planning fruit garden zone 7 northern VA

lyviaFebruary 22, 2011

Hi. I am planning a low-spray fruit garden in a 30x40 foot suburban side/front yard patch. We have deer and powdery mildew. I'm hoping that in years when I am too busy, the birds will clean up for me. I'm not too worried about yield, more pest/disease resistance. I would like to have spring flowers and will likely interplant daffodils and such, but use a chopped leaf mulch with corn meal gluten for weed suppression.

So here is what I'm thinking -

allegheny amelanchier


blueberry (have some, they love my clay soil unamended)



thornless cane berries (staked with T posts)

grapes on an arbor

kiwi on a pergola (next to roses)

a stepover fig espalier


and two stone fruit trees,

maybe a santa rosa plum and a spring satin plumcot

(although I just read that Jefferson grew peaches without spray ... )

I'm just not as fond of apples or pears or pomegranites. I will eat some fresh and some cooked in sauces.

and out by the sidewalk,

ume apricot (prunus mume) for winter flowers, and maybe the deer will leave me a sample. I can't fence (front yard) but we do have dogs.

That is pushing the zoning limit of two trellises in the yard, but if the berries are staked and the fig is too low to be a trellis I think it will be all right.

So the deer and the japanese beetles and the voles will love me. Is this more than one person with a fulltime money job can handle? Or should I start with this, and then replace what doesn't work out?

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I'm in zone 7b in NC right below you and I've planted most of what you're thinking about, but my garden is new and I can't tell you how well they'll do until after one more year (and hopefully one with rain).

I can tell you that some of the "thornless" cane fruit become thorny over time - they can't read so they don't know that what they're doing is against the label.

There are diseases that affect blueberries and grapes that have elderberries as their alternate host (with dandelions playing a role in between). It is spread by nematodes in the soil but I don't remember the names.

Way back when Jefferson was gardening there were fewer diseases and pests in the area.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2011 at 10:01AM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

Lyvia, if you don't want disease or pest problems you will have to forget about the stone fruit. Since Jefferson's time a lot of diseases have shown up which make stone fruit impossible to grow without a rigorous spray program. Grapes can also be big disease magnets, but with a few sprays per year you can do OK with them. The rest are relatively less problem. Currants don't like heat so a spot with afternoon shade is best for them. Lingonberries I believe are similar in terms of dislike of heat, but I have not tried growing them.


    Bookmark   February 22, 2011 at 10:23AM
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I don't know much about fruit growing in your area...

But I was just lookin at the catalog for One Green World Nursery, which seems to offer pretty much every possible fruit bearing plant for the temperate zone, along with some handy photos and growing info. Maybe you're already familiar with it, since you mentioned some rare/unusual choices above.

I live in an arid climate where stone fruit diseases are not so common, but I've still struggled to keep sweet cherry trees alive, and my green gage plum thicket is pretty disfigured from disease (but surviving and fruiting annually). Might be good advice to skip stone fruit, at least other than native, disease-free types...

    Bookmark   February 22, 2011 at 11:53AM
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If you're adding more blueberries of a different variety and plan to put them in unamended clay, I'd definitely do some research because most varieties won't thrive in unamended clay. You might already be growing rabbiteyes which are a lot less picky about soil than many of the highbush varieties.

I grow thornless trailing blackberries on both single T-posts and a trellis, and the single T-posts will work and allow for more ornamental placement, but you'll more than triple your fruit production per plant if you can find a way to trellis them. I also highly recommend Triple Crown based on taste and ease of care.

Your plan sounds manageable to me (and relatively low maintenance especially if you leave off the stone fruit). Mulberries and/or Asian Persimmons would be much lower care replacements. Based on your selections, I'd guess you've already checked out Edible Landscaping. If you've got time in the spring take a drive there and/or contact the owner (Michael) who I'm sure would be a great source of information on your low care goals. You can try a number of the fruits you are considering if you time your visit right.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2011 at 3:06PM
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Thanks! I appreciate the advice, since I tend to get in over my head.

I can go muscadine for the grapes, but I'm hearing that I shouldn't bother with stone fruit unless I can commit to caring for the fussy darlings. Can I cook with asian persimmons like you would with an apricot?

I was worried about attracting more deer with persimmon, but that's probably silly. They are here, I have to make peace with them, and I might enjoy them. As long as they don't bring fleas to the dogs.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2011 at 5:38PM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

Persimmons you can dry like apricots and then use in any dish you would use dried apricots in. All of the persimmon recipes I have seen involve making pulp and then using it like you do banana pulp in banana bread. Maybe there are other kinds of recipes as well, but I never heard of them.

Muscadines are a good bet, they tend to grow well without sprays.

For kiwi I would recommend getting a Saanichton variety and a fuzzy male. You pick the kiwis in November before a hard frost and put them in the fridge, and about now (Feb/March) they start tasting really good. Many of the fuzzy varieties have too short a season and the hardy kiwis I have to say I don't like the flavor of nearly as much as the fuzzy ones. They have a "green" or strong flavor to them, still good just not great. I have been growing fuzzy kiwis for eight years and had no dieback at all so I don't think there should be any problem for you with their hardiness.

Don't worry about the fleas on the deer; do worry about deer ticks. I had lyme disease and our dog also had it .. no fun at all.


    Bookmark   February 22, 2011 at 10:10PM
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Asian pears are neat, well behaved trees, easy to grow organically. Liberty apples also worth putting on your list. Scratch the plums, tho, they will break your heart. Seriously consider raspberries. New cultivars make it possible to pick all summer.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2011 at 7:51PM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

planatus, I would not recommend any apple if you don't want to do a lot of work. Diseases are only 20% of my problem with apples. The other 80% is the codling moth. And half my disease problem is fireblight and no apple is immune to that. I agree that asian pears can work. European pears are also pretty easy, but they take about double the number of years before they start fruiting.


    Bookmark   February 25, 2011 at 8:49AM
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I was reading about improving the soil - this area has been a sod lawn for forty years. If I squeeze in a siberian pea shrub, or some alfalfa, will that improve the berries/grapes/fruit? and save me some labor?

    Bookmark   February 28, 2011 at 6:17AM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

I assume those are nitrogen fixers? They are not commonly used on fruit trees. Usually people fertilize around the base with manure and/or compost to both improve the soil over the years and to add nutrients. Fruit trees love it and so do berries. As an extra added bonus it helps keep water in the soil and makes droughts much less of a problem. I think I have needed to water my fruit trees once in the last five years.


    Bookmark   February 28, 2011 at 9:12AM
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alan haigh

Scott, I would have to suggest that your fireblight issues may have some connection to your management methods. FB is less of a problem when you are using vigorous rootstocks and not trying to keep trees in a small space.

You also didn't select varieties on FB resistance and having more susceptible varieties on site makes all more vulnerable.

Up here I've never lost a single apple to FB and only one pear which I will cut down in a couple weeks once the snow melts on the site. It is a Bosc that has deeper infections than I've ever encountered before. I've had a couple of other Boscs temporarily deformed and last year a Seckel severely damaged. I figure last year was a season similar to what you experience on a regular basis.

Still you are obviously right to steer a VA grower away from apples if they don't intend to fight the elements although I suspect there are varieties like Winesap and Ark Black here that CM and PC don't care for.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2011 at 10:06AM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

Harvestman, come on down south sometime -- blight is a much bigger problem in the south, not just in my yard. We get many more days of the kind of weather that FB loves. There are some varieties that are supposed to be less susceptible, but I am a bit leery of that after what happened to my pears: I have had only one variety of pear (of 50) completely die from fireblight and it was Magness, a pear bred for resistance to blight. Maybe that experience soured me more than it should have on supposed blight resistance. In any case FB is not the end of the world, asian pears are more blight-susceptible than europeans pears but I still think the asians are a better bet for your average home grower given how they are quicker to fruit and more forgiving of mistakes.

Lyvia, if you do decide to grow apples and pears it is important to plant them in full sun in an area with good air circulation, and to prune them to keep the tree foliage open. I have found this is the best way to prevent blight. Probably planting blight-resistant cultivars helps as well.

harvestman, my PC and CM also go after my Winesaps, in particular they get quite a bit of PC damage. I neglected to mention PC above, that is plum curculio and it is part of the 80% of time spent on the bugs.


    Bookmark   February 28, 2011 at 1:12PM
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alan haigh

That's why I suggested Winesap being good specifically to my region. You probably need the hardest latest apples possible- how bout Ark Black? Do you grow that one? There's one apple that has wormless in its name that's supposed to repel like crazy but I don't know about its quality.

Here in NY some sites never show any FB and a few do. I wonder if it is as unpredictable further south.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2011 at 2:59PM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

I don't have Arkblack but I do have several apples which get relatively little CM damage. Rambour d'Hiver is my current favorite of those, a very late hard crisp apple. By the time it starts to soften a bit the cold winds are really blowing and Mr. Moth is on his last wings. Right now I don't feel I have enough data to recommend people grow such apples without any protection however. In particular the PC seems to like all of my apples (some more than others). I use a Surround spray which probably cuts PC damage back by 3/4ths but it still means every tree gets some bites that have to be thinned out. If someone wanted apples for cooking they may find a hard late apple grown without sprays or bagging would make them happy. Our friends had a hard apple they would cook without cutting out the extensive PC damage, and they loved 'em. They gave my wife a bag and she wanted to cut out every bit of damage and so found them practically worthless.


    Bookmark   February 28, 2011 at 3:22PM
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alan haigh

I've always been amazed how on sites unsprayed up here old strain Golden Delicious is often avoided by PC and last year I discovered the same was true of Winesap, which is an apple I actually like. I've long read that Ark Black was similar in this regard but I assume the further south you go the later the variety needs to be.

The interesting thing is that GD isn't all that late or hard.

I sure wish the breeders would start shooting for insect resistance in addition to disease resistance.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2011 at 5:47AM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

Here my Winesaps get PC pretty bad, in fact last year I had to save some which had PC bites in them since I would have overthinned if I took them out. There are different strains of PC and maybe that is a factor in our different experiences.

I agree it would be good to focus on PC/CM resistance in breeding. You wouldn't need to get 100% complete resistance to still get a good crop. I am at least looking for that in my existing apples, and since I am not getting complete control I can see which of my hundreds of varieties do better. Commercial breeding programs are hitting everything with a full spray program so they never get to see resistance levels.


    Bookmark   March 1, 2011 at 8:26AM
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So I've thought about this for awhile now, and I've decided
1) I don't have as much room as I "measured."
2) I don't want to eat figs enough to grow them in an espalier. I was kidding myself.
3) I really want something in the plum/apricot family, perhaps enough to spray a bit.
4) I'm allergic to sulfa medicine, and sulfur in dried food, and that might be an issue in spraying.

So the new plan is

2011 to work on the soil (and survive other things)and just maybe get the prunus mume in the ground this year - for winter flowers.

2012 build the kiwi and rose pergola, and plant front yellowwood tree. Work on flower garden.

2013 replace sod with clover, dig out the dry stream bed and raise the grape hill. plant kiwi and rose.

2014 build the grape structure, and sprinklers or something for water. plant grapes.

2015 get the berries and currants going.

And then once everything else is well established, go back to thinking about something like a hedge of espaliered purple leaf plum, which would be pretty. I'm not giving up on my apricot yet, but I can put it off and see if something new comes out.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2011 at 6:17PM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

Lyvia, I'm impressed you can plan so far ahead, I don't know what I'm doing next week :-)

I would consider putting in the apricot soon and removing it later if you change your mind -- it takes 3-4 years to get going and theres only so many years in life. Little care is needed the first few years since there is no fruit to "defend". If you decide to get an apricot I would strongly recommend getting a Tomcot, it is much much better than any other variety for your climate. Apricots are also allergic to sulphur so no conflicts there. I have found the main problem with apricots to be the plum curculio, which requires sprays of Surround (a clay product) in May, perhaps three sprays total and you are covered.


    Bookmark   March 1, 2011 at 9:17PM
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Thanks so much for your advice- you know you are saving me years of experimentation!

We have lots of cherries around here, and I know there's figs up the street, but I have never seen plums so I'm hoping the plum cur will take its time finding me.

It says partially self fertile for Tomcot. Do I get a boost from prunus mume? I would guess it flowers too early. Would I get a pollen boost from a plum that flowers at the same time, or would it have to be another apricot? When does your tomcot bloom?

    Bookmark   March 2, 2011 at 5:42AM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

Lyvia, I believe Tomcot is considered self-fertile in our climate. I don't think the other plants will help pollinate it but it should not be necessary.

It can take a few years for the curc to build up a big population, so that plus the years of growth before the tree starts fruiting means there are quite a few years of an easy to care for tree -- it may only need pruning.

The plum curculio infests many trees besides plums, don't be fooled by the name. In my yard they seem to prefer the apples the most. They don't like cherries a whole lot but someone probably has an old apple or plum tree within a mile of your house that has a big population.


    Bookmark   March 2, 2011 at 8:21AM
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Tomcot is fertile, but you get bigger crops if cross-pollinated by another apricot.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2011 at 6:08PM
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Lyvia, I wouldn't wait until 2015 to enjoy the nearly instant gratification of brambles. I'd plant them first and then ease yourself into the more difficult fruits. Go spend $15 for a few Triple Crown blackberries and tuck them away somewhere in your yard (e.g., against the house, a fence line, just about anywhere with sun and drainage). They require almost no care and will usually produce lots of tasty fruit in their 2nd year. You can always dig them up (or just dig up the tip roots) when you get around to building that trellis in 2015. If you've got a spot you can contain brambles that spread by runners, I'd also add a few Caroline raspberries.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2011 at 3:24PM
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