Planting Fruit Trees, Shrubs and Vines

by Elmer Krehbiel, Master Gardener
December 7, 2001

Fruit production should be the most rewarding type of gardening, because fruits are both colorful and delicious. However, fruit-bearing plants are the most complicated to establish and manage. Requirements for successful production are more specific than for other gardening crops. Fruit trees, shrubs, and vines should be started during the winter months.

The major factors to consider are: internal soil drainage, air drainage, sunlight, space, soil fertility, water, pest control, topography, climate, and years to first harvest.

Internal soil drainage should be excellent for: apricot, nectarine, peach, and plum trees. The drainage should be good for: apple, blackberry, blueberry, grape, kiwi and strawberry production. If drainage is poor, jujube, pear, pecan, persimmon, and pomegranate may still tolerate it.

The method to evaluate the internal soil drainage is as follows: dig a hole 2.5 to 3 feet deep and fill with water. If all water has seeped out within 6 hours, the drainage is too fast, but if it soaks out within 12, 24, 36 and 48 hours, it is excellent, very good, good and poor, respectively. If some water remains after 48 hours, plant fruit on raised beds or berms or in containers.

Air drainage is important to prevent freeze damage, some diseases, and to aid pollination. The self-pollinators are: apricot, blackberry, fig, grape, jujube, nectarine, peach, persimmon, plum (some varieties), pomegranate and strawberry plants. Those that need pollinator varieties are: apple, blueberry, grape (Muscadine), pear, pecan, plum (Japanese), and walnut.

Full or nearly full sunlight is necessary for plant health and fruit development, except blueberry and strawberry plants should have afternoon shade.

The spacing for backyard orchard culture that was presented to the International Master Gardener Conference is designed to prolong harvest from smaller trees by planting closely, two to four varieties 18 inches apart or a hedge of more varieties 30 inches apart, and pruning in the summer.

The spacing for Texas culture usually is:

  • standard apple: 18 to 30 feet
  • semi-dwarf apple: 6 to 12 feet
  • dwarf apple: 3 to 8 feet
  • apricot, nectarine and peach: 12 to 24 feet
  • blackberry: 3 to 4 feet
  • blueberry: 5 to 8
  • fig: 8 to 12 feet
  • muscadine grape: 15 to 20 feet
  • standard grape: 6 to 8 feet
  • standard pear: 15 to 25 feet
  • semi-dwarf pear: 10 to 12
  • dwarf pear: 6 to 8 feet
  • pecan: 35 to 50 feet
  • persimmon: 10 to 24 feet
  • plum: 10 to 18 feet
  • raspberry: 2 to 4 feet
  • strawberry: 1 to 1.5 feet

Soil fertility and pH level are so important that a soil sample should be tested, and amendments (major or minor fertilizer elements and lime or sulfur) applied as needed before the plants are set.

When water from rainfall is not sufficient, irrigation should be available and additional water applied. Moist soil is needed during the fall and winter, then about one inch of water per week during the spring and two inches per week during the hot summer months.

Management to control diseases, insects, and weeds may require some special equipment, a considerable amount of time, and more expense.

The topography is best when there is a slope to the north. If water remains on the surface for a day, the area is not suitable for fruit trees.

The climate (temperature) in the Brazos Valley is roughly  in the center of the USDA Plant Zone 8, with an average of about 675 hours of chill during the winter. It is about equal to the Zone 9 during some hot-dry summers. Fruit varieties should be adaptable for these conditions.

The number of years until fruit production starts are: apples 2 to 5, apricot and plum 3 to 5, blackberry 2, blueberry, fig, grape, nectarine, peach and persimmon 2 to 4, pear 3 to 9,raspberry 2, and strawberry to 1.

If gardeners do not have or cannot create suitable conditions, as presented above, and do not have sufficient time to care for the planting, they are advised not to grow fruit at home.

More on Planting Trees

Dr. Elmer Krehbiel is the former President of Keep Brazos Beautiful. See his column in The Eagle.