Apples and peaches are the king and queen of fruits, but they are also among the most difficult to grow in Central Texas. It’s nearly impossible to produce an acceptable crop without regular pesticide applications; however, there are some fruits that consistently produce high-quality fruit with minimal pesticides.
Fig trees grow quickly to fruit-producing size and produce a large crop most years without pesticide sprays or pruning. Consider the varieties Texas Everbearing, Celeste or Brown Turkey. Plant figs in full sun allowing about 10 feet of space on all sides of the plant.
While figs can survive without irrigation, they are not xeriscape plants. To produce a full crop every year, they need supplemental irrigation during dry periods. A drip-irrigation line with three – five emitters will do the job. Mulch is also important. Add eight inches of leaves or shredded brush in an eight-foot circle around the plant, and replenish it every two years. You can expect to share your fig crop with the birds, but there is usually plenty for everyone.
Pomegranates are popular now because of their nutritious fruit and their landscape value. The potent-flavored juice is high in vitamins and low in calories. This deciduous shrub also produces showy red blooms in April as a precursor to the interestingly shaped fruit that is harvested in September or October depending on the variety. Choose the variety you plant based on the fruit’s size, the seeds’ edibility, and the size of plant you want in the landscape.
“Wonderful” is the most common selection. It produces baseball-size fruit with inedible seeds and grows 12 feet tall and six feet around. For a list of pomegranate varieties, visit plantanswers.com. Your favorite nursery will also usually have a list of varieties and their characteristics.
Grow pomegranates in full sun. They do not require pesticide spray and are more drought-tolerant than figs.
[pullquote width=”300″ float=”left”]Apples and peaches are the king and queen of fruits, but they are also among the most difficult to grow in Central Texas. It’s nearly impossible to produce an acceptable crop without regular pesticide applications; however, there are some fruits that consistently produce high-quality fruit with minimal pesticides.[/pullquote]
Blackberries are very productive and usually do not require an insecticide spray. Plant one or more of the varieties such as Brazos, Rosborough or Kiowa.
Blackberries grow as thorny canes that spread very quickly. Designate their area in the garden, and limit their boundaries. One plant will rapidly fill a 4′ x 4′ space. Blackberries produce their fruit in May on canes grown the previous year. (They are available in one-gallon containers at area nurseries now for fall planting.) The old canes should then be cut out and removed to make room for growth of the new canes. Pruning out of the old canes is the toughest part of growing blackberries.
Like figs, blackberries are a favorite of mockingbirds and other birds. Again, there is usually plenty for everyone.
Pears are one of the more traditional fruits that can be grown without pesticide sprays. Bartlett will not survive in our area, but Kiefer, Orient and Le Conte will. Plant pears in full sun allowing at least 12 feet between the trees. In good soils, they will grow to 16 feet tall. Kiefer and Orient are described as cooking pears. Expect large crops of firm fruit that is more fibrous than Bartlett.
Satsuma oranges are productive and fun to grow. The main limitation is their cold sensitivity. The most cold-tolerant varieties are also the newest: Arctic Frost and Orange Frost. They can live through temperatures down to 26⁰ F without leaf drop and seem to be root-hardy to temperatures near 20⁰ F. Cover them during cold spells to minimize cold damage.
Satsumas are evergreen trees that are 12 feet tall and 12 feet in circumference at maturity. The blooms are fragrant, and the fruit is high quality. They can be grown as three-foot – five-foot trees in half-whiskey barrels, which also makes them very easy to protect from cold. If you grow satsumas in containers, fertilize them with Osmocote every spring and add a dose of soluble fertilizer dissolved in water every month.
For all fruits grown in the garden and landscape, fertilize with a cup of slow-release lawn fertilizer per inch of trunk diameter spread over the root system every spring. For blackberries spread a cup of the fertilizer over every 16 square feet of bed in early spring. Organic fertilizers will work as long as the application is heavy enough to provide adequate nitrogen. It also helps to apply organic fertilizers in the fall to allow nutrients to be released for the spring growth period.
All of these easy-to-grow fruits are available at area nurseries for planting this fall or next spring.
by Calvin Finch, PhD