Hard to believe it – but it is mid-July now and soon it will be time to plant fruit trees.
Back East, gardeners use the winter cold to dream and plan their planting just waiting for once it warms up. Here, in the heat of a Southwestern summer, we dream about what we will plant when it cools off. Indeed the cooler weather of fall is perfect for planting as far as most plants are concerned, especially for plants that bear fruit.
Cover image above – Natal plum. Good for Low and Middle Desert gardens.
With a little planning, your landscape could provide you with any number of delightful fruits almost all year long. So many to choose from! Some are old European favorites, some are Asian, and some are natives to our area.
First – A Caution
This is a quick list of food-providing landscape plants are ones that grow fairly easily in the low humidity and alkaline soils of the Southwest. Please note that not all of you will be able to grow all of these! My readers are scattered from USDA Zone 10 to USDA Zone 4, and this is a wide range of climates. I have lived in the Southwest most of my life, and I am still learning about new plants to use.
Never heard of some of these and wonder how to use them? Please take a look at another blog I write for, Savor the Southwest. We write about how to forage, harvest, and use a number of wild and landscape plants.
All the plants mentioned below can be planted up until 3 weeks before first official frost date in your area of the Southwest. ! But not all of them can be planted in your zone.
Fruits for the Southwest
Apple, apricot, Asian pear, bamboo, Barbados cherry (Malpighia emarginata), Capulin cherry (Prunus salicifolia), carob, citrus (including blood orange, calamondin, citron, grapefruit, kumquat, lemon, lime, mandarin, pumelo, sour orange, sweet orange, tangelo, tangerine, and tangor), date, desert peach (Prunus andersonii), Western elderberry (Sambucus mexicanus), fig, grape, pineapple guava (Feijoa sellowiana), strawberry guava (Psidium littorale), hackberry (Celtis pallida), Hottontot fig (Carpobrotus edulis), jaboticaba (Myrciaria cauliflora), jujube (Ziziphus jujube), kiwi, litchi (Lichi chinensis), loquat (Eriobotrya japonica), mahonia, mulberry (Morus species), Natal plum (Carissa grandiflora), nectarine, olive, palm, passion fruit (Passiflora edulis), peach, pear, pomegranate, sand cherry (Prunus pumila), Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana), Oriental persimmon, plum, pomegranate, quince, and white sapote (Casimiroa edulis).
More List Later
While the above list seems long, I have neglected to mention a number of groups. Nuts, berries, succulents (saguaro, yucca, etc.) and a number of more exotic fruiting landscape plants – the ones hard to come by or grow without special protection (like bananas). These will have to wait for later posts.
Divide the List
The plant list above can be divided a number of ways, but let’s go by temperature. There are temperate (cold climate) plants, subtropical plants and tropical plants. Tropicals can not tolerate freezing. Subtropicals can take mild freezing, down to about 26F. Most temperate plants must be protected from heat. Planting in microclimates can help deal with this.
Microclimates for temperate plants are east facing areas, where they get sun in the morning but not afternoon blazing heat. North yards are good too – where they do not get direct sun.
Temperate plants are divided into two categories: those requiring chilling, and those that do not. Some temperate plants will not set fruit without a certain number of days of chilling air temperature. Luckily, these fruits are available in “low-chill” varieties – meaning they require a low number of chill hours. Apple, apricot, and peach have low-chill varieties. Old favorites like Elberta peaches require high chill and can only be grown in cooler areas of the Southwest. Rather than list varieties, I advocate calling your local Cooperative Extension Service for the latest varieties that will grow in your corner of the Southwest.
Microclimates for subtopicals are south facing walls that capture heat all day, then help warm the plant at night in winter. Subtropicals are easiest to grow in Low and Middle Desert (Yuma, Tucson, Phoenix, Deming, Las Vegas) because those are basically subtropical climates. A few nights of blankets thrown over subtropical plants is easier and cheaper than gallons of water for temperate plants that will not grow well in triple digit heat.
There are a number of fruit tree specialists in our unique region. A good search engine will find them, or visit a reputable nursery, not a big box store. If they don’t carry it, they should be able to order it.
If you shop via catalog or online, verify that they can ship to Arizona or California before you drool all over their catalogs (or your keyboard). Arizona and California have some specific rules about shipping plants to their states. To be fair, so does Florida – but not too sure I have readers from there.
Need Some Fruit Selection Help?
May I recommend my book? The Southwest Fruit & Vegetable Guide offers not just growing guides but some of the latest varieties – including ones specifically for raised bed and container growing. Price is what you would pay on Amazon – only when you buy from me you get a signed copy!
From the review:
“In this updated 2nd edition of Southwest Fruit & Vegetable Gardening, you’ll find much-needed advice and practical tips on growing an edible garden, no matter which part of the southwestern US you call home.
Growing in the Southwest isn’t easy. It’s either too hot or too cold and often very dry. The region hosts a range of soils and climate conditions that can be difficult for a gardener to navigate. That’s why this region-specific garden guide is a must-have for every Southwestern gardener!
Botanist Dr. Jacqueline Soule simplifies the ins and outs of gardening in the Southwest and serves as your guide to success. Regardless of whether you’re tending an in-ground plot, a small container garden, or a series of raised beds, Southwest Fruit & Vegetable Gardening is an invaluable resource.”
Profits from the sale of this book via my book selling site go to the Arizona-based Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute.
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