Using Fruit-Bearing Trees and Shrubs in Formal Landscapes for Added Fall Color

Reader Contribution by Eron Drew and Tierra Garden Organics
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Shiro Plum foilage

I work with gardeners of all skill levels on a regular basis. From beginners to experts, there are never a shortage of ideas about different ways to use plants in combination to create a beautiful outdoor display. Typically, the discussion revolves around various unknown or obscure cultivars of landscaping favorites such as coral bells, lilies or succulents. But it is very rarely that I hear about people incorporating fruit producing plants into their designs.

Usually, the fruit trees and bushes are kept separate from the ornamentals, confined to their own space, locked away in an orchard. What people fail to realize is that many of the great fruit producing shrubs and trees also make excellent aesthetic choices when putting together decorative flower beds. Through the change of seasons, these trees offer interest in a variety of ways.

There is often an explosion of blossoms in the spring, a bounty of bright and shiny fruit in summertime, and a profusion of lush foliar color as the days shorten and autumn brings with it cold nights and foggy mornings. When pruned, fruit producers offer interesting architecture and can be shaped to fit into even tight spaces such as deck planters.

Fruit Trees for Fall Foliage

So for the sake of discussion, I thought I would present to you various ideas for working more fruit into your yard without the need to re-do anything except maybe to replace that old and tired spirea or potentilla with something a little more fun.

Blueberries. With multiple sizes available (Gardeners can choose from a 6 foot tall hedge all the way to a small compact ground cover.) and a large selection of varieties suitable for nearly all zones, blueberries make an excellent substitute for small shrubs in your architectural landscaping. Berries mature from mid-late summer depending on variety and can range in size from extra-large to petit fruits. Fall color varies from deep burgundy to blazing crimsons and umbers. Pruning is fairly forgiving since new growth in healthy plants is vigorous and continuous.

Blueberries love acidic soils and should be amended regularly with peat moss to keep them happy and healthy. For this reason, they are very compatible with azaleas, rhododendrons and hydrangeas. In the winter, blueberries should be tied to a center stake (I use a spray-painted stick of re-bar) to keep the snow load from tearing off branches.

Blueberry Foliage in Fall

Honeyberries. Small in stature, honeyberries are a native to Russia. At maturity they bear a profusion of elongated blue fruits that are similar in flavor and texture to blueberries. Honeyberries are easy to care for and can grow rapidly under ideal conditions. Fall color for honeyberries is a rainbow of reds and golds.

Plums. The size of a fully mature plum tree varies depending on the rootstock used during grafting. Smaller sized trees are available when selecting a semi-dwarf root stock such as Mariana 2624 which produces a tree between 10-15 feet in height at maturity and acclimates well to a variety of climates and soil types. My favorite plum is the Shiro.

Plums tend to be loaded with an overwhelming display of white blossoms in the spring, a profusion of golden orb-shaped fruits in the summer (the plums are tangy and sweet at the same time without the squishiness that can be a turn off to non-plum lovers) and transitions to fiery gold foliage in the fall. These trees respond well to regular pruning and are fairly forgiving to individuals who are new to the art of bonsai.

Cherries. Even if you don’t get to eat the fruit, you are providing great bird habitat by incorporating a cherry or two into your landscape. As with plums, choose the correct rootstock that corresponds to your desired final mature tree size. Fall colors are often in various shades of persimmon. When establishing a cherry, the initial pruning is important to create a strong structural framework. Cherries tend to be less forgiving than plums when it comes to shaping.

Mulberries. These trees are exceptionally easy to grow and can reach a mature height of over 30 feet with a spread of 35 feet. They have a graceful form when properly pruned during the initial stages of growth and naturally exhibit generous, clean spacing between branches. For this reason, they make excellent shade trees. The fruits are delicious and attract a variety of seasonal birds such as cedar waxwings and tanagers. In the fall, mulberry leaves morph into a breathtaking display of canary yellow foliage.

Mulberry Foliage in Fall

The above are only a few examples of the multitude of choices that are available for working fruit into your existing landscape. You don’t need an orchard to enjoy fresh fruit. By incorporating a few select specimens into your already existing flower beds, you can enjoy the pleasure of eating seasonally without the commitment of maintaining a farm. Have Fun and Happy Gardening!

Eron Drew is co-owner of Tierra Garden Organics and retreat center manager at Tierra Retreat Center. One of her most recent projects is founding FARMY-Food Army, an organization aimed at offering support to small and start-up farms in North Central Washington and fundraising for a future equipment co-op. If you would like to read more from Eron including essays, past garden-related articles and more, please visit her personal blog, Farmertopia, and find all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here

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