Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Fruit Tree Series #1

It’s that time of year again, fruit tree sale time! The time to consider buying a fruit tree for your yard. Yes, we can grow an extensive variety of fruit in and around the Houston area.

What kind of fruit?, you ask. Well, just about every part of the Houston area can grow the following: apples, avocado, banana, blackberries, blueberries, cherries (and cherry look-a-likes), figs, grapes, grapefruit, jujubes, kumquats, lemons, limes, limequats, mandarins, nectarines, oranges, peaches, pears, persimmons, plums, pomegranates, satsumas, tangelo, tangerines. But, the devil is in the details.

Here are some highlights of what you should think about when buying a fruit tree at any of the local fruit tree sales or local nurseries. If you are new to gardening, be very wary of buying fruit trees or berries at the local big box stores, many of those varieties will not produce fruit in our climate.

Depending on what part of town you live in will determine how successful you will be at growing specific varieties of all of these fruits. If you live on the north side of town you will have more chill hours than folks on the south side of town (for example). Chill hours are the average number of hours temperatures in your area are between 32 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Chill hours are important to pay attention to when choosing your tree!

Here are some estimated chill hours (Source: Urban Harvest)
300 hours or less: Gulf and Bay Beach Areas, Hobby Area, Inner City/Southern Houston
400-600 hours:  Harris County (other than above), Interior of Coastal counties, & Ft. Bend County
600-900 hours: Counties north of Harris and South of Austin (including College Station, Conroe & Huntsville)

You need the right number of chill hours so that you have successful fruiting, but they are also an important consideration for tropical trees. The more chill hours you have the more likely it is that you will have to protect trees such as mango, avocado, limes and bananas. It’s not impossible for you to grow these, but it may take more effort because they will need winter protection. So, think about how much time you are willing to devote to your trees.

Making sure the trees get enough sunlight is another consideration. Most of the trees need full sun, be sure to read the sunlight requirements for each variety before choosing one for your yard.

IMG_0659So, you don’t think you have room for a fruit tree in your tiny yard? No problem. You have some options.
  • Get a dwarf variety
  • Prune it to the size that you need it to be
  • Grow it in a container
  • Get one of the 2 in 1, 3 in 1, or 4 in 1 trees so you can have multiple varieties of fruit on one tree. These trees have one rootball/one trunk and multiple varieties of a single type of fruit (such as apple or peach) grafted onto them. Don’t worry, there is no freaky science going on here. These are not genetically modified, nothing to worry about. (pictured to the right is a 3 in 1 Peach)
Another option is to attend one of Angela Chandler’s High Density Orchard Management for Backyard Gardener’s classes. There is one on January 12th at UH and one at Arbor Gate on January 23rd.  

Pruning This is another area to pay attention to, especially if you don’t have extra time to learn about pruning your trees or to actually prune them. If you want the least amount of pruning, get a citrus tree (these also happen to be one of the only trees that will do ok in part sun).  Here’s a nice pruning article in Texas Gardener  

Pollination Most of the varieties sold at the local fruit tree sales are self-fruiting. Meaning, they do not need another tree nearby for pollination. But, make sure you read the descriptions to make sure. New this year at the sales are true cherries called Minnie Royal and Royal Lee. You MUST get one of each if you actually want to have any cherries, which I am sure you do since you bought a cherry tree! Other varieties that need pollinators are pears, muscadines, some plums, & blueberries.

Fruit Tree Sales There are many fruit tree sales around town benefiting local garden organizations. Although, all of them are popular, the Urban Harvest fruit tree sale is the biggest one and gets the season kicked off on January 15th. Folks come to this sale from all over the metro area and Urban Harvest will be selling trees for all the local climatic zones. Don’t worry if you miss this one, there are others. Try to make it to one that is closest to you. They are likely to have trees that will be most suitable for your area. If you remain on the fence about getting a fruit tree and all the sales have passed, many local nurseries such as Buchanan’s, Wabash, and Arbor Gate carry some of the same trees that will be sold at the fruit tree sales. view Upcoming Fruit Tree Sales (Urban Harvest and Master Gardener)

For more information, visit the following links:
Urban Harvest
Apples and Pears article in the Houston Chronicle
Peaches and Plums article in the Houston Chronicle
Jujube article in Texas Gardener
Fall Berries in Texas Gardener
Banana article in Texas Gardener
Figs article in Texas Gardener  

Book Recommendations: Every vegetable and fruit tree gardener in Houston should have this book: Year Round Vegetables, Fruits, and Flowers for Metro Houston by former Urban Harvest director Bob Randall. I also like All About Citrus and Subtropical Fruits for general information and nice pictures.  

My final recommendation: Everyone should have at least one citrus tree in their yard. Citrus trees are one of the easier trees to grow and are a great tree for beginners. They don’t need much attention (in fact I know of several that get no attention and have the most amazing fruit you’ve ever tasted), no skilled pruning required, and they are one of the few fruit trees that can take part shade.

Stay tuned for more posts this week about fruit trees!

Fruit Tree Series #2


  1. Excellent information. Thank you. I've been considering what fruit tree I might be able to add to my yard this year - and where - and you've given me more food for thought on the subject. I look forward to the rest of your series.

  2. Thanks Dorothy, glad it was informative.

  3. Great guide! Just updated my fruit tree sale post on Tuesday to include a link to your series. Loved the information!
    After taking the Urban Harvest's fruit tree class, have you decided which trees you're picking up at the sale? I'm curious what everyone else is excited to grab.

  4. Kim,
    I am planning on getting blueberries, jujube, peach, plum, banana, and kumquat. That will about double my current orchard. The trick will be running around and grabbing everything before it is gone. :)

  5. Thanks for this fantastic article. It contains whole lot data which I need. I am bookmark your site by my next visit.

  6. Hi Houston garden girl
    Thx. I really want cherry and pomogranate in my sugar land houses. where can i get the trees ?

  7. I am an avoid flower gardener and am excited that I have cleared an area about 15 ft x 15 ft in my back yard for some citrus trees. How many do you think I can fit there? I would like lemon, apple, peach, avocado, blueberry (this will be in containers). Thanks in advance!