Backyard Fruit


Next year will be the tenth year living at our house. Since then a lot has changed on our three aces.  One of the things I was most excited to do on moving in was to plant fruit: trees, bushes and canes. Being the somewhat rash person I am, I jumped in and became overwhelmed. It didn’t help that I had a baby in the middle of it all, so now, years later, I’m surveying it all and wondering how to fix the mess. I never thought how much work would be involved with taking care of three acres! And I never realized how much work growing fruit could be.

To be fair, some things have worked out beautifully, like the strawberries I received for free from a neighbor that have consistently produced each year. And some things have not been so, umm, fruitful. This post started out as a quick tour and ended up being a comprehensive listing. My apologies if it’s a tad dull! I also might add, I feel quite embarrassed by the long list of plants I have killed. It makes me feel like a horrible gardener. But, there’s a lot to learn with plants, especially fruit plants, so I’m guessing I’m not the only who has had left a trail of foundering plants in their wake. The biggest lesson I’ve learned from this is making sure the plants are in a good location. If they aren’t doing well, move them!

Without further ado, here’s a list of all the fruit I have planted. (And if you feel so inclined, tell me what you have planted! What has been most successful? What has failed?)

Apple: I have two apple trees: a Liberty that seems to be doing well (I have harvested exactly one apple), and one Esopus Spitzenberg (I live in the town it was developed in so long ago, Esopus) that was sent to me last year and never developed one leaf. There are also two crabapple trees, but I think they are ornamental.

Blueberry: I have three blueberry bushes, two are new and one is a poor old guy that I planted in a stupid place years ago. Now they are all together in a sunny, well-drained spot. Now all I have to do is test the soil and check the acidity. I’m sure I’ll have to amend the soil for these acid-loving creatures as my property is very alkaline.

Cranberry: I have one cranberry plant, poor thing, that my mom sent me. It’s next to the lingonberries. I don’t know what to do with it! Also, I planted several American Cranberry/Viburnum that I bought at a library sale. They all have seemed to die. These are gorgeous plants that I really would like to grow successfully for their stunningly red clusters of fruit. I’m not sure why mine didn’t survive, as they are a native species. Sometimes it’s the stock you get; these were such young plants given out for free. I might be better off spending more and getting stronger plants.

Currants: Every year I move quite a few plants around. It might seem crazy to a non-gardener, but a plant is going to be happy you ripped it from the ground it if it’s not in a good place. I just moved my three Red Lake currant bushes into a sunnier spot. I’ve found that even if something will tolerate shade, that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be happier somewhere warmer.  I used to be so keen on filling up the shady spots, that I was putting things in unsuitable spots. The red currants already look much happier. They are good producers. I can’t wait to see what they’ll do in a sunnier spot!

Elderberry: After some trial and error, I found out that elderberries really like living down by our pond. They are making lots of baby plants, and I am encouraging them by cutting back the red osier dogwood that likes to bully its way in. “Elderberries like their feet in the water and their heads in the sun,” so they have the perfect home now. Now, if it’s a good harvest year, I can be sure to have enough berries to make elderberry syrup for our winter, and keep the flu at bay.

Gooseberry: I just bought two Hinnomaki Red gooseberry plants. They are said to have very good flavor. I am going to treat them very well!

Grapes: I planted red table grapes, Reliance, a few years ago. I have them on a rocky slope that probably gets too much shade. I think I’ll be moving them soon. I’ve never seen one grape. There’s a lot of pruning involved with grapes, which I’ve never done. The problem with the grapes? They are in a far corner of my oddly shaped property, which means I never pass them. It’s good to have your plants close to you, so you see them all the time. This is a big lesson my mother also tried to teach me: plants like to be together! They don’t really like being alone and uncared for. Makes sense, right?

Jostaberry: Also on the sunny slope are four new jostaberry plants, which are a cross of currants and gooseberries. They are said to be very hardy and disease resistant. I am really excited for these to produce. I’ve never tasted one! They were planted last year, and so far seem to be very happy. They are full and leafy, and there are more than a few blossoms.

Lingonberry: These are recent additions. I believe I planted them in a good place. I wasn’t sure where they would be best suited, so I put them close to the house in a sunny spot to see what they would do. I still might move them. Last year they bore a ton of fruit, but they came flowering so we’ll see what happens this year.

Figs: At one point I had about eight small fig trees! But slowly they have been dying off. I have two left, from one large plant I received for free that had a bad bug infestation. I always think the winter kills the little trees, but then they come back, though slowly. These are container plants. Having a fig tree in this cold area is not impossible, many people do it. But, there’s a lot of extra care that needs to happen that I’m afraid I have not provided. Bad gardener!

Filberts: Not fruits, of course, but still. I bought these from the Arbor Day Foundation many moons ago. Of course I put them in a poor spot, and they need to be moved.

Mulberry: A white mulberry tree that I left because they are fun to climb. I don’t think I could kill this tree if I tried. Wish it was a black mulberry because those are so much sweeter and juicy.

Plums: My two Green Gages are dying of black knot rust. They are my oldest trees, and it’s so sad. Do I pull them? Or try to save them? Fruit trees are so much work. I hope you thank your orchardists every time you enjoy delicious local tree fruit, because those people work hard for that bounty. Especially if it’s organic fruit. It is not easy. In fact, the more I learn about fruit trees the less I want them. I think I have two other plums (or apricots?) growing by the grapes, but I am not sure. What was I thinking?

Quinces: I have two quince trees that seem to be the happiest of the trees. I have gotten blossoms and have seen little quinces, but they’ve never grown to full size. Fingers crossed for this year.

Raspberries/Blackberries: I have planted many canes, mostly raspberries, and I think I only have a few left.

Rhubarb: Also on the sunny slope, the rhubarb that I got for free through an online posting years ago are doing great. Three of the four rhubarb plants were being shaded by a tree, and the difference was obvious. I broke up one crown, and divided it up into six new plants which are now in a better spot on the sunny slope. I’m going for a huge rhubarb patch! And also considering cutting down the tree that’s casting shade on the sunny slope. I never expected it to be so big!

Serviceberry: Also called shadblow, juneberry, saskatoon. When people describe how these taste I wonder why I don’t have rows of them. I forgot I even planted this, a purchase long ago from the extension office. Now it’s in bloom, and perhaps I’ll get a berry or two!

Strawberry: The strawberries are really happy on their south-facing slope. They are all in bloom right now! The strawberries are from a neighbor, and I don’t know what kind they are. They seem to be early-bearers, but aren’t terribly sweet. This year I put in five new plants of Honeoye. We’ll see how they do. The strawberries have consistently been the big producers of all the fruit plants I tend. It always surprises me to see how much they produce: 8 to 10 quarts each season for a small 3′ x 6′ patch.



  1. It’s the same allover. This year after two years my Pollack avocado gave me fruit. First there was 8 now there are 6 avocados growing fat.
    Earlier this year my starfruit gave me a string of 6. Now it is marshalling it’s resources, blooming many things, I almost killed
    my new lychee tree, it’s off in a corner. There are another lychee
    and starfuit which are standing around doing nothing. There’s another mango doing nothing. Likewise with blacberries and rasoberries.
    The kirby’s are growing and maybe I will get a watermelon. The
    calamondines are dependable.

    1. I’m so excited for your avocados. That’s good! It can be so frustrating. Glad it’s not just me. Of course, the one thing that is dependable is the thing that you might not want to eat a million of.

  2. Lucy is obsessed with serviceberries! I have a picture of her every year from the time she could stand surrounded by the berries and eating like a hungry bear!
    You have so many varieties! So exciting!

    1. I am not surprised! I hope to soon be obsessed with them, Meg. It is exciting, but I think I diversified a little too much. You know. ; )

  3. That is a LOT of fruit! Hope the fruit plant/tree tetris game finally works out 🙂 We inherited some concord grapes that make enough fruit some years for a batch of jelly, sometimes just a few to gobble down fresh. I’m still trying to figure them out to get them to be more consistent. Added a supposedly hardy table red grape last year to hang out with them. The property also had a number of chokecherry trees that are quite prolific, but the wildlife always gets to them before I can, even with netting, although I managed to get enough to make a smear of jelly last year – just not sure it’s worth it. One street over there’s a line of decent crabapple trees in a median that I’ve raided a few years (usually early to avoid the odd looks, although they’re on public property), but again, a lot of work when I could just make jelly from the cores and peels of my applesauce apples. I’ve planted about a half dozen blueberry plants, 3 of them were finally allowed to produce last year (24 cups worth) including the 2 random unknown varieties that I bought at Lowes and just blithely crammed in the ground before I knew what I was doing so they did nothing for years. I’ve found that going crazy over the pH isn’t that big a deal, just throw some acidifier at them a couple of times per year and maybe some blueberry food, I can’t seem to get it acid enough for what they’re supposed to want, anyway. Also two rows of Heritage raspberries that usually do very well (enough for eating and jam making) and a half dozen blackberry bushes of 3 varieties, they’re not as happy for some reason. One type has basically done nothing, they start to fruit but then it usually doesn’t develop fully. Phew. That’s as much as I can handle. Everything else comes from a local orchard or the farmers market that has a fruit vendor we really like (Maynard Farms in Ulster Park). I kind of want to plant strawberries but I’m afraid they’re too much work and that they’ll make a run for it if I can’t find a place to enclose them.

    1. Wow, you have a lot too! Let’s see, chokecherry: we actually have a few and I’ve never even attempted to try and use them. Glad to know I’m not missing anything! And blueberries: good to know on the acidifier! 24 cups–yay!! My raspberries were heritage too, but they all died. I have a feeling it was something to do with having my husband plant them for me when I was 9 months pregnant. Btw, Maynard is right around the corner from me! I like them a lot.

  4. Hi Julia! Really enjoyed reading about all of the fruit that you’re growing! (Clearly I’m a bit behind on my RSS feed). Amazing how many strawberries you get, I’ve got a patch of wild strawberries about the size of your plot and I am lucky if I get two berries per year – not because they don’t produce, but because the birds always get them first! I planted 10 canes of two types of raspberry last year, luckily the deer didn’t notice them until the end of last season, and it turns out they did a good job of pruning them for me because they’ve come back and seem to be doing well so far! (Fence plans are underway nonetheless). Enjoying your new site, hope all’s well!

    1. Hey Samantha! Thanks for coming by! Deer are incredible aren’t they? Raspberries for goodness sakes. My strawberries haven’t been found out, but there is always the possibility. My currant bushes were loaded earlier and now half the berries are gone. They are still green. Argh!

  5. Okay, so I am late on this, but it might be kind of fun. I live in a rental, but we are allowed to garden. So I do. I have one freebie gooseberry that gives me enough fruit. I have added two new raspberries a year and hope to be getting enough for jam next year. Most are Heritage, but I also have one Amity, two heirloom (I have no idea what variety), and one native (Montana). I have strawberries that are just getting to be enough that the chipmunks birds and I can share (I got quite a few last year). I grow them with chocolate mint and the smell is wonderful. Because I had awful neighbors, I have also been planting bushes. I have planted chokecherries which I like (a bit like tart cherries and the blossoms are gorgeous — way better than elderberry I think), but I don’t like chokecherry jelly, so I need to find something else I want to do with them. I have planted serviceberries as well, but I find the taste to be a bit insipid and I am not wild about them (in addition, the birds have been planting more about the property and I encourage them.

    A lot of these I am planting for birds to try and attract them and keep them around. I think they don’t bother hanging around because there are not enough shrubs and berries for them (as well as too many squirrels) and so they stay in the forest behind my house (but maybe that is better for them anyway).

    I want apples and cherries and plums, but as a renter who might need to move at any time that may just not be possible 😦

    I can generally manage to glean apples, but not my favorites — Ashmead’s Kernels.

    1. Dear El,

      No dice on the serviceberries, huh? I will note that. Maybe they smell better than they taste.

      I love that you have chocolate mint with the strawberries. I have made jam out of the two and it’s very nice!

      You’ve got quite a collection for a renter! I understand not wanting to invest in trees.

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