DALY: Several unusual fruits grow well in our area

Timothy Daly

Timothy Daly

Growing fruit trees is an interesting and rewarding hobby. Freshly harvested fruit tastes good and is nutritious. Apples, pears, blueberries, blackberries, figs and others are among those favored by homeowners. However, several exotic and uncommon fruiting plants can be grown in our area. They are relatively easy to maintain and produce excellent fruit.

One of the most familiar is kiwifruit, which is native to Southeast Asia. The plant is a long vine with large leaves that produces an egg-size fruit that is brown on the outside with a light green pulp. It requires a trellis or other structure to support its growth. Kiwifruit has male and female vines, and both must be planted in order to get cross pollination for the production of fruit. It usually takes five years after planting before the plant begins to bear fruit.

As with figs, these plants are not tolerant of winter temperatures that fall below 10 degrees. If temperatures of this nature are forecasted, cover the vines with blankets or plastic for protection. The soil should have organic matter added to it and thoroughly tilled to increase the ease of penetration for the plant’s shallow, fibrous root system. Keep the soil evenly moist since kiwifruit is not drought tolerant but also will suffer in poorly draining soils. Prune the vines in the late winter since they produce fruit on the current season’s growth.

The American elderberry is a deciduous shrub that has white fragrant flowers in the spring and large clusters of small, black fruit in the later part of summer. The rounded shrub is open, has many spreading and arching branches that vary from to five to 15 feet tall. The plants are native and are frequently found growing in natural areas. Their berries are a food source for a variety of wild life. They tolerate drought conditions and temperature extremes.

Elderberries should be planted in well-drained soil and in full sun. They require minimal pruning and have few pest problems. The berries should be harvested when they have ripened and have a purple to black color. They are used in making pies, jellies, and wines. Avoid eating the green berries and other plant parts since they are toxic.

Jujube or Chinese date is a deciduous tree that can reach 40 feet in height under optimum conditions. It produces oval shaped fruit that is two inches in length, and red to brown in color with two seeds inside. Fruit continues to ripens for harvests over a period of several weeks. The tree tolerates temperature extremes and is drought hardy. Jujube is self-fertile meaning that it does not require cross pollination with another variety. However, if two or more varieties are planted together, cross pollination increases the fruit yield. The best varieties for Georgia are ‘Li’ and ‘Tigertooth.’ They seldom require pruning and are generally not troubled by pests.

Mayhaws are small to medium size trees that produce white flowers in the spring. Their fruits are roughly one inch in diameter and resemble small apples. They are frequently made into jellies and wines. Mayhaws can be used for ornamental purposes as well. They are one of the few flowering trees that can be planted along the sides of lakes and in areas that stay wet for prolonged periods. In the wild, they are frequently found growing in wetland areas and swamps. Mayhaw plantings also provide wildlife with food and cover.

Although not as well-known as the familiar fruit trees, such as apples, pears and peaches, these unusual ones thrive in the home landscape if given the proper care. For variety and interest, consider planting some of these different fruit trees and enjoy the harvest. You will be surprised with the results.

Timothy Daly is Agricultural and Natural Resource Agent with the Gwinnett County Cooperative Extension. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.