In the Garden:
Fruit plants can provide an ornamental as well as tasty addition to the landscape.
There are many kinds of fruit that grow well in the Lower South. Many gardeners shy away from fruit growing because of the space fruit trees can take up. Don't let the traditional orchard mindset keep you from trying fruit. There are many fruit species that work well in landscape settings.
Strawberries do well with a fall planting in the Lower South. They can be provided their own planting bed but also work as a short term groundcover in sunny landscape beds. While strawberries can be kept as a perennial, I prefer to plant them as an annual. Set out the plants in October, and then in May after their production season is winding down, replant the area with other vegetables or flowers. This avoids having to battle mites, foliage diseases, and drought all summer, not to mention losing the space in the garden during the warm season. Strawberries also work well in containers although this requires a little more attention to watering and fertilizing to keep them productive.
Blackberries can be used as a hedgerow along a fence or to divide the garden from another area of the landscape. With some periodic pruning a blackberry row can be neat and tidy, unlike the unruly bramble patches you may have experienced in the past.
A deciduous tree fruit such as a peach, plum, apple, or pear can be utilized as an attractive tree for a landscape bed. Follow proper pruning for the species you are growing to create a beautiful plant that offers spring blooms and summer bounty. Give fruit trees a mulched areas as wide as their branches, if possible, to keep the mower and weed eater away from the trunk.
Espalier training is an old technique in which fruit is trained to a vertical fence-like form. This minimizes the space required and is quite ornamental, although some extra attention and maintenance is needed.
Figs are a favorite of southern gardeners and offer carefree production. Unless you live in an area where hard freezes are very rare, it is best to create a bush type plant form rather than try to prune your fig to a single trunk tree. Choose varieties with a closed eye on the end of the fruit to avoid fruit spoilage by beetles and other small insects.
Citrus isn't limited to only the southernmost parts of the country. Lower South gardeners can grow some types quite successfully. The hardiest citrus are kumquats, Satsuma oranges, and Changsha tangerines. These can take temperatures into the mid 20's. Below that they'll need covering to get them through our infrequent, brief cold snaps. I like to use them as container plants. You can grow a Satsuma, kumquat, or even a cold tender Meyer lemon in a container the size of a half whiskey barrel. A 10 gallon container or larger will support a key lime or Mexican lime.
Container growing allows for the plants to be moved into the garage for a cold night or two, if containers are set on a board with castors or moved with a dolly. Citrus blooms are fragrant and make the plants worth growing even without the benefits of the fruit!
Grapes aren't just for vineyards. A vine row makes a good divider between landscape areas, and arbors are a super way to turn a hot summer patio or driveway into a productive area worth enjoying on a summer day. Muscadines work well in the eastern parts of the Lower South. Standard types of grapes can be grown in all areas, but make sure and consult your local Extension Office for suggested varieties that will perform well in your area.
Blueberries love the acid soils that are common across much of the Lower South. Build up a raised area for excellent drainage and incorporate peat moss and composted, finely screened pine bark into the soil.
If your area has high pH soils, such as the black clays common in areas in the western parts of the zone, you can still grow blueberries. They will grow in a large container, one at least as large as a half whiskey barrel. Another option is to build a planting bed on top of your native soil, adding 12-16 inches of a 1:1:1 mixture of sand or sandy loam, peat moss, and composted pine bark. Water these beds with rainwater whenever possible as water supplies in those areas typically are too high in calcium and bicarbonates for blueberries.
Here area a few more tips for fruit growing to get you off to a successful start:
1) Fruit plants need sun to produce well. At least 6 hours of sun is minimal. More is better.
2) These plants also need good drainage. Areas that tend to stay soggy wet or where water stands for a day or two after a rain should be avoided or built up 12 inches or so to create a raised bed and ensure better results.
3) Set the plants at the same depth they were previously growing. Planting too deep or too shallow may result in poor growth and performance.
4) Choose varieties carefully! With any fruit there are varieties that are best adapted to your particular area. Additionally some, but not all species, need two different varieties for cross pollination.
5) Don't put fertilizer in the planting hole. Wait until about six weeks after the plants have started putting out new growth to begin very light applications of fertilizer.
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