Growing fruit in TN clay and other questions.

ryan_tnOctober 20, 2009

Hi everybody,

After lots of reading, browsing older posts here, and trying to learn as much as possible, I feel very close to being ready to grow my first fruits! I've been trying to do some research on the following, but I really wanted the opinions from people who may have experience with it in my area (Bartlett, TN). Specifically, I am unsure of the things I need to do differently (if any) to grow various fruit trees and vines without a raised bed. My list of things I want to buy to put in the backyard include Apple, Peach, Fig, Pomegranate, a few grapes, blackberry, blueberry, and raspberry.

As an example, I've read some accounts that say grapes don't do well in clay, but there are wineries around here that seem to be doing well so it can't be that bad. Would there be anything specific I need to do in order to create the best soil conditions as possible?

Another question I have is that I have read blueberry bushes are picky and want really acidic soil. Do any of you happen to know the "general" ph of the Memphis area soils? Is there anything else about the soil conditions here that would be worth pointing out?

And my final question for now, is there anybody in the area that happens to have some spare fig or pomegranate trees/cuttings that would be open to selling to me? I just thought I'd ask because I would much rather prefer buying from somebody who has had success with these plants themselves instead of purchasing from a vendor that may be hit-or-miss. It'd also be fun to meet somebody close by to chat-up about gardening stuff :-D

Thanks in advance for any help or suggestions. Everybody here always seems so friendly and helpful :) This is a difficult hobby to get into, especially if you don't personally know anybody with experience in the subject! It can be rather frustrating at times trying to figure it all out alone!

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brandon7 TN_zone(7)


One of the first things I'd do is to contact your local extension office and ask them for advice. They should be able to give you lots of answers about what varieties do well in your area, your local conditions, how to work with your local conditions, etc. They'll also probably have handout about all kinds of fruit tree related topics in general and for your specific area. Here is their contact info:

Shelby County Extension
Agricenter International
7777 Walnut Grove Rd. Suite B Box 21
Memphis, TN 38120
(901) 752-1207- Phone

Some types of fruit trees, apples for instance, can be grown on rootstocks that do well in clay soil. As you probably already know, choosing the right rootstock for your conditions is very important.

While reading your post, one common mistake kept coming to mind. Many people think they can amend the soil in the planting hole to compensate for clay soil. Don't do that! It's one of the top causes for tree failure in home plantings. Drainage and root growth are impaired by this practice. If you do decide to amend your soil (in most cases, not a good idea), amend the soil over a very large area (preferable the expected root zone area of the mature tree) and use a small percentage of amendment compared to native soil.

Here is a link that might be useful: Planting a Tree or Shrub

    Bookmark   October 21, 2009 at 8:39AM
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maternut(7 west tn)

Ryan if you can wait until spring, I could fix you up with Triple Crown black berrys, I have three kinds of figs Chicago Hardy, Celest,(spelling?) and Brown Turkey. Maybe some plums if you would like. I am 65 miles north of Memphis just off highway 51. Would probably have some blue berrys also. No charge for anything.

    Bookmark   October 21, 2009 at 11:24AM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

Hey Norm,

Do any of your figs have any symptoms of fig mosaic virus? (I know many people believe all figs may be infected, but I haven't seen any signs of the virus on any of the figs at my farm so far.)

And, is there a chance of me getting some cuttings from your Chicago Hardy? I'd really like to have that variety and haven't seen it for sell locally.

    Bookmark   October 21, 2009 at 1:39PM
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maternut(7 west tn)

Never heard of this virus. Guess I could have it and not even know. I start my cuttings in the fall ( been told I should start in the spring). When would you like the cuttings?
PS sorry to ruin your post Ryan

    Bookmark   October 21, 2009 at 8:17PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)


Here's a picture that shows a good example of what the symptoms of fig mosaic virus look like. A non-infected plant would not have the light patches. Some figs don't show nearly this extreme of blotchiness (some apparently don't show any), but the pictures shows what to look for. I snagged this one from Kmousk's Flickr photos.

Many of the people on the Fig Forum say that they suspect all figs have the virus and just don't show it, but there is debate about that.

Anyway, if yours doesn't show signs of being infected, I'd like to get some cuttings as soon as they are dormant.



You may have already picked some of your varieties out, but if you haven't and want to ask questions about good apple varieties or rootstocks, email me and I can try to help. I've got a massive apple variety spreadsheet at home that has lots of info that's hard to get from just one location and without a lot of searching. I'm not sure if I could email the whole spreadsheet, but I'd be happy to look stuff up for you.

I might also be able to recommend some fig (actually, the ones on Norm's list are probably the most reliable varieties for around here) and pomegranate varieties. I'm just finishing up some research on hardy pomegranate varieties.

For blueberries, it's probably best to stay mostly with Rabbiteye varieties. They are much more forgiving of less than optimal soil conditions and pH levels and generally do best in this part of the country. There are a few varieties of Northern and Southern Highbush that are known to do OK here, but you have to choose those carefully. All the Highbush varieties are going to be a little more finicky than the average Rabbiteye.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2009 at 10:46AM
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Norm - I would be very interested in a fig or two, especially if you say they are doing well! That's really kind of you to offer :) And no worries about "ruining" the thread. I actually appreciate any amount of discussion on the subject, especially from locals.

Brandon - thanks for you advice. I think that I will just visit the Shelby County Extension office this Saturday and bring a list of questions with me. I've done research on varieties and came up with what I think is a good list, but I'm still hesitant about apple. With all the rootstock descriptions I've read, there seems to be a give and take regarding qualities such as hardiness, disease resistance, etc. I would appreciate any advice you have to offer.

I eventually decided on 2 apple trees: a dwarf Fuji and a semi-dwarf Red Delicious. For rootstocks, I couldn't come to a decision on the Fuji, and I narrowed it down to MM106 or MM111 for the Red Delicious, but I don't have much confidence in this, nor do I know where I can trust purchasing them. If you have suggestions about what you've had success with, I'd like to hear it. Ultimately though, all I care about is picking a varieties that will fit in my backyard and be relatively easy to care for.

I had my fig choices narrowed down to Celeste and Brown Turkey, and was going to give a shot at growing these in containers. As for pomegranates, I have found very little information about what varieties grow well in this area - again, any advice would be very appreciated. Regarding blueberries, I had my eye on Tifblue and Climax.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2009 at 2:38PM
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maternut(7 west tn)

Brandon I see nothing like that on my fig leaves. Get with me later on (or I will forget) and send me your address and I will sent some cuttings.
Ryan I have forgotten the name of my blueberries. They are high bush varieties. When they were younger I had eight bushies, that produced over 400 pints, one year. Guess I should took better care of them. Late frost or freeze is rough on them, and that has happened quite a bit in the last few years.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2009 at 3:14PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

I like EMLA111 (the virus indexed version of MM111) quite a bit for semi-dwarf apples. As you say, there are trade-offs with all varieties and with all rootstocks, but the EMLA111 is the rootstock I use on my apple trees. It is very widely available. A few growers actually call their EMLA111 rootstock, MM111 (never did understand why they would do that).

I posted a link, below, to a list of sources that might come in handy.

I'll try to post a list of poms on here tonight when I get home, if I get home early enough. I'll be planting blueberries until dark tonight, so I'm not sure what my schedule will be like after that.

Here is a link that might be useful: Gardenweb Tread with Edible Fruiting Plant Suppliers

    Bookmark   October 22, 2009 at 3:38PM
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Here is a place that sells heirloom apple trees. I have included a link to the rootstock page.

Here is a link that might be useful: Apple trees and rootstock

    Bookmark   October 22, 2009 at 11:33PM
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misterbaby(7a/b TN)

Hey, Ryan. I'm about 30 minutes from you and have a wide variety of rootstocks and scion in play. Also berries. If you'd like to visit and make some comparisons, please let me know. I'm with the Fayette master gardener program. Misterbaby

    Bookmark   November 5, 2009 at 3:35PM
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