Fruit Gardening on your Backyard Farm for an Amazing Harvest

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Fruit gardening, or growing plants, trees and bushes that produce fruit is a key addition to a backyard farm.  Unlike growing vegetables, fruit gardening needs careful planning as many of the trees will take years to begin producing and are more difficult to move if you plant them in the wrong place.  Growing your own fruit bushes, trees and plants will add amazing variety to your garden.  If you are willing to wait, fruit crops will reward you with delicious fruit year after year.

Fruit Gardening on Your Backyard Farm


Fruit Gardening on your Backyard Farm

You don’t need a huge space to grow your own fruit and small backyard or urban farms are a great place to incorporate a few fruits producing trees and bushes.  If you want to grow fruit trees, you can select smaller varieties or prune to keep the trees small, you can grow berry bushes in raised beds, and even grow strawberries in containers.

There is a high initial investment in purchasing fruit trees and bushes and it takes more time to get everything planted and cared for the first year; however, since you are only doing this one time, fruit gardening is a great way to ensure a long harvest for many years.  It’s important to think carefully about your overall backyard farming goals to ensure that you select the correct locations for your fruit garden.  

If you haven’t looked at the planning pages of this website, you may want to start there to make sure you don’t plant an apple tree where you will someday build a chicken coop!!

Site Selection for Fruit Crops

It’s important to keep your entire property in mind when selecting where to plant your fruit.  If you have space, you can create an orchard, berry patch, and rows of strawberry plants.  If you are gardening in a small space, you will likely need to incorporate your fruit garden into other spaces.  Is there somewhere you can tuck an apple tree where it won’t shade your vegetable garden?  Can you put a berry patch along your driveway?  Here are a few things to consider when planting fruit.

  • Find a place with full sun if possible.  Most fruiting plants and trees need full or close to full sun in order to produce fruit.  If possible look for a south facing slope
  • Your fruit trees and bushes need healthy and rich soil and it may be difficult to adjust the soil after you’ve planted
  • Think ahead – what will your tree or bush look like in 3, 5 or 10 years?  Will your pear tree completely shade your blueberry bushes?
  • Frost – many trees send out early spring blossoms and an early frost can kill your fruit before it even gets started.  Avoid low points on your property where cold air gathers on spring nights (Read about Weather and Climate on the Backyard Farm for info on microclimates)

If you don’t have the land for planting trees and bushes you can plant dwarf varieties or small trees in large planters.  Strawberry plants and blueberry bushes are also good choices for container plantings.   You can also look at vining plants that fruit (such as grapes) that can grow up a structure.   Many fruiting trees and bushes have gorgeous flowers and fall colors and will easily earn a spot in your flower garden along ornamentals.

Choosing Crops for Your Fruit Garden

Unlike your vegetables, which you can change from year to year, most fruit crops are perennial and in some cases will last a lifetime. It is important to think carefully about which crops to plant before you start. Similar to when you start a vegetable garden, with fruit gardening, you should begin small and add more each year as you learn what works for you and your space. When choosing fruit crops, keep these thoughts in mind:

  • Grow what you love to eat!
  • Whatever else you plant, consider starting with some strawberries or brambles as these will produce fruit as quickly as the second year
  • Select fruit trees and bushes that are appropriate for your zone and space
  • If you have limited space, plant dwarf trees (or prune large fruit trees to stay small). These will also reward you with a quicker harvest
  • Many trees, such as some apple trees, require other trees to successfully pollinate them – make sure you check carefully before planting only one tree
  • Consider some of the lesser known fruits such as elderberry, quince, hardy kiwi, and currants

In the sections below, you can find highlights of many of the easiest fruits to grow and the most common fruit found on the backyard farm. 


Fruit Gardening Methods

There are many gardening methods for both vegetable and fruit gardening.  Most of these practices encourage thinking of growing fruit holistically.  This means thinking about the placement of fruiting trees and bushes carefully and how this relates to the entire garden.  What plants can you grow around a fruit tree to encourage a healthy fruit harvest. 

One method is to grow a Fruit Tree Guild.  A fruit tree guild is a technique where plants are placed around a fruit tree in a mini-garden.  These plants and the tree at the center create a mutually beneficial environment of several layers.  If you have a small space in particular you can benefit from planting in guilds and you can plant several bushes and plants close together to maximize the harvest.  You can learn more about this permaculture technique in the book Permaculture Design or how to grow a food forest in the Holistic Orchard.

Crop Options for Fruit Gardening

Fruit Trees

Fruit trees are fun to grow and produce fruit for years.  It’s important to think carefully about the types of tree you will plant and where you will locate them on your property.  The best time to plant fruit trees is in the later winter after the ground is thawed but while the trees are still dormant.  Dig a hole that is twice as large as your root ball in well drained soil and spread the roots out before covering them with soil.  The tree should be planted at the same depth as it was previously and you should make sure that the graft union is above the soil surface.  Water your tree well.  You may also want to consider mulch, wrapping your tree for rodent protection, beneficial plantings around the base, fertilizer, fencing for rodent or deer protection, and consistent watering.  Pruning is also very important for growing fruit trees and managing their size and production.

Apples Trees – these popular fruit trees come in many varieties, are easy to grow, and hearty in many climates.  Apple trees prefer slightly acidic (6.5), well-drained, and fertile soil.  You will get the best fruit if you grow more than one tree for pollination.  

Cherries – These beautiful trees come in many varieties and produce both pie and sour cherries.  Cherries sometimes need protective netting to keep your cherries from birds so smaller trees can be easier to manage.

Peaches and Nectarines – these trees are slightly more finicky than other fruit trees and need deeper fertile soil.  They are very difficult to grow below zone 5.  Unlike apple trees that last for decades, peach trees and nectarine trees often don’t live as long as a result of insect damage.

Plums – I love fresh plums from the garden, but these crops can be difficult due to the early blooming time and susceptibility to late frosts.  Plums need at least 2 trees for pollination.

Pears – pears are another easy tree to grow between zones 4-7.  Pears are the one tree fruit that should be harvested before they become ripe.

Citrus – Citrus trees such as lemon and kumquat are a great option for those in a warm climate (above zone 8b). You will still need to watch them during cold weather when the temperatures drop below freezing.

Fig – another fun fruit tree to try is a fig tree.  There are several varieties that do well in the cooler zones (such as Chicago Fig) or you can grow figs in containers and bring them inside during the winter.  These are beautiful and fun trees to grow.

Pawpaw – this special fruit looks like a mango, but grows down to zone 5.  The trees are pretty, with amazing flowers in the spring.  You will need at least 2 trees for pollination.

Blackberries growing on a backyard farm


Garden berries are perfect for eating straight off the plant or adding to your favorite salad or pie, not to mention making delicious jams and jellies.  These plants are all excellent choices for small spaces and can be tucked into corners or showcased with their own raised bed.

Strawberries – these low plants are typically one of the first fruits of the year.  Strawberry plants produce the best for 1-3 years, but can be managed by cutting the offshoot daughter plants as they grow or replanting them.  Plant in rows or garden beds.

Blueberries or Lingonberries – Both these plants prefer acidic soil (4.5-5.5).  You should adjust your soils pH prior to planting and work to maintain a low pH through mulching.  Both these berry bushes are decorative as well as producing delicious and healthy berries.

Blackberry and Raspberry Bushes – growing these brambles is a perfect way to use a sunny corner or edge of your yard.  These bushes send up individual canes that live for a few years at the most.  Once established, your berry patch will produce year after year.

Elderberry – Elderberry are fun to grow both for their flowers and for their berries.  This easy to maintain bush like having a second plant for pollination and does well in wet areas.  You can find these plants growing wild in certain areas in low lying areas.

Currants and Gooseberries – these fun to grow, less common fruits are a great addition to a garden.  Just a few plants will produce enough for your family so you don’t need a huge space.  

Vining Fruits

Vining fruits add a different element to your overall fruit gardening plan since they can be grown vertically on an arbor, trellis, shed, or other support.  

Grapes – Grapes are fun to grow and can add beauty to your garden.  We’ve grown grapes on their own supports but also up the corner of a building.  There are many varieties that can be used for fresh eating, pies and jelly, and making wine or juice.

Hearty Kiwi – these vigorous vines need both a male and female plant to produce fruit and once they are established will produce fun small sized hearty kiwi.  

Fruit gardening - melonw growing

Annual Fruit Plants

There are several fruits that grow as annuals and can be planted in your vegetable garden or incorporated into your overall backyard farm.  There are fruits that we typically think of as vegetable (such as tomatoes) but watermelon, cantaloup and other melons are also grown on vining annuals.

Melons – This group includes many different types of melon plants.  If you select the right varieties, these warm loving plants can be grown in many zones.  Make sure to look at the days to harvest and compare this to your growing season to make sure the fruit will have time to ripen.  Melons are also heavy feeders so benefit from good soil health.

Fruit Gardening Resources

Where to Get Your Plants, Bushes and Trees 

Trees, bushes and plants can all be purchased at local gardening centers or online.  Most online locations will ship bare root plants around the correct time for planting.  There are benefits to both options.  Purchasing from you local garden center will often give you plants well suited to your climate and they are easy to plant since the roots are already in soil.  Ordering your plants online often gives you a wider selection of varieties.  We prefer ordering our trees, bushes and seeds from Fedco but we’ve also ordered several other places when we’re looking for something specific.  Try to find a supplier that is located in your region for the best results.

Don’t forget about the importance of pollination for your backyard fruit garden – learn more about attracting pollinators with a bee garden and the best plants for bees.

Supplies and Tools

Below are a few of the resources and tools I recommend to help get you started on growing fruit in your backyard farm. There are more suggested tools for general gardening and backyard farming in the shop section.

If you are going to purchase one book about fruit gardening, I strongly recommend the book The Holistic Orchard.

A sturdy pair of pruning shears are important for managing trees and bushes.

A pruning saw will help tackle larger pruning projects for fruit trees.

A good garden shovel is needed for preparing soil and mulching

We always plant daffodils around our fruit trees to help control rodent damage.

Neem oil is our favorite defense against disease and insects for fruit trees

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