Watch for Road Blocks

If you’re considering growing fruits, good idea. You’re probably dreaming about, in a few years, being able to reach for a ripe red apple, a peach, a cherry, or a plum from a fruit laden branch. To a large degree depending on where you garden, you could be paving the way for disappointment. Insect and disease pests, and specific pruning needs, are potential road blocks for many of the more common fruits. Peach fruit on branch

Yet, luscious fruits plucked from a backyard plants are such a delicacy. What else but a fruit could have tempted Adam and Eve? Fortunately, many fruits need only a minimum amount of care. What follows are easy-to-grow fruit plants, grouped into three categories, from the very easiest to the “hardest easiest.”

Easiest Peasiest

The first category includes plants that you merely set in the ground, then come back in a couple of years for the first of many years of harvest. Well, almost nothing else to do. You may recognize in this category some plants commonly grown as ornamentals. Their flavorful fruits have too often been overlooked. 

Highbush cranberry with fruit

Highbush cranberry

Quite a few bushes fall into this category, including elderberry, beach plum, highbush cranberry, and nannyberry viburnum. All roses bear edible fruits if their flowers are not cut. Amongst rose species, Rosa rugosa (considered invasive in certain regions)and R. pomifera bear largest fruits, called hips, with sizes somewhere between that of marbles and golf balls.

Another sometimes-planted ornamental, oft-overlooked for its fruit, is Nanking cherry. Pinkish-white blossoms adorn the bare reddish stems in very early spring and the small, scarlet, delectable cherries ripen in early summer. Nanking cherry fruits and flowersOne of my favorite plants and fruit, Nanking cherries also are quick to come into bearing.

Juneberry (also called serviceberry, shadbush, shadblow, and amelanchier) species are either bushes or small trees. The plants are clouds of white blossoms in the spring and then bear small, blue fruits resembling blueberries but only in appearance. Taste the fruit and you’ll find it has the sweet, rich flavor of sweet cherry, with a hint of almond aftertaste. Juneberry is a relative of apple and shares some of its pest problems. Despite my love of the fruits, my site is poor for fruit growing so I can’t grow juneberries here. But I can harvest them from better situated ornamental plantings nearby.

Cornelian cherry is another small tree, a dogwood relative whose creamy yellow blossoms welcome in the first days of spring and then are followed in summer by scarlet “cherries.” The fruits are tart but tasty to many people (60 percent of tasters by my seat-of-the-pants surveys), and good for tarts, jams, and sorbets.Cornelian cherry fruit Other tree fruits in this easiest-to-grow category include mulberries, pawpaws, and American persimmons. Almost everyone is familiar with mulberry, and the only caution here is not to plant it near walkways where the fruits will be carried on the bottoms of shoes to carpets indoors.

Pawpaw fruits are custardy, with banana-like flavor. Here is a plant with many tropical aspirations: large, lush green leaves; fruit developing in clusters like bananas; and kinship with the mostly tropical custard apple family.pawpaw fruit

If I were to describe a persimmon fruit, I’d ask you to imagine a dried apricot that’s been soaked in water, dipped in honey, and given a dash of spice. This tree is pretty all summer long and especially in fall when the persimmon orange fruits poke out from behind the leaves.

Persimmon fruit perched on branch

Persimmon fruit perched on branch; makes a pretty picture but they don’t grow this way

Not your average grocery store fare, persimmon or pawpaw, but both are very easy to grow. Selected varieties of persimmons (I grow Szukis and Mohler) and pawpaws have been developed that bear better fruit than seedling trees.

Pruning, but Easy

My second category of easy-to-grow fruits includes those that require planting (of course), plus annual pruning. Plantings of bramble fruits — red, yellow, and black raspberries, and blackberries, — too often become unmanageable, unproductive tangles of prickles or thorns. This condition is easily avoided with annual pruning which, in contrast to the melding of art and science required for apple pruning, is a no-brainer.Red, yellow, and black raspberries

It’s hard to imagine that strawberry plants could eventually shade each other into unproductivity. But they do, and hence need annual pruning, in the form of thinning out of surplus plants. 

Gooseberries and currants also are much more pleasant to harvest, in addition to being more productive, when annually pruned.

Gooseberry varieties

Many varieties of gooseberry

Hardy kiwi is a cold-hardy, fuzzless relative of the grocery-store kiwi, green, grape-sized, and with a similar, but sweeter and richer, flavor. Just pop them in your mouth, smooth skin and all, like grapes. Two species are the ones usually grown for their fruits. You can get by with little pruning on the more sedate growing, midsummer bearing Actinidia kolomikta. A. arguta, the other species will send out many 10-foot-long stems; it’s fruit ripen late summer or early fall — and you have to prune it or it will tear down whatever arbor or fence you’re letting it climb on.Hardy kiwifruit

(Hardy kiwi has been accused of being an invasive plant. After decades of growing this plant and speaking to, and looking at plantings of, others who grow it, I strongly disagree with this accusation.)

Perhaps a Pest, Perhaps Not

My third category includes fruits that require, in addition to planting and annual pruning, a minimum amount of pest control. Such fruits still are easy-to-grow. This category includes grapes, pears, and blueberries. In a given season, pests may or may not be a problem, but be prepared to control them if they arise: a couple of diseases on grapes, perhaps one or two insects or diseases on pears, and birds on blueberries. 

Varieties amongst fruits in this latter category vary in their susceptibility to pests. Magness, Moonglow, Maxine, and Seckel, for instance, are pear varieties resistant to fireblight. I grow Magness, Seckel, and many other pear varieties and am happy to report no pest problems worth addressing in most seasons. Blackrot of grapes is less serious on grape varieties such as Delaware, Elvira, and Fredonia. I grow Brianna, Somerset Seedless, Alpenglow, Wapanuka, and Bluebell grape and keep pests at bay by enclosing a number of bunches in bakery bags.Bagged grapes

Birds are the main threat to blueberries, although they do leave my lowbush blueberry fruits more or less alone. In addition to lowbush blueberries, I grow highbush blueberries, which birds love.Blueberries So my blueberries grow in my Blueberry Temple which has permanent sides of birdproof netting, with additional netting draped over the top when fruits are ripening. Netting blueberriesProblem solved.

Now is the time to plan for fruit plants, not grow them. So do make these plans, but plan according to the effort you are willing to invest in caring for the plants.

(I cover the cultivation, adaptability, and potential pests of most of these fruits in my book Landscaping with Fruit.)

15 replies
  1. Richard
    Richard says:

    I’ve come to appreciate blackcurrants more and more. It’s no surprise that you can’t (in New Zealand) generally buy them in the stores fresh, given how long it takes to harvest, but I enjoy the time spent outside and often come away with up to 20 kg I have to give away which results in a dividend of jams and puddings.

    Gooseberries are another of my favourites. One of my bushes sourced long ago from someone who found it at an old gold field yielded 7 kilograms just by itself. I was given two worchesterberry plants by someone else and the vigor and thorns put me on the verge of tearing them out. I lazily let the fruit sit and ripen this year until I got around to picking them and they were well worth it – like a sweeter small gooseberry.

    Everything has to be netted here and depending on the fruit sometimes well before ripening or I’d get nothing! The sheep chewed through the netting on one thorny gooseberry plant from a neighbouring field this year and the birds got in and stole the lot.

  2. Vickey
    Vickey says:

    Inspiring, as always, thanks!
    Interesting to see you’re going w/the bakery bags to protect fruit bunches. We did try the organza bags, they’re a mess to clean. Have you decided against those?

  3. Diane Lassen
    Diane Lassen says:

    Great article! I did plant a pair of high bush cranberries and they grew well. But apparently Viburnums can get COVERED with tiny worms which utterly destroy the leaves leaving a very unsightly mess. Any thoughts on saving my bushes? I have had very little fruit/flowers on then since they are always stressed from the worms.

    • Lee Reich
      Lee Reich says:

      The pest is viburnum leaf beetle (Pyrrhalta viburni). When the shrub is leafless, between late fall and early spring, take a pair of pruning shears and inspect all the stem tips, where they lay there eggs, removing and destroying those that bear the characteristic straight row of brown bumps, very literally nipping the infestation in the bud. Spraying with an insecticidal soap and pyrethrin will help, but it works best at the beginning of the season, when larvae are small.

    • Lee Reich
      Lee Reich says:

      For exotic fruit plants,
      For high quality common fruits,
      For specialist in blueberries,
      For berry specialist,

  4. Leslee
    Leslee says:

    The black currants from Rain tree Nursery are excellent.
    I planted Hills Kiev and Belruskaja. Both are productive in short order and so delicious.

  5. Bee
    Bee says:

    If one does not have a lot of space, is it possible to grow 2 hardy Kiwi plants side by side up and onto a T-trellis with the cordons going in one direction only? How long should the trellis be in that case?
    Thank you.

    • Lee Reich
      Lee Reich says:

      Yes, it’s possible if you grow Actinidia kilomikta male and female (sometimes sold as Arctic Kiwi). Right after blossoming the male can be pruned back rather severely. 15 feet of trellis would probably be ok.

  6. Bee
    Bee says:

    Thank you for your post! Would it be possible to grow hardy Kiwi plants on a sturdy arbor (instead of a T-trellis), since the fruit of hardy kiwi plants stores up to six months, and how can I prevent the posts of the arbor from rotting in the ground. Thank you.

  7. Stacy
    Stacy says:

    Curious of your favorite raspberry varieties. I’m in midcoast Maine 5b might be 6 by the new zone charts. Thx for all your knowledge shared.


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