The best time of year to plant trees and shrubs is fall, and this includes your fruit bearing trees and shrubs! As we enter fall season, the more moderate temperatures, increased chances of rainfall, and less intense sunlight reduce transplanting stress and allows trees and shrubs to focus their energy on root development. The cool air and warm soil stimulate root growth and can help your trees and shrubs become established in the landscape before the ground freezes. Fall planting gives you an extra growing season before the stresses of summer heat.
We love planting perennial edibles - nothing feels better than harvesting food you've grown, and planting edible shrubs and trees is an investment not just for ourselves, but for future generations. Plus, you're not just feeding yourself, you're feeding wildlife (sometimes more than you'd like)! In addition to the fruits highlighted below, we also sell a range of native plants that produce fruits which can be enjoyed by humans and wildlife alike - they just may require more processing to be eaten. Fruits from elderberries, serviceberries, American Cranberry, chokeberries, hazelnuts, sumac, dogwoods, and more can be used for preserves, syrups, flour, and seasonings in addition to providing critical food sources for migrating birds and other wildlife. We encourage you to consider adding some of them as well, and if you have a lot of space, it's always a good plan to plant extras of any fruits you are hoping to harvest - that way there's still some left for you after the birds and bears! (Note: ALWAYS research edibility of fruits before ingesting - some can only be digested after cooking, and it's always wise to start small in case of individual sensitivities).
Planning a small orchard can be overwhelming, with researching specific varieties that produce best in Western North Carolina while also trying to match pollinating pairs for those fruit-bearing plants that need a different partner. We’ll help with some of the research so it allows you more time to prepare and plant your fruits this fall!
You’ll find that most of the information provided in this post will focus on blueberries – they’re a favorite among staff here at Painters. These fruiting bushes are native to North Carolina and are relatively easy to maintain once planted. Even the smallest yard can find space for a couple blueberry bushes. I’ve seen them intermixed with other shrubs in formal landscapes since they provide ornamental value (fall leaf color and pretty blooms beloved by bees), while also keeping the fruit closer to the house for ease of harvesting.
Planting Site: Blueberries have a very shallow, fibrous root system, and knowing this will help set you up for planting success. Since 90% of blueberry’s root system in is the first 6” of soil, you’ll need to provide very loose soil to help the shrub develop an extensive root system. Blueberry bushes cannot tolerate extended periods of standing water. The soil at the planting site needs to be well-draining, with organic matter mixed into the top 6” of the planting site. If your planting site is heavy clay it may be best to install raised beds. Plant blueberries on mounds or on ridged rows to help with drainage. Apply pine mulch (needles, woodchips, bark) at the time of planting to not only protect the shallow root system and to conserve moisture during high temperatures, but to also contribute to the acidity of the soil. Apply mulch 3-5” deep around the base of the bush, making sure to leave 3” around the trunk clear from mulch to prevent insect, disease and pest problems.
Blueberries prefer full sun (at least 6 hours of direct sunlight). Partial shade can be tolerated (preferably in the afternoon), but may cause plants to produce fewer blossoms and less fruit. Space the bushes appropriately by taking note of the mature width of the varieties you plant. Leave enough space between the bushes so adequate air flow and sunlight can be attained at full size.
Most blueberries need a pollinating partner of a different variety within the same species. Take a look at the below pollination chart to help match blueberry partners. Even the ones that are “self-fruitful” would benefit from another blueberry planted nearby - they’ll often bear more fruit with the presence of a neighbor. Note: not all blueberries on the chart are currently in stock; the chart includes varieties sold at our greenhouse over the last couple years to help customers match pollinating pairs to existing ones they may have in their landscape.
There are three types of blueberries: Rabbiteye, Northern Highbush, and a hybrid of the two – Southern Highbush.
Rabbiteye (Vaccinium ashei) – The name comes from the rabbit-eye appearance of the pink, immature berries. These blueberries are native to the southeast US gulf coast states. Rabbiteyes are well-suited to warm climates and can tolerate heat, humidity, drought, and a wider variety of soils than Northern Highbush. These bushes are vigorous growers, and some can reach up to 15-20’ tall! Rabbiteyes bloom earlier and take longer to ripen. The fruit itself is larger with mild/moderate flavor and described as sweet. Rabbiteyes have slightly tougher skin, but this provides better storage life. Rabbiteye varieties currently in stock at Painters Greenhouse: Premier, Climax
Northern Highbush (Vaccinium corymbosum) – Native range includes northeastern US and parts of Canada. The first cultivars were first selected from the wild in NJ, they are well-adapted to colder climates and are the best species for WNC residents in the mountains and at higher elevations (>2500ft). These cultivars often do not grow as well in the piedmont or coastal plains of NC due to the soils and mild winters. Northern Highbush blueberries require a certain number of chill hours during the winter to set fruit properly. These blueberries are the most common and widely cultivated blueberry type in the US. Moderate growers reach 6-10’ tall. Fruits have a sweet-tart flavor. Northern Highbush varieties currently in stock at Painters Greenhouse: Duke, Bluegold
Southern Highbush (Vaccinium hybrid) – A hybrid of Rabbiteye and North Highbush, this type of blueberry bush combines characteristics of each to allow a more adaptable bush. The hybridization creates a shorter ripening period (from Northern Highbush) and the low chill hours and adaptability to southern environments (from Rabbiteye). Be mindful of the earlier bloom time on this hybrid, if our area has a spring freeze some crop loss may be experienced with Southern Highbush. Southern Highbush tend to be more compact ranging from 3-6’ in height depending on the variety. Fruit is balanced in sweet and tangy, similar to that of Northern Highbush. Southern Highbush varieties currently in stock at Painters Greenhouse: Misty, Biloxi
FRUIT-BEARING TREES: Apples, Pears, Cherries, Plums, Peaches
Our fall offerings include: *Apples: Red Delicious, Cortland, Jonagold, Golden Delicious, Mutsu, Honeycrisp, Stayman, Gala, Granny Smith, Fuji *Asian Pears: Shinko, Shinseiki *European Pears: Ayers, Bartlett, Keiffer *Sweet Cherries: Bing, Black Tartarian Plums: Methley, Santa Rosa Peaches: Contender, Redskin, Redhaven We also offer two types of crabapples, Toringa and Swee. Since crabapples have a long bloom period they can pollinate most cultivars of apples. This comes in handy if you have an existing unknown apple variety that needs a pollinator.
*Denotes fruit-bearing trees that need two different varieties to produce fruit. The plum and peach cultivars we sell are self-fruitful.
All of the above cultivars of fruit-bearing trees are grafted on semi-dwarf root stock and are sourced from the local, privately owned ‘Lowes Nursery’ in Morganton. All perform well in our area as they are grown in the next county over. Consult the pollination chart below when matching pollinating pairs of apples as they are the pickiest in pollination requirements. The chart also notes if pairs are needed for the other types of fruiting trees (cherries, plums, peaches, pears, etc.)].
Like blueberries, fruit trees also prefer well-draining soil (no standing water) and a sunny location (6+ hours of sunlight). When planning a small orchard, it’s imperative to space out your fruit trees with their mature size in mind. Air flow and sunlight are important to the health of an orchard. Mulching wide rings around the base of fruit trees will help conserve water, eliminate weed (and lawn) pressure, and help control lawn mower/weed eater damage.
Because we offer such a wide range of fruit-bearing trees, please consult the NC State Extension Gardener Handbook chapter on ‘Tree Fruit and Nuts” for specifics of each variety of fruit tree when it comes to pruning, fertilizing, pest/disease management, etc.: https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/extension-gardener-handbook/15-tree-fruit-and-nuts Here’s a list of other fruit or nut bearing plants we also have available this fall season:
Note all are self-fertile, except for Hazelnuts. Fig ‘Chicago Hardy’ Hardy Kiwi ‘Prolific’ Raspberry ‘Caroline Red’ Black Raspberry White Blackberry ‘Snowbank’ Goji Berry Dwarf Black Mulberry ‘Everbearing’ American Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) Hazelnut (Corylus americana)* not self-fertile, recommended to plant 3 or more