Having your own small backyard fruit orchard is a wonderful and rewarding treasure.
Fruit tree blossoms are lovely in spring and the fruit itself is tasty and fresh. But why go to all that trouble to grow fruit trees and shrubs that yield the same apples and pears that you can easily buy at the farmer’s market?
Instead, why not try some unusual and uncommon fruits that are just as easy to grow as the more common fruits? All of them grow well here in the Northeast and are increasingly available at your favorite nursery or garden center, as well as by mail order from Miller Nurseries in Canandaigua, NY (www.millernurseries.com).
Asian Pear – Pyrus pyrifolia. Also called Korean, Japanese or nashi pear, these crispy pears are not pear shaped at all. They are more rounded than European pears and have firmer crispier flesh. Chojuro, Shinseiki and Hosui are just three of the cultivars you can grow. Not really that great in pies, they are wonderful added to salads or served on a cheese platter. It is best to grow two Asian pear trees for best pollination, but they do come in dwarf size so they won’t take up too much room.
Flat White Peaches – Prunus persica. Sometimes called doughnut or Saturn peaches, these sweet, white-fleshed peaches are really delicious. Originally from China, flat peaches have been grown in the US since the 1880s, but they are just starting to become popular here in the Northeast. They are freestone, making them easy to eat out of hand, but they also are great cooked and tossed in salads. Trees are about 10-feet tall and you will only need one since they are self-pollinating.
Green Gage Plums – Prunus domestica Reine Claude. Named after both Renaissance French Queen Claude and the aristocratic Gage family in England, green gage plums were grown by both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. These golf-ball sized yellow to green hued plums are very sweet and grow on self-pollinating trees that reach only about 10 to 12 feet tall. They are best eaten out of hand, but they can also be stewed into preserves. I think of all the fruit trees, the blossoms of the plum are the prettiest.
Gooseberry – Ribes hirtellum. Until recently, gooseberries were illegal to grow in New York because they were susceptible to white pine blister rust disease which was harmful to commercial forests. Now that you can grow gooseberries, you should. They are compact shrubs, three feet tall and wide, they will tolerate some shade and all they ask is they you give them plenty of composted manure for growth. The fruits are small, about the same size as a marble and they can be eaten out of hand, or made into preserves or pie. Pixwell is one of the most common cultivars.
Black Currant – Ribes nigrum. Like gooseberries, black currants were also banned in New York until recently. Black currants grow on a shrub three feet tall and wide. The fruit is used mostly for juice, jams and in baking. Black currant juice is used widely to flavor vodka and is the juice you add to wine or champagne to make kir or kir royal. Currants are very high in Vitamin C and many people now say they are high in antioxidants and other essential nutrients making them very good for your health.
There are many other wonderful underutilized fruits you could grow: mulberries, quince, beach plum, elderberries, paw paws, persimmon, hardy kiwi, American cranberry, Cornelian cherry, even figs to name just a few.
For more detailed information on how to plant, fertilize, prune and care for pests, visit Cornell’s horticulture website at www.gardening.cornell.edu.
Larry Sombke is a garden designer, landscape consultant, author of Beautiful Easy Flower Gardens, Times Union garden blogger and the host of his own blog www.beautifuleasygardens.blogspot.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.