How to Grow Fruit Trees and Berries
Nothing is better than your own homegrown juicy fruit. Adding fruit trees to your garden offers you everything an ornamental tree does, but with the added bonus of fruit crops. You don’t need to start a large orchard; it’s easy to incorporate a few fruit trees into your garden planting or even grow them in pots.
Fruit trees can be planted at any time of the year when plants are available. Selecting the correct site to plant your fruit trees or berries is vital to their success. The three critical factors that you need to consider prior to planting are:
- Soil All fruit trees and berries do best in well-drained soil. If your soil is not ideal, you can add in Garden Time Compost to help with drainage of the soil, and you can also raise the height of the fruit tree when planting to avoid pooling around the trunk.
- Shelter Choosing a sheltered site is very important. Always try and select a warm, sheltered sunny position. Fruit trees only flower once a year and in a windy position, flowers can be blown off the tree. The end result is the fruit will not set, which means no crops!
- Sun Fruit trees and berries need maximum sun for maximum ripening of fruit to enhance the flavour. Choose a site that gets at least six hours of sunshine a day.
Planting fruit trees
- Prepare the planting site by digging a hole twice as wide and as deep as the container the tree came in.
- Add generous amounts of Daltons Premium Garden Mix or Garden Time Enriched Garden Mix to the hole and mix in well.
- Improve drainage by creating a mound at the bottom in the middle where the rootball will sit.
- Place the plant in the hole, replace the soil around the rootball and pat it to make it compact and firm.
- The ideal tree position is when it sits in the ground and the base of the stem is slightly higher than ground level. This prevents water pooling around the trunk and causing any rots.
- Stake the tree for extra support if required and apply a generous layer of Daltons Premium Mulch and Grow around the top but not touching the trunk of your tree.
When you are planting new berry plants, add in Daltons Premium Garden Mix or Garden Time Enriched Garden Mix to give them the best start. Ensure there is a structure for them to grow on or be supported by.
Choosing the Right Variety
Part of your fruit tree selection should be to ensure you have a year-round supply of fresh fruit. You can easily do this by planting a few varieties that crop at different times of the year.
With a lot of fruit trees, particularly pip and stone varieties, new plants are available in nurseries from late May till late August. When choosing your tree, it’s important to select vigorous young trees, avoiding any older trees that may have been in a planter bag or pot for a couple of years.
If you are purchasing berries, they will look odd when you first see them; just a simple stem. Raspberries or blackberries won’t have a lot of growth on them but will grow very rapidly grow once spring arrives. Most berry plants require something to be trained on (to grow up) such as against a north-facing wall, on a trellis or on wires they can be attached to as they grow.
There are many fruit tree and berry varieties to choose from.
It is very important to choose fruit tree varieties that will grow and fruit the best in your climate. For instance, some varieties such as citrus are frost sensitive, and others like stone fruit need winter chilling for fruit to set. While you can attempt to grow them outside their regions, you may experience varying levels of success. Some examples of what to grow where are:
|Need winter chilling and hot dry summers. Suited to the South Island.|
|Frost free areas of the North Island (good shelter and free draining soil are important).|
Varieties to try: Bearrs Lime, Cipo Orange, Sweetie (mandarin), Lemon Meyer, Tahitian Lime
|Warmer parts of the North Island and the northern parts of the South Island. See our How to Grow Citrus guide for more information on growing citrus.|
|Warmer parts of both North and South Islands.|
|STONE FRUIT (peaches, nectarines and apricots etc).
Varieties to try:
Peaches: Spring Crest, Red Haven, Paragon, Golden Queen.
Nectarines: Snow Queen, Goldmine, Fantasia, Red Gold.
Apricots: Moorepark, Sundrop, Trevatt.
|Need winter chilling. Suited to central Otago, Nelson and the Hawkes Bay region of New Zealand.|
BERRIES (boysenberries, blackberries, blueberries etc)
|Can be grown almost throughout New Zealand but produce better and
healthier fruit where there is a cooler climate.
|Can be grown well in most parts of New Zealand.|
Gemini, Marion, Triumphs, Wikitu.
Varieties to try: Apollo, Arhart, Bambina™ (dwarf), Den’s Choice, White or Golden Goose, Kakapo, Karamea, Pounamu, Unique
|Can be grown well in most parts of New Zealand (apart from exceptionally cold climates).|
Varieties to try: Cherry varieties (more frost hardy): Red Cherry (makes the finest jelly of any fruit), Yellow Cherry
Tropical varieties (very frost tender): Red Sensation, The Guava
|Warmer parts of the North Island and the northern part of the South Island.
Note: Tropical varieties are exceptionally frost tender.
Feeding and Watering
When applying fertiliser, follow the quantities on the packet and make sure it is applied out to the tree drip line and watered in well. For strong vigorous trees, apply Garden Time Berry Fertiliser or Garden Time Fruit & Citrus Fertiliser in early spring when plants are coming into growth. Then feed at six weekly intervals until mid-December, recommencing in mid-February and feeding through till autumn.
Give your fruit trees a deep watering two to three times a week during the growing season which is around mid to late October till April/May. Regularly water your tree throughout the summer months and keep a good layer of mulch around the tree to retain moisture, add nutrition and suppress weeds.
For juicy berries come harvest time, feed your berry fruit plants with Garden Time Fruit & Citrus Fertiliser or Garden Time Berry Fertiliser every 4-6 weeks from late October to Christmas, recommencing late February to mid-April. But be careful not over fertilise as you will produce more vegetative growth at the expense of your fruit.
General Care and Maintenance
A number of fruit tree varieties available have been grown on dwarf rootstock, which keeps the trees smaller and more accessible for pruning and collecting fruit, some examples being apples and citrus.
Pip and stone fruit will require the most pruning in your backyard orchard. If these trees are left un-pruned, they can grow very large, making harvesting fruit and caring for your trees more difficult. Aim to keep your fruit trees at a maximum height of 4 metres, and prune to provide the greatest exposure to sunlight which ripens the fruit, and air movement, helping deter insects from settling on fruit or leaves.
Firstly, remove spindly (smaller than pencil or finger size) growth and any inward-growing branches (or where they are crossing over) and then any obvious overcrowding of branches.
After pruning pip and stone fruit, it’s a good idea to spray with a copper compound such as Copper Oxychloride. This adds a protective layer and works as a preventative for a variety of fungal diseases. Always remember to clean your pruning tools beforehand to avoid spreading disease.
In general, when pruning berry fruit plants, remove the bulk of older wood during the end of the growing season e.g. April/May and tie up some young leaders (the very young light green shoots) which will be your fruiting canes in the second year. Canes older than two years usually produce little or no raspberries, and if the cane is even older and has not been pruned for a few years then this can also affect fruiting. When it comes to pruning your berry plants it’s best to cut back the canes to ground level at the end of the growing season.
Growing in Containers
If you are short on space and looking to plant fruit trees in a container, citrus are a great choice. In particular, Meyer Lemon, Clementine or Encore Mandarin and Bearrs Lime all have a small compact form. Red guava also grows very well in a container, as does and dwarf Feijoa Bambina. Plant using Garden Time Potting Mix. Be sure to water your container fruit frequently as they will easily dry out, especially during summer.
Pests and Diseases
One of the most frustrating things when cultivating your homegrown fruit is when birds get to it before you do, with figs, and grapes being the most popular. If your fruit trees, berry or vine fruit show signs of being eaten by birds cover them with bird netting as the fruit it starts to ripen.
The big advantage of growing your fruit in your backyard is that they are homegrown and are tree-ripened for maximum flavour. Although some fruit may end up with the odd natural mark they will still taste delicious!
Careful cultivation and continual observation is the key to successful home gardening, so check trees and plants regularly to head off any potential problems before they occur. If you have chosen the best plant varieties for your part of New Zealand then you should have minimal problems.
It can take two to three years before your fruit tree (depending on variety) is well established so don’t expect it to be laden with fruit immediately, but the beauty of fruit trees is that they bear fruit for many years.
Generally fruit trees are self fertile with a few exceptions such as plums, nashis, pears and cherries which require specific pollinators eg a second tree planted in close vicinity to enable them to bear fruit (pollinate). Others are self-fertile and will fruit without a partner. The other exception for fruit trees is that some have separate male and female plants, the classic example in New Zealand being kiwifruit. Your local garden centre can guide you on the plants when you purchase.
Gardening Terms Explained
Cultivation planting, raising, improving and harvesting plants.
Frost tender sensitive to frost.
Drip line directly under the outer circumference of the trees branches.
Cropping an amount of fruit on a tree.
Root ball the roots and soil amassed at the bottom of a plant.
Ornamental a tree that does not produce fruit.