June 2005 issue of Southern Living.