Grow your own mini orchard
Cultivate your backyard as a mini orchard and reap the rewards of fresher-than-fresh homegrown fruit.
An Australian backyard isn’t complete without at least one fruit tree. With varieties of every size and for every growing region, almost any garden or balcony can have one. Grow them in pots or in the ground, and use them as decorative features. Winter is a great time to plant bare-rooted fruit trees, giving them plenty of time to settle in before spring.
With an abundance of fruit trees available, where do you start? “The first question is size,” says Wes Fleming, director of Fleming’s Nurseries. “Do you have the space to grow a large tree? If not, consider small growing forms, like the ‘Trixzie’ miniature fruit tree range, which only grow 1-2 metres high and 1-2 metres wide.”
Many trees are self-pollinating but a small number do need a second tree to assist with pollination. If you’ve only got room for one tree, ensure it’s self-pollinating. “Peaches are self-pollinating and the white-fleshed ‘Anzac’ peaches are tops for taste,” says garden expert and television presenter Melissa King. Citrus, apricots, nectarines, figs and some pear and plum varieties also self-pollinate. “Apples need a compatible pollinating partner to produce a good crop of fruit, so make room for two delicious varieties,” she advises. The Flemings ‘Ballerina’ range of columnar trees are great for squeezing more than one tree into a tight space.
Good looks can also be a factor, with bright fruit and delicate blossoms making many fruit trees desirable for more than their tasty harvest. Espaliering a tree – training it to grow along a wall or fence – looks pretty and saves space. “Virtually any fruit tree can be espaliered, but certain trees, like apples, pears, citrus and olives, work better than others,” says Melissa.
Even with homegrown fruit, it’s important to wash it well before you eat or cook it
Climate: This will affect your choice of tree, so always check the plant’s label to see if it’s okay for your area; stores will generally carry suitable trees for your zone. Potted fruit trees can sometimes be brought inside or moved to a protected spot if you’re concerned about frosts.
Location: Fruit trees need a sunny spot, with at least six to eight hours of full sun.
Soil: Good drainage is a must, so improve poor soil with gypsum, and lots of compost and organic matter. If your soil is heavy clay, grow in pots or raised garden beds.
Planting time: Deciduous fruit trees, including stone fruit, apples, pears and quince, can be bought in winter bare-rooted (without soil) and planted straightaway. Before planting a bare-rooted tree, it’s a good idea to prune it. “Hold the tree in one hand and, with the other, prune away 50 per cent of the top branches,” says Wes. “It may feel like a shame to cut away all that growth, but you will be amazed at how well the tree will grow in spring.” Potted fruit trees can be bought and planted during other times of the year, but autumn or winter (after the last frost) are ideal.
A fruit tree set among flowering shrubs, like this mandarin, makes a pretty feature
Planting preparation: Improve the soil with organic matter, like compost and well-rotted manure. Wes recommends digging a hole one-and-a-half times the size of the root system. “Backfill lightly with soil to create a cushion in the centre of the hole, then position the tree and backfill,” he says. Firm the soil around the base of the tree and water in well. If planting in pots, ensure the container is big enough and use a good quality potting mix.
Fertiliser: In periods of active growth and fruit development, feed fruit trees well with a complete flower and fruit fertiliser, such as Scotts Pure Organic Fruit & Citrus Premium Plant Food.
Harvest: The time frame from planting to harvest varies depending on the fruit type. For example, citrus can take up to three years to fully form – while the fruit will form earlier, it’s best to remove them to encourage the tree to focus its energy into strong structural growth. As a general guide, most fruit trees can be harvested within two to five years.
Pruning: “Most fruit trees will benefit from a good prune when they are dormant in winter,” says Melissa King. “This will help improve the quality and amount of fruit, and create a strong network of branches.”
There will be unwanted visitors on your fruit trees, typically during warmer months as the trees are budding or fruiting. They can differ from tree to tree, so it’s a good idea to get a proper diagnosis from a garden expert. Generally, most sap-sucking bugs, such as aphids, mealy bugs and scale, can be treated with a broad-range insecticide, like Yates Nature’s Way Citrus and Ornamental Spray or Richgro Beat-A-Bug, but always check the label or ask in-store if you’re not sure.
Fruit fly and codling moth are particular problems for keen orchardists, so it’s good to take preventative action. For fruit fly, hang lures and spray foliage regularly with a fruit fly specific insecticide, like Eco-Organic ‘Eco-Naturalure’. Spray early in the season (once flowers have fallen), as this will help prevent population numbers from exploding later in the season. Codling moth is a common pest of apples, pears and quince. The larvae (caterpillars) tunnel into the fruit and can, if you’re not careful, ruin an entire harvest. Regularly inspect the tree and discard any infested fruit. Spray trees thoroughly with a targeted spray, like Yates Success Ultra, and remove loose bark from branches to reduce hiding areas for cocoons.
Pick of the bunch
Fruit trees can often be grown out of their preferred zone, as long as similar conditions are provided or met. For example, figs can be grown in subtropical, warm temperate and cool climate zones; citrus in warm temperate and cool climates. The following is a general indication of what grows where (check instore for self-pollinating varieties).
Pick up a fruit tree!
Start your own backyard orchard by picking up a fruit tree or two from your local Bunnings store.