Blackwelder column: Fruit trees part of edible landscape

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 1, 2012

SALISBURY — Many gardeners are opting to integrate fruit trees into their landscape and create an “edible landscape.” Blending edibles with landscape plants isn’t necessarily a new practice. The use of edible plants intermingled with ornamentals dates to medieval monasteries known to include fruits, vegetables and herbs as part of their landscape.
The economy and popularity of the local foods movement have many interested in applying this idea to their landscape. Edible landscapes, if properly maintained, can be as attractive as an ornamental landscape.
Fruit trees are now on sale in local garden centers and retail outlets. Before making that purchase, there are a number of considerations that may limit your planting endeavors.
Sunlight: Fruit trees must have full sunlight to reach their maximum potential. Eight hours is the minimum amount of light needed to produce a good fruit crop. Competition from existing shade trees, shrubs or buildings greatly hampers both growth and development and ripening.
Drainage: Both soil and air drainage is essential for growth and development. Soil drainage is poor if water stands in an area for a couple of days; fruit trees will not survive poorly drained soils. During the growing season, standing water can drown many types of fruit trees in just three days. Poorly drained soils also promote the growth of root rot organisms. Planting fruit trees in a low-lying area can also be a problem. Low-lying areas are frost pockets, easy prey during late frosts.
Soil fertility: It is important to consider soil fertility and acidity. Ideally, the soil pH should be around 6.5, but Rowan County soils are typically acidic with pH ranges of 4.5-5.5. Acidic soils reduce the amount of nutrients available to the trees. Before planting, have soil tested and amend according to N.C. Department of Agriculture recommendations.
Size matters: Consider planting dwarf or semi-dwarf fruit trees. Dwarf fruit trees are ideal for those with a limited amount of open space. These trees usually consume an 8-foot space in the yard while semi-dwarf trees need about 15 feet of space.
Maintenance: Fruit trees are not maintenance free. Fruit trees need annual pruning and spraying to maintain health and encourage vigor. The Piedmont climate provides the perfect environment for insect and disease. Be prepared to maintain these trees.
Fruit bandits: If your landscape is plagued by squirrels, deer and other animal pests, it’s a sure bet your fruit trees will also have problems. Many have fruit trees loaded with fruit without enjoying a single ripened fruit.
Complete information: More information about planting fruit trees including varieties and descriptions can be found at http://www.ces.
Darrell Blackwelder is the County Extension Director with horticulture responsibilities with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County. Learn more about Cooperative Extension events and activities by calling 704-216-8970 Facebook or online at or