Back East, gardeners use winter cold to dream and plan their planting once it warms up. Here, in the heat of a Southwestern summer, we dream about what we will plant when it cools off. Indeed the cooler weather of fall is perfect for planting as far as most plants are concerned, especially for plants that fruit.
With a little planning, your landscape could provide you with any number of delightful fruits almost all year long. So many to choose from! Some are old European favorites, some are Asian, and some are natives to our area.
This quick list of food-providing landscape plants are ones that grow fairly easily in the low humidity and alkaline soils of the Southwest. Please note that not all of you will be able to grow all of these! My readers are scattered from USDA Zone 10 to USDA Zone 4, and this is a wide range of climates. I have lived in the Southwest most of my life, and I am still learning about new plants to use.
Never heard of some of these and wonder how to use them? Please take a look at another blog I write for, Savor the SW (here). We write about how to harvest and use a number of wild and landscape plants.
All the plants mentioned below can be planted up until 4 weeks before first official frost date in your area of the Southwest.
Apple, apricot, Asian pear, bamboo, Barbados cherry (Malpighia emarginata), Capulin cherry (Prunus salicifolia), carob, citrus (including blood orange, calamondin, citron, grapefruit, kumquat, lemon, lime, mandarin, pumelo, sour orange, sweet orange, tangelo, tangerine, and tangor), date, desert peach (Prunus andersonii), Western elderberry (Sambucus mexicanus), fig, grape, pineapple guava (Feiloa sellowiana), strawberry guava (Psidium littorale), hackberry (Celtis pallida), Hottontot fig (Carpobrotus edulis), jaboticaba (Myrciaria cauliflora), jujube (Ziziphus jujube), kiwi, litchi (Lichi chinensis), loquat (Eriobotrya japonica), mulberry (Morus species), Natal plum (Carissa grandiflora), nectarine, olive, palm, passion fruit (Passiflora edulis), peach, pear, pomegranate, sand cherry (Prunus pumila), Texas persimmon, plum, pomegranate, quince, and white sapote (Casimiroa edulis).
More List Later
While the above list seems long, I have neglected to mention a number of groups. Nuts, berries, succulents (saguaro, yucca, etc.) and a number of more exotic fruiting landscape plants – the ones hard to come by or grow without special protection (like bananas). These will have to wait for a later post.
Divide the List
The plant list above can be divided a number of ways, but let’s go by temperature. There are temperate (cold climate) plants, subtropical plants and tropical plants. Tropicals can not tolerate freezing. Subtropicals can take mild freezing, down to about 26F. Most temperate plants must be protected from heat. Planting in microclimates can help deal with this.
Microclimates for temperate plants are east facing areas, where they get sun in the morning but not afternoon blazing heat. North yards are good too – where they do not get direct sun.
Temperate plants are divided into two categories: those requiring chilling, and those that do not. Some temperate plants will not set fruit without a certain number of days of chilling air temperature. Luckily, these fruits are available in “low-chill” varieties – meaning they require a low number of chill hours. Apple, apricot, and peach have low-chill varieties. Old favorites like Elberta peaches require high chill and can only be grown in cooler areas of the Southwest. Rather than list varieties, I advocate calling your local Cooperative Extension Service for the latest varieties that will grow in your corner of the Southwest.
Microclimates for subtopicals are south facing walls that capture heat all day, then help warm the plant at night in winter. Subtropicals are easiest to grow in low and middle desert (Yuma, Tucson, Phoenix, Deming, Las Vegas) because this is basically a subtropical climate. A few nights of blankets thrown over subtropical plants is easier and cheaper than gallons of water for temperate plants that are happier out of the heat.
There are a number of fruit tree specialists in the west. A good search engine will find them, or visit a reputable nursery, not a big box store. If they don’t carry it, they should be able to order it.
If you shop via catalog or online, verify that they can ship to Arizona before you drool all over their catalogs – or your keyboard. Plant this fall, and perhaps enjoy fruits as early as next summer.
If you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my lectures. Look for me at your local Pima County Library branch, Steam Pump Ranch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including the latest, “Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,” written for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press). Note – this is an Amazon link – if you click on it and buy my book I get a few pennies.
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