Fall is the best time to plant many kinds of fruit trees and shrubs. Choosing which fruit will be best for our yards is mostly an enjoyable process. We often choose our home garden fruits using criteria like these:
- Which fruits we like the to eat
- Fruit that a neighbor or friend is growing successfully
- A new variety that sounds amazing/awesome in catalog descriptions
- An unusual fruit that no one else you know is growing
- A fruit that you like but cannot seem to find in stores or markets
Then we move on to the more nit-picky criteria, like these:
- Compatibility with our growing zone (USDA hardiness zone) and soil type (don’t know your hardiness zone? Check the map at this link.)
- Size at maturity of the plant (is there enough room for the full-size plant)
- Sun or shade requirements (does our yard have enough sunlight vs. too much shade)
- Work required to maintain a healthy plant (extensive pruning, pest control)
- Whether two varieties are needed for the plant to make fruit (adequate space in the yard)
I have read some garden experts recommend, though, that home gardeners also consider plant families when choosing which fruits to grow, especially if there already are several fruit trees, shrubs, or vines growing in the yard.
What are plant families, and why are they important?
The Science Education Resource Center (SERC) at Carlton College (Northfield, MN) describes plant families this way:
Plants that have similar flowers, reproductive structures, other characteristics, and are evolutionarily related, are grouped into plant families. Species in the same plant family tend to have similar growth characteristics, nutrient needs, and often the same pests (pathogens, herbivores).InTeGrate, Interdisciplinary Teaching about Earth for a Sustainable Future, Plant Families module
That last bit about similar nutrient needs and shared pests is why most vegetable gardeners rotate crops from different plant families to different spots in their vegetable gardens each year. Moving the crop families around can reduce the risk of pest problems and nutrient deficiencies. (See my related articles Benefits of Crop Rotation and Growing [and Eating] What’s Good for the Garden.)
As an organic gardener, finding ways to reduce pest and disease problems in my food plants, without using even organic-approved treatments, is a major goal. Chemical gardeners will also appreciate spending less time and money treating problems that could potentially be avoided.
Choosing fruit trees, shrubs, and vines from different plant families might, like crop rotation in the food garden, help reduce some of these problems in our yards. One family in particular, that includes many of our favorite fruit plants, is the rose family, Rosaceae. It is easy to overload a yard with rose family plants. However, it is also possible to intersperse fruit plants from different families in a fairly small yard, to head-off potential problems.
Wait — how do you say that?
Official plant family names always end with the three letters “eae”. That combination does not turn up often in our usual, everyday speech or reading, so any confusion over what that might sound like is totally expected. In case you are curious — we say that group of letters out loud like this: “uh ee”.
As an example, the plant family name Rosaceae sounds like “Ro zay suh ee”.
Below is a list of some plant families and their fruits that you might choose among:
Plant families for some popular fruits
Rosaceae – apple, pear, peach, quince, plum, almond, blackberry, raspberry, strawberry, apricot, hawthorn, cherry, loquat, mayhaw, and medlar. Ornamental plants in this family that might also be in your yard include roses, pyracantha, and spirea.
Moraceae – fig, mulberry. An ornamental plant in this family is Osage orange.
Ericaceae – blueberry, huckleberry, cranberry (this last one is not for the South). Ornamental plants in this family that might also be in your yard include azaleas and rhododendrons.
Vitaceae – muscadine, scuppernong, table and wine grape. Ornamental plants in this family include Ampelopsis pepper vine and Virginia creeper.
Ebenaceae – American persimmon and Asian persimmon
Annonaceae – paw paw
Lythraceae – pomegranate
Adoxaceae – elderberry
Rutaceae – lemon, lime, orange, kumquat, mandarin, satsuma, grapefruit — essentially all of what we call citrus fruits. These generally are tropical or subtropical plants, best for hardiness zones 9 and 10, but some species/varieties can tolerate life in hardiness zone 8 and even 7 when protected from the deepest cold.
Musaceae – banana, plantain. Like members of the Rutaceae family, the banana family plants generally require subtropical or tropical climate to thrive and produce fruit. Some species can survive much cooler conditions, but producing and maturing fruit is less likely outside of hardiness zones 9 and 10.
Fruit plant families in my yard now
I have listed in a table, grouped by plant family, all the fruit plants that are growing in my yard. Most of these are new enough, and young, that they are not yet producing fruit. Some may not survive (always a risk), but most of these will start giving us fruit in the next year or two. Here is the table:
Your list, for your own yard, obviously, is going to look very different from mine. The paw paws and pomegranates are still in pots, where I have grown them from seeds, but they will be planted in the yard this fall. At some point, too, I would like to add passion vine. I planted one last spring, but the spot was much more wet than I thought it would be, and the vine did not survive. My new yard in zone 9a still has plenty of surprises for me!
Additional note: the ginger and turmeric are not fruits, but I put them in the list because I expect them to be in the same spots year after year, and the ginger Family is in the same Order as bananas. (Plant Families are grouped into Orders of related Families.)
Postcard from the Mississippi Gulf Coast
My new hometown is a delight. This is where we walk almost every day:
Hope your fall gardens are all planted and trouble-free!