Hedges made of fruit trees - and how to grow them
Fruit bushes and trees don't need to be in a separate part of your garden, down the back past the vege patch. Mixed planting can be a great way to combine the productive and the pretty, like a screen of blueberry bushes behind a low box hedge or standard citrus trees underplanted with bee-friendly lavender.
Structural or decorative plants alongside edibles provides a mix of colours and textures for aesthetic pleasure, plus it attracts birds, bees and beneficial insects. Edibles can be used as low hedges, tall screens, in narrow spots or as groundcover. Deciduous fruit trees are lovely used as a shade or specimen tree, providing seasonal change throughout the year.
EDIBLES FOR A TRELLIS OR FENCE
Vine plants are the obvious choice for a trellis or fence situation. Great fruiting options include grapes (which also have beautiful autumn foliage), boysenberries, hybrid berries (such as the boysenberry/loganberry cross 'Berry Delight' from Incredible Edibles), blackberries (especially the thornless 'Black Satin' variety), passionfruit and even hops for the avid home brewer.
Another option if you want to use a trellis or fence for food production is an espaliered tree. The most common form is the multi-tiered horizontal cordon. Another easy (and impressive) option is the lattice-shaped Belgian fence, where at least four trees are planted closely together (about one metre apart), with just two branches on each tree trained in a V-shape, crossing over with the next tree to form the criss-cross lattice shape.
EDIBLES FOR NARROW SPACES
As described above, espaliered fruit trees can be an excellent choice for a narrow area. Columnar apple and crabapple trees are good productive options for what can be a difficult space to plant. Their hardy root systems will tolerate difficult soil, and the tree will grow only to 30cm wide and around 3m tall. Suitable apple varieties include 'Crimson Spire' and 'Scarlet Spire', or from the Ballerina series, which includes green ('Bolero') and red apples ('Polka' and 'Waltz') as well as the crabapples 'Maypole' and 'Samba', which have stunning purple-tinged foliage and large fruit that is great for jelly.
SHRUBS FOR SHADY SPOTS
Unfortunately, few fruit trees will be healthy and productive in shade, however, currants, gooseberries and raspberries will thrive in semi-shaded positions, because the plants prefer cool roots.
Raspberries are relatively easy to grow, although it would be a good idea to contain their spreading roots in a raised garden bed or planter box. Plant summer-fruiting varieties (like 'Waiau') along with autumn-bearing types (like 'Heritage') to be harvesting berries from Christmas until late autumn.
Both black and red currant bushes grow well in shade. Look for 'Magnus' and 'Ben Mapua' blackcurrant varieties, and 'Gloria de Versailles' and 'Myra McKee' redcurrants. White currant bushes are equally suited to shade, although the plants are rarer to find as the bushes often revert back to being red-fruited. 'Invicta' gooseberries are easy to grow, with natural resistance to powdery mildew. The 'Pax' variety is easier to pick, as there are far fewer thorns on the stems!
EDIBLES FOR HEDGES, EDGES & SCREENS
Hedges – both large and small – are an easy way to bring edibles into a landscape plan. Buxus, lonicera, teucrium or griselinia can be replaced with Myrtus ugni (New Zealand cranberry or Chilean guava), blueberries and feijoas. In most cases, fruit won't be as prolific due to more density of foliage, which means there is less flower production and pollination. Blueberries love acid soils, (pH 4.5) so soil preparation may be necessary. Most varieties are fully or partly deciduous, but the southern highbush variety 'Misty' is almost evergreen.
Myrtus ugni is very hardy, with small leaves tinged with red. Even if you don't eat the fruit, the sweet scent of the ripening berries in late summer will radiate from the hedge. Thrips can affect Myrtus ugni, so if you're planning to eat the fruit, use Organic Super Spraying Oil from Kiwicare, or wash affected areas with soapy water. Safe, smothering insectical soaps made from plant oils and fats are also effective for knocking down heavy infestations.
If you want a taller hedge (up to 2m) or privacy screen, feijoas are attractive, hardy, productive and easy. If your bush gets out of control, cutting back to bare wood won't just be tolerated, it will be relished! Any feijoa variety works as a hedge, though a mix is recommended to provide cross-pollination and ensure fruit from early autumn to winter. Plant feijoa trees about 1m apart for a dense hedge, or 1.5-2m apart for a more loosely formed hedge.
Olive trees grow very large, but can be contained in a hedge or screen form. 'Frantoio' is a vigorous grower so should be chosen for larger hedges, while 'Koroneiki' is smaller growing. 'Chemlali' is a hardy and shrubby variety so does well as a screen. Olive trees can be grown as a raised hedge, with a clear, exposed stem to 1.2m or higher, and the hedge starting above. The gnarled, silver-barked trunk is very attractive against a plain fence.
Citrus make an excellent hedge, especially limequats, kumquats and mandarins. To avoid pest problems (followed by sooty mould), keep the hedge slightly open or monitor closely and spray with Neem oil at the first sign of bugs. With a citrus hedge with a dense habit, a small infestation of bugs will multiply quickly and will be more difficult to control once established.
Blueberries, hazelnuts, currants and raspberries all naturally grow as a bushy shrub, so can be planted closely (between 30 and 40cm apart) to form a screen or hedge.
Lush tropical gardens don't have to be just the domain of bromeliads, bamboo and frangipani. In warm regions (Auckland northwards, and other frost-free microclimates) edibles like bananas, papayas, pineapples, citrus and loquats will provide the right look of rich, glossy foliage, along with the matching flavour notes.
If you want to be transported to the Med – and have the right climate – fruiting plants are a natural choice. Channel your inner Greek goddess (or god) by planting grape vines, along with olive, citrus and fig trees. Complete the look (and flavour profile) with complementary herbs like rosemary, thyme and oregano.
SHADE & SPECIMEN TREES
Deciduous fruit trees are eye-catching with blossoms in spring, provide shade in summer followed by brightly coloured autumn foliage. Those that make good specimen trees include persimmons, pomegranate, figs, pears and apricots. For large spaces, walnuts, black mulberries and pine nuts are excellent choices.
FRUIT THAT COVER THE GROUND
Only a few fruiting plants are creeping or prostrate growers. The true American cranberry ('Crowley' or 'Bergman') grows as a trailing ground cover with runners up to 2m in length. They need acidic, boggy soil, so are an excellent choice in a wet spot of the garden.
FRUIT TO COVER STRUCTURES
Grapes, kiwifruit, passionfruit and hops quickly climb to cover an arch, pergola or verandah, though ripening grapes can attract wasps and need to be covered with netting to deter birds and insects. Pick the fruit regularly, and don't leave over-mature berries on the vine. Grapes, blackberries and boysenberries can be trained up rose pillars, into totem pole forms. Or you can train several berry plants in a half wine barrel – see Incredible Edibles website, edible.co.nz, to see how.
Slot edibles into formal gardens by planting standardised fruit trees. Feijoas, olives, Myrtus ugni and citrus trees make excellent topiary standards. These are sold ready-made at garden centres, or can be trained yourself with a strong stake to single up the main leader followed by regular trimming to form the head.
WHERE – AND HOW – TO GROW
For maximum productivity and optimum plant health, planting in a north-facing position is best. Fruiting plants need at least five hours of direct sunlight to produce fruit buds. Any less than this will compromise productivity, and the tree may be more likely to have pest or disease problems which can thrive in a shadier environment.
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- NZ Gardener