Kate Marshall looks at the best fruit trees to plant in community gardens.
Best trees for community gardens
Some fruit plants will grow readily from cuttings, which can be given away to the community or sold as a fundraiser.
Fruit plants provide excellent value for the time and money invested. While most vegetable plants need to be replanted each season, most fruit trees are productive for 10 years (at an absolute minimum!).
This makes fruit trees a good investment in community gardens.
The Taupo Community Gardens has a large range of fruit trees grown in the temperate climate, close to the great lake. Produce from the orchard goes to the Taupo Food Bank and Taupo Hospice as well as the 10 volunteers who tend to the gardens on a regular basis.
One volunteer Anja Schaar says that the top performers in the orchard are the plum trees (especially ‘Luisa’), the apple trees (‘Monty’s Surprise’ is a stand out), a couple of exceptional quinces and a sweet cherry tree which crops heavily thanks to Taupo’s cold winters and hot, dry summers.
A nectarine and peach that don’t perform well under those conditions are going to be ripped out.
Feijoa and lemon trees were recently planted. Figs and walnuts are being considered too, though the eventual size of the latter is causing long consideration of the correct placement.
For other community gardens looking at planting fruit trees, Anja’s main advice is to get the spacing right. “Once they are established, they are usually bigger than you thought they would be.”
She also advises that fruit trees do better with TLC – that means regular pruning and fertilising. Compost tea or worm juice tea spray also helps with disease prevention.
In Taupo, work has also been done to improve the structure and moisture-retaining qualities of the soil, as it is naturally a poor pumice.
The food forest at Auckland’s Sanctuary Mahi Whenua also hosts a large range of fruit trees including citrus, plums and feijoas. “We also have many less common fruit trees, such as casimiroa or white sapote, kei apple, Queensland plum and mountain pawpaw,” says volunteer Dr Trevor Crosby. These were planted in the early 2000s when the Sanctuary was planned in Unitec days; they served as examples of different fruits that could be grown to give produce at different times of the year. “This philosophy of trying different fruits and vegetables has been maintained in the community garden setting.”
Trevor also reports that maintenance requirements for most of these trees is no greater than what is necessary for the more common fruit trees. “However, we have found that fast-growing casimiroa seems to be more susceptible to wind damage to branches.”
For maximum yield, all fruit trees do best in full sun and freedraining, fertile soil. Compromising on the position will result in lessthan-optimum crops, and possible disease risks.
When looking for the best picks for your community garden, choose varieties which are suited to the climate of the garden. Frost-tender plants such as avocado, citrus and passionfruit are best avoided in southern community gardens, whereas these will thrive in northern regions. Likewise, avoid high-chill stonefruit such as ‘Moorpark’ apricots and ‘Rainier’ cherries in spots with warm winters, but will thrive in colder regions.
To make the most of all of the fruit, choose varieties which are multipurpose: delicious eaten fresh but any excess can be preserved, dried or frozen. This helps through the winter months when there is little fresh produce to be harvested. Preserves, jams and chutneys are always popular, and so make great fundraiser items.
• Only a few fruit trees will tolerate having wet feet. For parts of the garden where the soil can be quite wet, plant persimmons, cherry guava, figs, apples and pears (except those on dwarf rootstocks).
• Fruit plants for free: Some fruit plants will grow readily from cuttings, which can be given away to the community or sold as a fundraiser. Figs grow well from cuttings taken in summer or winter. Suckers from raspberry bushes can be dug in winter and potted up.
• Attract bees and other beneficial pollinating insects and natural predators by planting comfrey, nasturtium, chamomile, coriander, dill, fennel, basil, lemongrass, mint, tansy, marigold or chives. They also enrich the soil when cut back and naturally composted.
Apple trees can do well in community gardens.