With spring having sprung, those with green thumbs are itching to get their hands back in the dirt and begin landscaping their yards. For those who want to stray outside of the norm, fruit trees are a popular option for homeowners, who want a new way to ornament their gardens and to yield a bounty of produce.
When it comes to fruit-bearing trees and bushes, April is a good month to begin planting. “You can start planting as soon as the ground is workable,” says Alan Branhagen, director of operations at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Soil usually becomes workable once the frost is gone, and the ground is no longer “mucky.” Branhagen, who has designed edible landscapes both in Minnesota and Kansas City, Mo., also says that bare root plants are best to plant in spring, as they’re likely to establish roots in the ground more quickly.
As far as which fruits fare best in Minnesota’s unpredictable climate, Branhagen suggests apples and plums for the first-time grower. “Plums are the third easiest fruit to grow in Minnesota,” he says, with cherries being a close second behind apples. The tending to fruit-bearing trees is relatively simple. “Fruit trees like soil that’s well-drained,” Branhagen says. “They need full sun and need about an inch of water a week.”
While it might seem like a whimsical idea to plant an apple seed and grow a mammoth tree in the backyard, Branhagen urges that this isn’t exactly how trees take form. “Usually, they’re on dwarfed rootstock,” he explains, which is a tree that’s been sectioned and already grown slightly in order to provide a head start for growers. These can be found at most nurseries, with Bachman’s being one of them.
“The trees Bachman’s sells are typically 4 to 5 years old,” says Karen Bachman Thull, director of marketing and communications with Bachman’s Floral, Home & Garden. Because the local flower shop’s trees are a bit more mature, they typically produce fruit. However, sometimes one tree isn’t enough when it comes to growing your own fruit garden.
“You might have to buy two trees to produce fruit,” Bachman Thull says. She’s referring to pollinators, which are sometimes necessary in order for a tree or bush to be fruitful.
Branhagen says that crab apple trees are great pollinators for apple trees. “There are normally so many of them around, you don’t need to worry about planting one of your own,” he says. While apples can thrive fine with a crab apple pollinator, plum trees need a couple of varieties of pollinators in order to successfully produce fruit.
With so many options for Minnesotans to choose from in the spring months, many use fruit trees as ornamental add-ons to their already bursting gardens. Branhagen does give one warning to those tempted to pick their fruit: Don’t. “A root tree typically won’t bloom until the second or third year,” he says. No matter how tempting it may be, picking fruit before its prime can inhibit it from growing in the future. Harvesting a bit of patience for those first years is the best bet.