If you’re looking for a more fruit-full garden this year, try planting a backyard orchard!
If you're wondering how to start your own mini fruit orchard in your Iowa backyard, you're in for a bit of work and a lot of tasty rewards. The truth is, it's more challenging to grow fruit orchards in the Midwest than it is in warm, sunny locations like California and Arizona. However, it can be done with some planning, space, patience, and dedication. If this sounds like an adventure you're ready to accept, keep reading for some starting points to help you start growing your own backyard fruit.
Planting Fruit Orchards for Beginners
Despite the up and down weather we experience here in the Midwest, there are many methods you can use to grow a fruit orchard in your backyard to limit trips to the grocery store, lower your environmental impact, and savor that homegrown goodness you can only get when growing your own food!
Here are some of our favorite fruit trees that we think you should try in your backyard fruit orchard, along with some tips on how to grow them:
The serviceberry is a smaller deciduous woodland shrub or tree that absolutely dazzles with small green foliage and white blossoms that eventually transition into blueberry-sized red berries by the end of summer. A favorite food source of birds like goldfinches, chickadees, jays, and cardinals, the fruits are reminiscent of blueberries and are often used to make jellies, pies, muffins, and cobblers. Plant your serviceberry plants in moist, well-draining, slightly acidic soil, and let them hang out in areas of your orchard that receive full sun to partial shade.
If you've got a nice sunny spot in your garden, consider planting an apple tree! Remember, though, that you'll need two apple trees in close proximity to each other in order to actually bear fruit. If you only have enough room in your backyard for one tree, look around your neighborhood to make sure other apple trees (or crabapple trees) are growing nearby for the best pollination results. Apples need at least 6-8 hours of sunlight per day and prefer a soil pH between 6-7. They also don't enjoy getting their feet wet, so keep them away from areas in your orchard likely to collect water. When growing apples, like all fruits, prune branches regularly and thin out fruit often for best results. Ask our nursery experts for advice on a spray program to prevent insects and diseases as well as the best way to prune your trees each year.
Another sun-loving fruit tree, peaches require a dedicated spot in your orchard where they will get plenty of light and morning sun to dry off moisture. Peach fruit trees also like acidic soil, so keep their pH between 6-7. Pruning is also essential for the success of your peach trees and will be regularly required all summer to keep them healthy.
Apricots are a wonderful self-fruiting tree perfect for our Iowa climate and sure to become a family and friend favorite. These early bloomers need deep, rich, well-draining soil with plenty of organic matter to thrive. Being Mediterranean fruits, give them a warm, sunny location with lots of water.
One of the prettiest fruit trees to include in your orchard, cherry trees display world-famous blossoms in the spring before turning to leaves. Give this tree a deep, fertile space to grow where it's warm and regular waterings to help its fruits develop evenly. Cherries are divided into sweet and tart varieties. Tart Cherries tend to do better in the midwest but sweet cherries will grow here as well. The easiest way to get cherries is with dwarf cherry bushes that grow 8-10’ tall and have heavy yields of cherries. We have three varieties to try out. They are also very cold hardy and not as susceptible to late frosts as regular cherry trees.
Nothing tastes better than fresh, home-grown raspberries! Best pollinated by bees, this bush takes a full year to produce fruit after planting but is totally worth the wait. Give your raspberry bushes a full sun location, and like all fruit trees, prune them annually for the best growth. Raspberries are also heavy feeders, so fertilize them regularly and mulch well to retain nutrients and moisture. We like ‘Heritage’ and ‘Fall Gold’ for fresh eating in Iowa.
A slower-growing fruit plant for your orchard, blueberries generally take 6-8 years to mature completely and produce fruit after 2-3 years. You will need two or more varieties to pollinate your blueberry plants, along with acidic soil and a full sun location. We recommend planting with peat moss and Coast Of Maine Planting Soil for Acid-Loving Plants. Plant one during your 2023 gardening season for some delicious long-term results.
Our favorite woody perennial vining plant, grapes are always on the menu! Plant a few different varieties within your orchard for fresh eating, winemaking, and even jams and jellies. You can train grapes to climb anywhere in your orchard for a decorative touch, too! Grapes must be pruned annually for proper growth and require full sun and warmth for fruit to grow.
Citrus trees are a fun choice for Iowa gardens because they can be grown in containers, making them easy to move indoors before the cooler weather hits. Being self-fertile, you only need one citrus tree to start growing fruit, which should yield enough per season for a good harvest. Give citrus plants—including lemons, limes, and oranges—full sun and good air circulation. If you're growing your citrus indoors, move them outside for the summer but make sure you move them back indoors before any sign of frost.
Now's the time to start planning and growing your Iowa fruit orchard, and to help get you going on the right foot, we have all the starter plants you'll need for a fruit-full harvest in the years to come. We're looking forward to seeing you soon!