fruit trees and berries in small backyard???

trojan09March 18, 2010

Hello everyone,

My family has recently purchased a home with a smallish backyard. We really like the home and are planting quite a bit of flowers and shaping up the yard since the previous owners neglected it somewhat. We really wanted to plant a couple more fruit trees in the backyard but I am at a little bit of a loss for the optimum location. I have already been reading and gathering knowledge on this forum, which seems extremely helpful, so I joined and wanted to ask you guys for some advice. As a warning, I have quite a few questions to ask but would sincerely appreciate any advice.

The home is located in north Orange County, in Southern California. Below is a picture of the northern half of the back-yard, which happens to be the main south-facing side, as the south south-facing side is for the most part paved:

The house casts a bit of a shadow during the day, but nothing too excessive and the fence is always bathed in sun. The green tree that is already planted seems to be an apricot, although we are not sure as the previous owners planted it. The pink blossomed small tree behind it is a Red Baron peach we just bought and are trying to decide where to plant. Another, perhaps clearer picture:

The tree in the corner is a hibiscus (which sadly seems to have a bit of a whitefly problem). Anyway, we were thinking of planting the peach around where it currently is, as it would get full sun and I've read peaches prefer that. However, I am afraid of it taking up too much room in the yard and would almost like it to be closer to the fence. Would it be possible to dig up the apricot and move it closer to the fence as well?

The grape by the fence has grown quite out of hand it seems, and I know it should probably be pruned and properly supported, but I have no idea of how to do it yet. I bought 5 more grapes of various types in the hope of planting them all against that wall to cover it with vines so it would be green AND produce table grapes. I was imagining a trellis like this would work:

But all the grape websites I've seen recommend stakes with two wires and training the vines that way instead. Any recommendations? I have bought: Crimson Seedless, Himrod Seedless, Perlette Seedless, Kyoho and Black Monukka.

I was also thinking of planting a semi-dward orange by the wall, to the right of where the photo was taken, along the wall in the shadow of the house. I've read citrus tree are more tolerant of shade, but it would still probably get at least 6-7 hours of sun.

My sister also bought two blueberry bushes (Jubilee and Southmoon) and an erect blackberry (Navaho) to plant in the southern half of our backyard:

They are the three potted plants by the AC Compressor. I was wondering how tall they would get, I imagine quite big so I probably shouldn't plant them in front of windows? I would just put them against that back wall but since it is on the southern side of the house, it would probably be quite shady except for high noon when they get sun from above.

Any opinions, suggestions and comments would be greatly, greatly appreciated. Thank you!

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backyardener(z6 Idaho)

I personally would not plant fruit trees too close to the wall. They are better pruned wide and open than tall and narrow. I keep mine down to a height where I can reach most of the fruit without a ladder. Also, you don't want your fruit hanging / dropping in your neighbor's yard.

Grapes are much easier when trained on wires. I wouldn't use a lattice trellis for grapes. They require A LOT of pruning every year, and are much easier to prune and care for when trained to the proper shape. They are best spaced at least 6 feet apart (I like 8 feet for table grapes) and are very vigorous once established. You don't want to plant too many in a small space our you'll be fighting to keep them under control. If they get over grown, that is when disease (such as mildew) tends to take over. They also prefer less water than your lawn needs, so that may be an issue (over-watering can lead to excessive vigor and disease issues). You are in a dry climate, so your disease pressure is pretty low - just keep it in mind that they may need more maintenance than if they were planted in a more ideal manner. I am in a very dry climate like you, with a lot more space, and I still see mildew from time to time.

I don't grow blackberries and I am not familiar with your blueberry varieties - so I'll let others comment on them. I do know that blueberries need somewhat acidic soil (PH less than ~6.5, preferably lower), so check that out before planting. They also like full sun.

I hope I am not being too negative, I really do hope it works out for you. Just looking at the pictures I see small, shady, dim, and wet - which is really opposite from ideal. The good news is that "backyard" fruit growers can sometimes get away with things commercial farmers cannot since we are able to dedicate more time / effort to each plant. Keep us posted on your progress, maybe post some pictures after you have everything planted. Good luck and welcome to the forum.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2010 at 4:37PM
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The Blue berries will need a ph between 4.5 and 5.5 with 5 being the target, you can go as low as 4 and as high as 6 and still have them do OK, but 5 is ideal. One thing you must never forget, is that nitrate fertilizer will kill bb's so make sure you get one for acid loving plants, this will contain Ammonium sulfate for nitrogen and is the only type of nitrogen you should ever use for your BB's. If your planning to put these into pot's, 15 to 20 gl size is ideal and make sure to use lots of peat moss even going 100% peat is OK, I do 80 to 90 myself. Warning! once you taste your homegrown BB's your going to want more, so make sure to get early, mid season and late for a longer BB season...almost forgot, remove the first year's flowers at least all but 5 or 6 if you must have a sneak peak taste, this will let the plant put it's energy into roots and growth... AND NEVER LET THE PLANTS DRY OUT!!! good luck.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2010 at 8:14PM
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glenn_russell(6b RI)

Hi Trojan09-
Welcome to the forum!
It's a lovely back yard, and I think it shows potential. It's nice that there is already some fruit there!

To me, your tall white wall just screams espaliered trees. The white paint will reflect some extra light back to your trees, and the fruit trees will just eat it up. I have this situation at my house, and I'm finding my plants up against that light-grey wall do awesome (See my "My Page"). With the right planning, I believe you could get quite a few espaliered trees along the back there.

In the areas which have some shadows, any chance you could put in raised beds to get above the shade? I'm visualizing a nice long bed 3' high bed that runs the length of one of the walls?

With the blackberries, one thing to consider is whether you want ones which spread via rhizomes (underground runners) the way raspberries do, or do you want ones that don't creep and take over the area like "tip spreading" blackberries do. Navaho is a rhizome-spreading variety, so if you keep it, you really have to consider containment. I prefer tip-spreaders which stay put like my Triple Crowns, Doyle's and Chester's.

Blueberries can tolerate a little shade, but even for them, I probably wouldn't bother unless you could give them at least 65% sunlight... and at least 75% for everything else.

As for the other varieties, our climates are very different, so i'll leave that to someone else. Keep on reading, studying, and asking questions!


    Bookmark   March 19, 2010 at 8:48PM
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ashleysf(9 San Jose,CA)

Your yard looks more sunny than mine (mine is surrounded by oaks and pines from neighbors) and I grow 25 types of fruit in mine! I recommend that you read about "high density fruit tree plantings" on Dave Wilson Nursery's Backyard Orchard website. That would give you more ideas on how to plant more (multiple plantings in one hole, hedge plantings, multi grafted trees, espaliering etc).
As for grapes, if they would be shaded out even partially, then you must look for varieties that need less heat to produce.
Southmoon and Jubilee are excellent varieties of blueberry - but planting them near the foundation is not a good idea as concrete raises the ph of the soil. Good luck.

Here is a link that might be useful: Backyard Orchard Culture @ Dave Wilson's website

    Bookmark   March 19, 2010 at 9:43PM
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Oro Blanco Grapefruit
Big Jim Loquat
Apricot/Peach (You have one already)
Black Mission fig (seems you have one fig tree already in the 3rd picture)
Fuyu persimom
Topical Guava
Dragon fruit (need support)

You will have almost year long fruits from your yard.
The fruits will ripe almost in the order given above with some gaps and verlaps.
Keep the trees around 6 feet tall and in some liberal espalier forms.
Don't be serious about expalier forms, just keep the branches low.
You can buy these trees from Home Depot/Lowes.

Grapes are too cheap:) Blueberry plants are hard to take care in your area:(
Avoid them unless you really like them.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2010 at 12:09AM
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Thanks so much for all your helpful responses! I knew it was a good choice to ask here.
This espaliering idea sounds very enticing =]
I've never heard of it, I'll be sure to read up about it. I really like persimmons and would love to have one, but thought there was no way I would have room for one. Is any particular type of rootstock required for it (semi-dwarf or dwarf), or is a regular tree fine for the purpose?

I am attaching an aerial view of my house, right side is North (amazing what the internet gives you these days):

1. Location of presumed apricot tree.
2. Now I am thinking of planting the Red Baron peach in this location to give it some breathing room. I think it would look more aesthetic a little removed from the apricot.
What are your ideas? About 6 feet to the right is a flower bed directly next to the wall and I was thinking of also planting a Washington Navel semi-dwarf or dwarf there. But maybe that would be a good location for the espaliered persimmon instead.
3. I was thinking of planting a kumquat in this patch, do you think it would be a good idea?

Backyardener, in those pictures the backyard indeed looks dim and wet, but during the day the side depicted gets a lot of sun and is quite bright, and then lawn had just been watered hence the wetness. I'm hoping I'll be able to pull of some of these trees (fingers crossed). Do you think it's possible to prune that old unruly grapevine all the way down to the trunk and re-train it? I'll take your advice and probably use a 4-arm Kniffin training.

mudflapper, thanks for the blueberry tips. I'm a little discouraged that they won't have optimal conditions since they seem to be picky plants, but after paying $40 for both of them I'm damn well gonna try getting them to grow.

glenn_russel, some really great ideas, I was thinking about raised beds too. I'll have to see just how and where I could implement them.

ashleysf, wooooow that is impressive. 25 types of fruit! Thanks for the link, some really interesting ideas on that website with planting four trees in the same area and keeping them trimmed to a manageable size.

tagtail, thanks a lot for the fruit tree list! I like the Fuyu persimmon choice, always ended up eating the Hachiya ones early and getting that nasty astringent throat. I'm impressed you were able to tell I have a fig tree in the background. When we first got the house I actually thought it was a guava for a while until I googled some pictures =)
So you would pick espaliered fruit trees over grapes? I'm definitely excited about the idea and would like to try it on at least one tree, but I also don't really want to throw all five of my grapes away. Maybe I'll mix and match. How young of a tree should I get for espaliering? I'm guessing rootstock is preferable? Up till now I have been buying potted containers.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2010 at 3:21AM
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bejay9_10(zone 9/10)

Citrus trees can be lovely in front yards.


    Bookmark   March 20, 2010 at 10:27AM
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Welcome Trojan09!

What part of Orange County do you live in? I live in North Tustin, and luckily I just moved a month ago just 3 miles down the street to a 1/2 acre lot, so I now have tons of gardening. My last home had a yard just a little bigger than yours I think, so I had everything in containers for the most part but I will let you know what I have and what will do well in our area.

I have 5 grapes that I do grow on lattice trellis', but I do run out of room pretty fast, so it maybe better to train them on a T bar wiring system. I grow crimson seedless, thompson seedless, zinfandel wine grape, concord, and merlot wine grape. All do fine with our heat in full sun.

For my blueberries, I have misty and o'neal that do good with our heat, and I'm trying sharpblue & sunshine blue this year, which should be fine. My blueberries are in full sun and do well. I am also growing triple crown blackberry and heritage & caroline raspberries this year.

For fruit trees I have Dorsett Golden apple trees, Ein Shemer apple, kumquat trees, improved meyer lemon, key lime, valencia orange, & washington navel orange.

So you may know that the above fruiting plants are fine for you to grow as well in our climate. Have fun in your new backyard like I am!

    Bookmark   March 20, 2010 at 5:36PM
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Fig and persimmon (also apple, pear) trees are good for espaliering.
Start on the first year if you decide to experiment the espalier forms.
Fig and persimmon trees bear their fruits on current year's new branches.
You can prune them any way you want during winter.
Check the website above to get a rough idea of espaliering.
I seriously espalier my trees in my front yard to beautify the yard.
If you espalier apple or pear trees, choose semi-dwarfed.

It's better to have a semi-dwarf kumquat. My dwarf kumquat is still
less than 3 feet tall after 6 years.

Please check
for how to grow blueberries in your area.
Most likely the pH of the soil in your backyard is too high for blueberry plants.
My 4 blueberry plants died before. Currently I have 5.
The main problem is the soil in our area.
Most southern highbush blueberry plants reach about 6 feet tall (only sunshine blue is about 3 feet tall).

You can espalier your grape vines.

I have a small yard and only grow fruit trees whose fruits are expensive or
much better tasting than those store bought.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2010 at 7:38PM
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trojan: this should inspire and/or give you some hope.

Here is a link that might be useful: High density fruit'n

    Bookmark   March 20, 2010 at 7:55PM
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backyardener(z6 Idaho)

You definitely can cut the grape back to the trunk and re-train. Grapes are nearly impossible to hurt by pruning. The only drawback would be that you would sacrifice this year's crop because grapes produce fruit on 1 year old wood. Can you find any 1-year old canes that you can train? They will be lighter colored and about pencil thick with smooth bark. Even though they seem very stiff, you can bend them and they will be fine (they make cracking sounds but rarely break).

I'd probably skip the 4 arms and stick with 2. Table grapes are pretty vigorous and can get crowded with 4 arms. Try to find two 1-year old canes and train them horizontally forming a "T" shape. Cut off everything else. If the vine has broken dormancy, you'll get sap flowing from the wounds, but don't worry, that is normal.

Here is a link that might be useful: Grape Growing / Training Info

    Bookmark   March 22, 2010 at 12:47PM
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Thanks for the advice, backyardener. All my vines have broken dormancy so I have been afraid of pruning them.

I would like to cover at least a part of my bare wall with grapevines, won't the two arm system be too thin and leave too much of the wall open?

Also, I planted a bunch of the grapes I bought, but am a little unsure of what to do next. I bought these plants at a nursery, and have read that I should either let them grow as they want the first year, or cut them to the first two buds. Which is more advisable? And what if there are two arms already? Should I cut one of them off? I am attaching a couple of pictures of my plantings:

    Bookmark   March 23, 2010 at 12:00AM
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I'd rip it all out and just plant food producers. Same in front of the house, grow food. You need all the food growing space you can get. I started 3 in ground beds last year in front of house. Just get some marking paint and see what bed layout works best in the front.
And don't forget to plant some figs!

I've had luck with potatoes, burdock, carrots, spinach, lettuce, arugula, raspberries, beets, parsley with 5 hours of sun.

On another note...

Thanks for your post.

It makes me grateful for what I got when I get too ungrateful for my little 1/2 acre of land.

I was born and raised in L.A. Lived there 35 years...sometimes I forget how it was. The only thing I miss is the polluted beach at Santa Monica, diving the kelp forests at Catalina, my fig tree and yes you can pretty much buy anything you want...well maybe not assault rifles that is.

Here is how I have my setup. I try to use all the space I can to grow. But it had no big design plan I didn't know what I was doing and still don't know much. (This is my 3rd year gardening) I just keep adding stuff and trying. If it grows I eat it if not I rip it out.

Everything has to pull it's weight here. If not, it is gone. Just pulled 2 cherry trees. The birds get them all, so can't afford that - they are out of here. Put in plums and Asian pears so I can get some food.

This is my garden back in 2008 still taking shape. Much more developed now. Have about 22 beds total all around the 4 sides of the house. Also 32 fruit trees. I am working on getting the neighbors to let me put in 10 more fruit trees close to our borders.

Good Luck!

    Bookmark   March 23, 2010 at 10:14AM
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backyardener(z6 Idaho)

Sorry, I don't have experience growing grapes to cover a wall, my objective is to produce the best fruit I can while minimizing the possibility for disease. The way to do that is to maximize airflow and sunlight, which may go slightly against the concept of fully covering a wall. You could certainly go with a 4 arm system and if that becomes too much to manage, prune off 2 of the arms.

Many commercial growers let the vines grow however they want for the first year AND THEN prune them back to 2 buds the next year. The object is to let them establish a good root system BEFORE they start to grow the trunk and arms. I take somewhat of a hybrid approach and select 1 shoot to train vertically (as straight as possible - tie it often) while still letting the vine grow unpruned the first year. If the shoot that I trained grew sufficiently (pencil thick all the way to its desired height), I keep it and cut off everything else. Then grow the arms in the same manner the next year. If it did not grow big enough, I cut it back to 2 buds and start over. I also strip off all flower clusters until the trunk and arms are established. Some people report success letting the vine fruit in the second year, but I prefer to let it concentrate on building a framework before fruiting.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2010 at 11:41AM
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A couple of videos you may want to take a look at.

Take a look at Gene Yale's Amazing Backyard Orchard VIDEO.

I know this one is on pruning but take a look at this video from about 1:58 min into it through to the end.

Do either of those videos give you any ideas?

    Bookmark   March 23, 2010 at 6:19PM
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