The heat of summer is the perfect time for some garden and landscape planning. Back East, gardeners use winter cold to daydream about their summer garden once it warms up. In the heat of a Southwestern summer, we can daydream about what we will plant when it cools off.
Indeed the cooler weather of fall is perfect for planting as far as many plants are concerned, especially for plants that fruit. Note that I do say”many.” Not all fruits appreciate fall planting, especially those with tropical genes.
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.
Know When First Frost will Occur
First thing you need to know – what is the official first frost date for your area? Tucson and Phoenix differ by about a month, as do Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Las Vegas is much like Tucson, and Palm Desert is more like Phoenix.
This 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.
Use this List for Planning
All the plants mentioned below can be planted up until 4 weeks before first official frost date in much 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 (Feijoa sellowiana), strawberry guava (Psidium littorale), hackberry (Celtis pallida), Hottontot fig (Carpobrotus edulis), jujube (Ziziphus jujuba), kiwi, litchi (Lichi chinensis), loquat (Eriobotrya japonica), mesquite, mulberry (Morus species), Natal plum (Carissa grandiflora), nectarine, olive, palm, passion fruit (Passiflora species), peach, pear, pomegranate, sand cherry (Prunus pumila), Texas persimmon (Diospyros texana), plum, pomegranate, quince, white sapote (Casimiroa edulis), and wolfberry (Lycium species).
The List is Long but Lacking
While the above list seems long, I have neglected to mention a number of groups. Nuts, berries, succulents (saguaro, yucca, etc.) and some of the more exotic fruits – the ones hard to come by or grow without special protection, like bananas or jaboticaba (Myrciaria cauliflora). They are a whole other topic!
Never heard of some of these fruits and wonder how to use them? Please take a look at another site I write for, Savor the Southwest – here. We write about how to harvest and use a number of wild and landscape plants, like the last one – wolfberry, a Southwest sister to the Chinese goji berry.
Divide the Planning 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 and are not on this list.
Subtropicals can take mild freezing, down to about 26F. Meanwhile many of the temperate plants must be protected from heat. Planting in microclimates can help deal with this.
Temperate Plant Microclimates
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.
Subtropical Plant Microclimates
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 zones (More on Southwest Zones – here). 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.
Time to Chill May Be Needed
Fruit plants often require chill hours (hours below 45 degrees). Luckily for you Low Desert readers, most of the fruits listed 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.
Varieties and Species are Important
Which low chill varieties and which species for your corner of the Southwest? You can use my book Southwest Fruit & Vegetable Gardening (image below). It is available in most local libraries. The updated version – with new fruits covered – is due out in spring 2022 and is available for pre-order (here). You can also call your local Cooperative Extension Service for some tips on varieties that will grow in your corner of the Southwest.
Find the Specialists
There are a number of fruit tree specialists in the Southwest. A good search engine will find them, or visit your local nursery, not a big box store. If they don’t carry it, they should be able to order it. (List of Local Nurseries – here.)
If you shop via catalog or online, verify that they can ship to Arizona before you drool all over their catalogs (or into your keyboard) – Arizona has some stringent plant shipping rules.
Planning now, planting in fall, and in some cases you may be able to enjoy fruits as early as next summer.
More about fruits for your landscape in this book Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, written for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press). This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute will get a few pennies – at no extra cost to you.
© Article copyright Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. You must ask permission to republish an entire blog post or article. Okay to use a short excerpt – but you must give proper credit to Gardening With Soule. You must include a link to the original post on my site. No stealing photos.
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