Advice on growing fruit trees in the backyard - Washington DC

jacob_mmDecember 11, 2006

Hi All:

We have a backyard, which is partially shaded (adjacent to a parkland with tall trees). We would like to grow some fruit trees and seek your advice on the type, varieties and pros and cons of doing this. Our yard is fenced and hence deer is not a problem.

Specific questions (Sorry there are several questions):

1. We have enough area to grow up to 4 or 5 small to medium fruit trees. We do not know which trees would successfully grow in this region. We believe this area is too cold for oranges. What other trees would work in this area?

2. What are the appropriate verities we could grow? What is the best place to get the plants? When should we plant them?

3. Can we grow figs - will it work?

4. Any other cons in growing fruit trees in the backyard?

Thank you,


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I live in Montgomery County and there are a number of fruit trees that grow well here. Edible citrus can't take our winters. The only citrus that I grow in the yard is Flying Dragon (for ornamental value). Peaches, pears, apples, cherries, paw paw and persimmons grow well here and I'm sure I'm forgetting some. Many types of figs do well with minimal protection, Brown Turkey and Hardy Chicago are a couple. You can also grow grapes, hardy kiwi vines and many kinds of berry bushes. Most fruit trees/bushes need a good amount of sunlight to produce. Deer aren't a problem with mature trees but insects, disease and mildew are as well as birds. I used to grow peaches but don't use any chemicals so I had problems and I couldn't stand all the fruit dropping all over the ground. I do grow figs, kiwis, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries and plan on putting in some currents and honeyberry bushes. There are a number of reputable nurseries in this area, Johnson's, Behnke, Meadows Farms and Merrifield are some of the larger ones. I tend to stay away from places like Home Depot and Lowes. Talk to someone at one of the garden centers and let them tell you what would be suitable for your yard. You might even want to bring photos of the area where you are planning on planting the trees.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2006 at 8:02PM
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slubberdegulion(z7 VA)

I grow 'Flying Dragon' more as a child deterrent, but the fruit can be used (there really isn't much of it and it is very sour). I second the above post, those should all do well.

Pawpaws (like most fruit trees) would prefer full sunlight at maturity, but I see them growing along the edges of woods locally, getting dappled shade. Mine do well here, but they are fairly slow growing.

May I also suggest jujubes (prefer full sun, have date-like fruit, and a beautiful growing habit), che fruit (or 'melon tree', sort of mulberry/fig-like), goumi (Eleaegnus multiflora, smaller than autumn olive and has larger fruit), and Juneberries ('Serviceberries', come in all sizes and have blueberry-like fruit).

For persimmons, you may want to grow the 'oriental' (or 'kaki') types, because there are smaller varieties, some of which don't require cross pollination.

Medlars do well too, but I wouldn't grow one if I had a very small space, although they are pretty. Ditto for quince, gorgeous tree but not so useful really.

Plums also do well. And you can find small cherry trees (sour or 'pie' cherry trees are often self-pollinating) or grow Nanking cherry bushes.

Gooseberries and currants do well if you can provide them with some afternoon shade.

Nut bushes and trees do well also, keep in mind that hazelnuts spread.

I added elderberry bushes to my yard this year also, the berries are tasty (to me, anyway) and several varieties are beautiful to look at.

Keep in mind "problems" that you might run into, like ease of care and how much animals may like your fruits. Apples are a pain, but a neighbor of mine grows small apple trees organically and does well. Some years the birds get to my cherries before I do, but I'm not depending on a bucket of cherries to get me through, so I don't mind so much.

My bramble patch provides the birds (and squirrels) and myself with more than enough berries and it is also home to cardinals and mocking birds. So, whatever fruit you grow some other critter is going to attempt to enjoy it also.
You might take a look at Hidden Springs Nursery or Urban Homestead.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2006 at 12:09PM
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Sorry to add a dissenting opinion. We have grown fruits and berries here for 40 yrs. Apples, plums. peaches etc. The only problem is cleaning up the mess. I guess I am showing my age. Steve in Baltimore County

    Bookmark   December 15, 2006 at 10:44AM
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Steve it isn't your age. I got sick and tired of picking up rotting peaches or running over them with the mower when I was in my late 20's! I don't grow any trees that drop fruit all over the yard anymore. I stick mainly to berry bushes, figs and fruiting vines, less mess : )

    Bookmark   December 16, 2006 at 11:56PM
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In addition to local nurseries you could check out this great business called Edible Landscaping, which specializes in fruit trees. They're located in VA so most of what they carry will do well in our area.

Juneberries/Serviceberries (amalanchier) are one of my favorite native fruits, and will do fine in some shade since they often grow in the forest. They have small red-purple berries with an edible seed inside. My husband says they taste like blueberries and I think they taste like Sweet Tarts (maybe I don't let them get all the way ripe!). The birds will love whatever you don't eat.

I'll eat a pawpaw or two in the wild but the kerosene like aftertaste stops me after that, so I wouldn't plant them in my yard. Some people don't seem to be bothered by them though.

Gooseberries and currants can also apparently take shade, especially afternoon shade (which side of your yard is the forest on?).

Otherwise most fruit trees will do better in full sun.
Figs THRIVE in my neighborhood in Takoma Park/Silver Spring. (There are so many trees within a few blocks of us, I have the theory that they're all cuttings off of one or two trees that have been passed around over the years.) I think the ones I like the best are Celeste, if I've identified them right. Animals seem to leave them alone, which is a major plus. You can dry whatever you don't eat fresh. If you've never had a fresh fig, there's nothing quite like it. I'm a huge fan.

In general most folks I know seem to think apples and peaches are too high-maintenance to be worth it. I have a peach tree in my backyard that produces massive amounts of fruits but the squirrels like to eat them when they're green, so I get very few. It's kind of heartbreaking -- every year I see the number of fruits and my hopes are so high for good, fresh peaches, and it never quite comes out that way.

We also have a pear tree that is not nearly as productive, but just as attractive to the squirrels. I have yet to eat a pear.

I have a neighbor who grows plums somewhat successfully but loses a lot to the plum curculio bug.

Mulberries grow pretty much as a weed tree in this area because birds eat so many of them and spread the seeds. I find them very tasty. You can easily feed yourself and the birds. You'd just have to stay on top of any seedlings that start coming up where you don't want them (especially along fences where birds perch).

This year I have plans to plant a sour cherry. Birds are supposed to like them less than sweet cherries. We'll see. I'm also looking into Japanese persimmon.

Blueberries also can do well here if you amend the soil to be acidic enough for them. You will have to fight the birds for them, too.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   January 18, 2007 at 11:47AM
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I have about three dozen varieties of fruit trees here. I am in a difficult growing situation, and don't like to spray potential toxins around here lest they get in to my pastures. I have had zero luck at all with "stone fruit"; peaches, plums, cherries, and other fruit with pits. They get gummosis and other problems. Spraying might control this, but I'd rather not.

PEARS, on the other hand, have done beautifully for me, both European and Oriental. If they can grow well here, with no aid at all save pruing, when no stonefruit (or grapes) will, then I think they might do well for you too.

Best of luck with you pocket orchard!

Happy gardening,
- vladpup

    Bookmark   January 18, 2007 at 10:30PM
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I'd love to know which cultivars of pears you are growing. I'm putting in an orchard of 10 fruit trees this spring.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2007 at 3:04PM
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leslies(z7 No VA)

My only apple tree died (fire blight) which has also been an issue for the dogwoods. I also have elderberries, raspberries and blueberries and I can wholeheartedly recommend the blueberries. You'll get more berries from two mature bushes than you can shake a stick at. Their foliage also turns nice colors in the autumn.

I have three bushes, with one of them being of a different variety than the other two and it sets smaller fruit later in the season. Birds eat the berries from that one but leave the others alone, so I don't fight with them about it.

The soil where I am is naturally acidic enough to keep the hydrangeas blue, so I don't do anything to it for the blueberries.

Raspberries are weedier and not as prolific - it takes a lot of brambles to get a fair amount of fruit. OTOH, raspberries are very expensive to buy and don't keep well fresh in the fridge, so it's worth having my own.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2007 at 12:39PM
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thistle5(z7 VA)

I have blueberries, which have yet to produce any fruit, but they're pretty, & figs, about 6 or so on the south side of the house, which have produced fruit & are also lovely.
I'm going to add some pawpaws next year, along the S/W side of the house, near a privacy fence & the other fruit that I'm seriously thinking about is an espaliered Asian pear-Hosui, 20th Cen, & Shinseki on one tree, planted next to a fence, on the N/E side of the house-this area is next to the garage, I call it the dead zone, it doesn't get alot of sun, there's only grass planted there, but it does get morning sun-do you think an Asian pear could thrive there?

    Bookmark   January 26, 2007 at 8:39PM
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I'm Tim Hoagland, on behalf of Casey Trees, and I wanted to share some of our resources with you on this topic as well.

We've got some things you may be interested in:
*We hosted a webinar on our regular segment, Tree Talk Thursdays, entirely about fruit trees.
*We also have a Tree Rebate program that enables individuals to receive a $50 rebate on any standard-size fruit tree (small or medium canopy - tree must reach 15 ft. tall and wide at maturity). (
*We do not currently, but will have fruit tree profile/ other resources up on our website in mid-September. (check back!)

Here is a link that might be useful: Tree Talk Thursdays - Fruit Trees

    Bookmark   August 21, 2012 at 6:12PM
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Quick question... I am going to be planting 2 fig trees I just purchased outside in my yard in the Catholic U area (slightly south of Silver Spring).

Should I plant it out in the yard or plant it in a pot and bring it inside every winter? What do I need to do for the winter?

    Bookmark   March 21, 2013 at 5:37PM
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