This article is part of the Gardening When You Are Unsure series for new and semi-new gardeners who want to start a garden, or step up their game. There is a lot of information in this series for gardeners to consider, and other articles in this series can be read here:
- What do I plant?
- How much do I plant?
- Preparing the soil
- Where to get your seeds
- Thoughts on co-gardening
- Perennials vs. annuals
Fruit and nut trees are important to discuss here. Many new gardeners can get themselves in trouble setting up their garden and then placing big beautiful trees either along a border or right in the middle. Often, the magnificence of their beauty deceives us into thinking they would be the perfect addition to our homestead garden, when really it just might be best if they have their own space.
Benefits of Fruit And Nut Trees
Once fruit and nut trees are established and producing, they will continue to produce each year (with some considerations being met). Although it will take more work and attention to the young trees the first year (or two), after this, they are pretty low maintenance.
One of the things I look forward to when the weather warms up is the produce that is growing and ripening. I can grow the vegetables in my garden that I want every year, but I can’t grow many fruits in there (other than my berries). Having trees would assist in balancing the two. Fruits tend to satisfy the sweet tooth in the summer and fall months as well.
Financially speaking, growing your own fruit could possibly save you more money that growing your own vegetables. And the money you would save on nuts? Wow. If you are a serious nut lover or vegan, you are saving some serious cash by growing your own.
If your goal is to be more self-sufficient, my personal opinion is that if you can possibly grow nuts in your area, you need to. If I was starting a homestead all over again, this is one of the first things I would do. Many people beginning their self-sufficiency journey don’t already know how to trap or hunt. Nuts provide a necessary protein intake–especially if the animals tend to disappear in your parts during the winter months.
As a bonus, fruit trees attract critters. After we have harvested our garden, the apples begin to ripen, and many fall on the ground. [Cue the deer: stage left.] If you were ever in a survival situation, trust me, you would rather they come to you than try to go looking for them.
Nuts and fruits store well.
A few fruits, such as apples and pumpkins will stay good for a while in a root cellar (if you have one, and if it stays cold). Other fruit will need to be bottled, dried or frozen.
Nuts also take a little bit of preparation, but can last a long time.
As a bonus, trees provide shade (especially larger nut varieties), and are very often pretty.
What To Consider When Picking Out Fruit and Nut Trees
Obviously, you’re going to have to think about the space you’ve got. While it may be tempting to put a couple of those cute little trees a few feet apart, in a few years, you’ll be wishing they were 10-20 feet apart (or more). If too close to each other, they will crowd each other and compete for the same sunlight and possibly soil nutrients.
If too close to a building, the roots can do serious foundational damage. As a general rule, plant the tree at least as far away from any structure as it will get tall.
Some nut trees will produce so much shade that nothing will grow underneath them. For this reason, you don’t want to have them in your garden in the same area that you will be growing your sun-loving vegetables.
Consider also time. You are going to be taking extra care of these trees the first year or two, and not reaping any reward. Depending on the fruit tree and age when you (trans)plant it, you could have fruit in a couple of years. With nut trees, you could be waiting 10 years. Anything you plant as a seedling is going to take a really long time.
If it’s your first year growing a garden, and you’ve decided to make it a large one, it will be very easy to forget about your trees once you plant them–and they need attention the first year. Keep that in mind when doing your planning.
Along with considering initial maintenance time, think about the time it will take to harvest and preserve. Both nuts and fruit will take more time to preserve than you might think if you’ve never done it before.
With your nuts, you’re going to have to look at each one of them to make sure a critter didn’t get them first whether you shake them out of the tree or pick them off the ground. They take time to dry too.
When you get ready to pick out your nut trees and varieties, do your research. It may be tempting to buy an early bearing tree, these are often not the best nuts. Early bearers can lead to a high yield. Overproduction can lead to poorer quality of nut.
You’ll also want to know something about their fertilization. Some fruits and nuts are self-fertile, which means they will bear fruit all by themselves. Some need another tree to bear. Still yet, some self-fertile trees produce more abundantly with a different variety nearby. Don’t want to buy two? If you have a neighbor, see what he has. If it’s close enough to cross-pollinate, you may only need one tree.
If you live in a colder climate, be careful of the nut trees you purchase. Many put their buds out in the winter, and this makes them susceptible to spring frosts. Interpretation: even though it says it’s a zone 4 and you live in a zone 4, you may not get fruit even though the tree will live.
That’s quite a bit to think about.
Right now we are adding a few fruit trees each year. We are trying to find varieties native to this area because we know they will do the best and have been selected by nature to be the best disease resistant match to the area as well.
Are you planning to plant any trees this year?