Best Fruit Plants for the Southern Garden
Mid-winter is the perfect time to plant fruit trees and shrubs in anticipation of enjoying your own delicious harvest in the years ahead. Many people are reluctant to grow fruit because they believe the process is too challenging. While growing some fruit, like peaches and apples, can be a daunting task, you’ll be surprised how many plants are easy to grow and maintain in your garden.
To get some recommendations on the easiest fruit plants to grow, I talked to one of our local growers, Greg Ison. Greg and his sisters, Darlene Ison-Evans and Janet Ison-McClure are the third generation of Isons to run their family-owned business, Ison’s Nursery & Vineyard, in Brooks. Their first muscadine vines were planted on three acres by their grandfather in 1934. Today the vineyard and nursery operations encompass 112 acres and feature over 200 varieties of fruit, nut and berry plants, including 22 patented varieties of muscadine.
Greg was happy to share a few of his favorite fruit plants for the home gardener. All his selections can be grown locally, are disease-resistant, have minimal pruning needs and will be non-invasive in your landscape. What’s not to like?
Blueberries: Not only are blueberries delicious and nutritious, they are easy to grow and have little or no pest problems. Blueberries, like all fruit plants, need full sun and well-drained soil. They also thrive in a more acidic soil with a pH of 4.5, so add peat moss to your planting hole and mulch with pine straw to help maintain the soil’s acidity. Blueberries are partially self-fertile but will produce more fruit if a couple of different varieties are planted. They look great as a hedge, mass planted in a garden bed or interspersed among other sun-loving plants.
Muscadines: This native grapevine plant needs a trellis or arbor to grow on and requires some pruning the first year to properly direct the vine growth up and down the support wire. Once established, you will be rewarded with a sweet aroma in the late summer as the fruit ripens, and your arbor will become a fabulous focal point in the garden. Muscadines prefer to be planted in soil with a pH in the mid 6 range.
Olives: One of the oldest cultivated fruits in history, this mid-size tree has little or no pest problems and can be kept pruned to a height of 8-10’. Olive trees are drought-tolerant and love hot summers and mild winters. The fruit ripens in fall and early winter.
Pomegranates: Another fruit grown since antiquity, pomegranates are prized for their vivid color,
super nutrients and luscious flavor. Pomegranates prefer a more alkaline soil, so you will need to amend the soil. Some pruning will be needed in the first two years to promote a strong framework, but little pruning is required after that. Pomegranates are self-fertile and do not need another variety nearby.
Blackberries: Urban gardeners will enjoy planting blackberries because they take up little space. You can select blackberries that are erect or trailing, have thorns or are thornless. These plants will tolerate most soil types and have few disease and insect problems. Blackberries produce fruit on last year’s growth. Removal of canes is required after you have harvested the fruit. Each plant will yield about 1-2 gallons of blackberries per season.
Planting and Maintenance Tips:
The optimal time to plant fruit trees and shrubs is between mid-November and mid-March. Select a location where your plants will get full sun. Prior to planting, get a complete soil analysis (including pH) by taking a soil sample to your local extension office. You will receive instructions on amending the soil to benefit the specific fruit you are planting.
Dig a generous hole for each plant. According to Greg, “the biggest investment you can make is to dig a really nice, big hole where the roots have room to spread out and then to backfill with your loose dirt mixed with soil amendments. Your plants will be so much happier!”
Fertilize your plants in mid-April and mid-June. Check fertilizing needs of the specific fruit you are growing. And, as a general rule, don’t allow your plant to fruit the first year to allow all the energy directed toward establishing good growth.
Start today! According to Greg, “the best time to plant fruit was 20 years ago or today! It takes time for your plants to get established, but you will be well-rewarded.”
Ison’s Nursery & Vineyards is located on Hwy 16 near Griffin. Right now they have a full inventory of plants. Check out their selections online at www.isons.com and read Greg’s blogs on their Facebook page to learn more about planting fruit.