Do you find most store bought fruit to be tasteless and yearn for fresh fruit that actually tastes like fruit? What you need is your very own urban orchard!
Back in 2005 we started to look for a new house in a better neighbourhood closer to my work at the university. We also wanted a bigger, more modern house.
The garden wasn’t a huge criteria at the time as we had just started to grow some vegetables, fruit and flowers in our first house. We were still like many people, buying most of our vegetables and fruit at the grocery store.
Our real estate agent let us know that a house was for sale in our chosen location. I took a break at work and met my wife at the house. Nice looking house in a nice neighbourhood. Inside the house was a bit dated and we could see it would take a bit of work to update it.
However as we stepped out on the back deck, can you imagine the sight that greeted us?
In addition to extensive vegetable beds, we saw an urban orchard full of fruit trees of every type, variety and maturity!
We knew right away that this was the house and property for us.
You can’t buy 20 year old fruit trees and plant them in your garden, so we considered these to be priceless. You could say we bought an orchard with a house attached!
12 Fruit Trees In An Urban Orchard
Yes, crammed into our small suburban backyard are 12 fruit trees! Here’s what we have in our urban orchard:
This one is planted under the southwest roof overhang of our house for protection from rain.
Here on the west coast of Canada we get a disease called peach leaf curl in spring when we have rain. The overhang helps a bit but some leaves still get it if sticking out past the overhang.
This however doesn’t seem to affect fruit production.
The peach harvest happens usually sometime in August and we skin, halve and pit the peaches and freeze them on baking sheets and then transfer them to bags to enjoy all year through in green smoothies and on top of oatmeal and cereal.
We also bake a couple of peach pies and eat them fresh during the harvest season.
Sweet Cherry Tree
The tree is planted on the northwest side of our second floor deck. It is tall but with its location we don’t get much shade from it when sitting on the deck. But it does produce a beautiful display of cherry blossoms each spring.
Unfortunately most of the blossoms either don’t develop into cherries or do but then fall off. Pollination is a problem as we’re not aware of any other sweet cherry trees nearby which can help with cross pollination.
The birds, raccoons and squirrels also get a lot of them so we don’t get that many cherries, some years none.
Fig Trees (2)
We have two fig trees on the north side of our backyard. We used to actually have four trees but they were too crowded and we really didn’t need all of them as well, so we cut down two.
Since our climate in summertime is Mediterranean, these do quite well.
In the Mediterranean a second crop ripens in fall but in our case we only get the first crop ripening due to our short stretch of hot weather in summer.
We eat them fresh, skin and all – they are so sweet! And as with the peaches we also halve them and freeze them for use in smoothies in the winter.
Apple Trees (2)
We have two apple trees.
One is a transparent apple. This tree produces early, so usually we can pick already in July.
The apples are not great for eating fresh as they can be a bit mealy. Instead we make lots of applesauce from these apples. We only need to add a small amount of maple syrup to sweeten the sauce.
Once made, we freeze it in yoghurt containers in our chest freezer. And use the sauce in oatmeal, on top of cereal and for potato pancakes.
We also have another tree which is smaller but produces the most beautiful red apples. These are great for regular eating but also dry well, so I try to make enough to take as snacks to work and school in the fall.
Pear Trees (2)
And there are two pear trees.
One pear tree is a dwarf variety, but with two different kinds of pears as it’s been grafted. It does quite well considering it’s size. I have some issues with rust on the leaves that seems to vary each year but doesn’t seem o affect fruit production that much.
The other tree is grafted with one half bearing Asian pears, the other half regular pears. However it looks like the Asian pear graft is more or less dead and doesn’t produce anymore. And in general the tree doesn’t do as well as the other one as it is next to a tall hedge and my huge plum tree and doesn’t get enough sunlight.
Yellow Plum Tree
This is a huge tree! I still have some photos of it when we moved to this house in 2005 and it was still a manageable size. It is now way too big for an urban backyard and I have done some major trimming on it to try and keep it to a reasonable size, but it just keeps growing bigger each year!
It’s now doing much better after we cut down a hedge next to it. It produces very juicy, yellow plums. We either eat them as they are or make jam or jelly from it. You can’t really bake with them as there is just too much juice.
Although the racoons like the plums as much as we do, so we lose quite a few each year to the masked bandits!
For some reason in 2022 we had no plums at all on the tree, even though it was full of blossoms that spring. Maybe due to some hard pruning I did or the blossoms were affected by rain or wind and didn’t get pollinated.
We bought this in spring 2018 for a steal at our local nursery’s garage sale.
It is a Musa basjoo, which is a hardy banana tree and can survive cooler temperatures.
Other than in summer when I moved it out, it lives in my greenhouse. I transplanted it to a bigger planter that I built out of cedar. However in the summer of 2023 I had to move it out of the greenhouse as it simply has grown too tall and the new leaves can’t fully unfurl anymore.
I’ve placed it close to my house for protection in winter, but I will still need to protect it with some leaves and burlap to avoid damage during our colder periods of winter.
Hope to eventually get some bananas from it!
Lemon And Mandarin Trees
Since I have a greenhouse, I thought the best fruit to grow in it would be lemons and mandarins. I had thought about getting these trees for a few years until I finally bought them in the spring/summer of 2022. I’ve planted them in my raised bed in the greenhouse where they will stay protected from frost and freezing in winter and get lots of heat in summer.
The lemon tree is now producing and we hope to harvest our first lemons sometime in 2023. It is an ever bearing Meyer lemon so should supply us with fresh lemons all year! Can’t wait to have freshly squeezed lemonade in summer.
The mandarin tree is a Kishi mandarin and while it had blossoms in the spring of 2023, the blossoms didn’t produce, maybe because they didn’t get pollinated.
Both trees need hand pollination even though they are self-pollinating as in a greenhouse they don’t benefit from breezes or bees that help move the pollen in the blossoms around.
Check out the video:
Other Fruit In My Urban Backyard
But these 12 trees are not all! I have more fruit growing in my backyard, just not on what are considered trees.
Soon after I moved into this house back in 2005, I bought a few raspberry canes of a local variety (forgot now which one) and planted them on the south side of the house against my garage.
This patch replaced a sketchy greenhouse that the previous owner had built against the garage.
They have spread over the past 15+ years to give us a dense patch which produces berries in early summer and then again in late summer/early fall (sometimes into November!)
Only real maintenance is pruning and keeping up with harvesting! They are watered via a water barrel that is hooked up to a downspout and empties into the bed via a soaker hose. Although in summer when we have drought and no rain, I just fill up the barrel with my garden hose a few times a week and then the water can soak in over a few days.
Strawberries taste much better when you grow them and they’re fairly easy to grow.
I have a strawberry tower made from plastic crates, a few other containers with strawberries and a 4×3 bed of strawberries.
Production hasn’t been that great lately, especially in the containers, maybe because the plants are getting too old. But the great thing about strawberry plants is that they produce runners each year with baby plants on them, so I’ll let those eventually replace the older plants.
We have three plants which were recently transplanted into a more sunny location.
They are still recovering so are not producing much. They may also need more acidic soil, so we’ll have to add some organic amendments.
I’m thinking of getting more and having a nice patch in a row in a sunny spot in the garden.
Kiwi Fruit Vines
These vines are new as of the summer of 2022. We have a Mr. and Mrs. Kiwi as we call them for proper pollination. They are developing well and we hope to have fresh kiwi fruit soon.
These are growing on the cedar arbour that I originally built for some old wine grape vines.
Check them out in their first year of growth:
I have tried to grow watermelons every summer for the past few years. I’ve had some moderate success growing some mini melons, but each year have issues with pollination and the plants getting some sort of disease. I keep trying though.
I grow them in my greenhouse so that they stay warm during the night and get lots of heat during the day.
Fruit trees and bushes once established can be quite resilient. However neglect, wrong planting location and disease can cause you to lose it (hopefully just the tree/bush and not your temper when it dies!).
An urban orchard is susceptible to all of the problems you might encounter in the rest of your garden.
Here are our “failures” in our urban orchard:
- Peach with grafted apricot – died because it didn’t get enough water one summer
- Red plum tree – died because the previous owner cut some of the roots while digging backyard pond; limbs kept dying off until finally the whole tree died
- Banana tree (previous) – died the first winter as I didn’t know I had to protect it from cold temperatures
- Passionfruit vine – tried to save it when rebuilding the greenhouse but it died
- Two kumquat trees – same fate as the passion fruit
- Chestnut – I believe though this was an inedible one so no food value for us. Main reason to cut it down was it was growing too close to our cherry tree. It was a donation probably from a squirrel or a bird that buried a seed in that location.
- Grape Vines – we had both green and purple grape vines. However these were varieties mainly grown for making wine and since we’re not wine drinkers, it made no sense to keep them. We tried using them for making grape jelly, but it required lots of sugar and it was a lot of work! They have been replaced with the aforementioned kiwi vines.
Care And Maintenance Of Fruit Trees And Plants
An urban orchard can mean a bit of extra work on top of the day-to-day gardening you do.
But this effort is well worth it when you bite into a fresh strawberry or peach! Or spread your own homemade jam or jelly on a waffle or piece of toast.
Pruning Fruit Trees And Bushes
Pruning will keep your trees healthy and your berry bushes from taking over your backyard. It can be a very intimidating task for beginners but once you have done it a few times, it becomes easier as it is with most things.
More info on when to prune and how to prune in How to Prune Fruit Trees.
For raspberry pruning check out the special article and video.
Fertilizing Fruit Trees
Just like the rest of the garden, fruit trees need nutrients to set fruit and resist disease and pests. Check out this article for my special recipe I make and apply each fall.
For the fruit bushes and strawberries I usually provide them with a drink of fish and seaweed fertilizer once a week starting in spring when they are growing and getting ready to blossom and fruit.
Like all other plants, fruit bushes, plants and trees need adequate water. Fruit is mainly composed of water, so watering them enough will result in juicy, flavourful fruit. My automated sprinkler system waters most of my fruit trees and bushes.
However there are some areas that need individual hand watering as they are not well covered by the irrigation system. It’s something you have to stay on top of and remember to do.
If you don’t then you end up like me, losing one peach tree that happened to be in a bed that receives no automatic watering.
Spraying Fruit Trees
I only spray an organic dormant spray of horticultural oil and lime sulphur to try and kill some of the overwintering bugs and caterpillars.
Finding the right time to spray is always tough. We either have rainy days in winter or we have wind, both weather conditions that you can’t spray in. And with a full-time day job, I have to catch the right spraying day on the weekend.
Banding Fruit Trees
I wrap my trees with foam underlayment and then apply Tanglefoot, a very sticky resin. This captures some of the winter moth females as they try and climb up the trees to lay their eggs. It’s always amazing to see what got stuck in the resin on it’s way up or down the tree.
I’ve created an article and video on how you can band your trees.
Tying/Supporting Berry Canes
Our raspberry canes need to be tied to support wires to keep them from toppling over from the weight of the fruit. I have installed a few posts with arms and then stretched copper house wire between them as support wires.
Sometimes our apple or pear trees have so much fruit the branches bend almost to the ground! I simply use some wooden stakes to prop under the heaviest branches to support them off the ground.
And I tie our peach tree’s branches to anchors I have installed in our house wall. I had one branch break from the weight of all the peaches one year!
Harvesting And Preserving Fruit
The most rewarding part but also the most work is harvesting and preserving our urban orchard’s abundance. This is one of those garden tasks that you simply can’t delay, just like with watering.
Harvesting fruit sometimes requires some special equipment, especially with fruit trees. And you do have to time harvesting for when fruit is at the height of best flavour. More info on how to harvest fruit in my article Harvesting Fruit 101.
When the fruit is ripe it needs to be picked and then quickly processed. You usually can’t eat it all when it ripens and while you could give it away, that means not having any in wintertime and thus having to buy expensive out-of-season fruit.
If you have a day job, you may want to try and take some vacation around harvest time like I do to be at home to harvest and preserve. Or get some help from family and friends, but remember to give them some fruit as a thank you!
- Make jam/jelly: We’ve made plum jam, peach jam, strawberry jam, apple jam, grape jelly.
- Preserving/Canning: One year we had so many pears we just packed them into mason jars with water and canned them – tastes great in the middle of winter in oatmeal with some cinnamon. We also preserve our jam/jelly when we make it.
- Freeze: We freeze peaches (peeled and halved), figs (halved), raspberries and strawberries. The trick here is to freeze them on cookie/baking sheets and then move them into freezer bags – easy then to take out only what you need. Having a chest freezer, even just a small one, is handy. Just make sure it is an efficient model otherwise you may pay a lot to keep your fruit!
- Applesauce or plum sauce: We cook on the stove until broken down. Then it’s frozen in yoghurt containers but could also be canned.
- Store: We usually have several boxes of apples that we store in our garage or basement and they kept fairly well for a month or two until we can eat them all; other fruit is more perishable and needs to be stored in the fridge until we can do something with them.
- Dry: We have an electric dehydrator that we use to dry our fruit. We mainly dry apple slices but have also tried fruit leathers/rollups with pureed fruit. I plan to experiment with drying other fruit and vegetables as well.
Let’s Eat Fresh Fruit!
So when the fruit ripens or once you have the fruit preserved, what can you do with it? Only limited by your imagination but we typically use fruit as follows:
- put it in cereal or oatmeal for breakfast
- use it in green smoothies
- eat with yoghurt or ice cream as a dessert
- eat as a snack, especially handy with dried fruit
- use in baking recipes such as pies, scones, muffins, crumbles, etc.
- put applesauce on mashed potatoes. Germans call this Himmel und Erde (Sky and Earth) seeing as apples grow in the sky on the tree branches and potatoes in the earth.
- put jam and applesauce on toast/waffles/bagels/etc; a layer of good quality nut butter first then jam on locally baked bread is heaven on earth
- make plum sauce for homemade chicken nuggets or fingers or tofu
Growing fruit and having your own orchard can be a lot of work. But the rewards are so great! Especially when in the depths of a cold winter morning you can pull out some tasty fruit from the freezer or pantry and make a nice hot bowl of oatmeal to get your day started.
You can’t put a value on that other than “priceless”!