When people in the south think of growing fruit, the first one that comes to mind is peaches, a good crop for warmer regions, followed by apples.
What they don’t think of are some really great, but less common, fruits that work just as well as peaches, and are less fussy when it comes to care.
One of my favorite fruit producing flowering shrubs is a quince (Cydonia oblonga), which blooms before the leaves come out with bright white or pink flowers. The bush produces an edible fruit that is similar to a misshapen pear and ripens in late summer. Although the fruit cannot be eaten fresh, there are dozens of recipes for quince jellies, pies and other fall favorites. There are also some quince that are grown for their flowers rather than fruit and that includes the Japanese Quince (Chaenomeles japonica) and Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles speciosa). Quince shrubs are remarkably adaptable to almost any condition that your garden has, but does need to be pruned on an annual basis.
Mulberry (Morus alba) is another very old fruit that is known to most people through the nursery rhyme. Regardless of that, it is generally a small tree that produces large raspberry-like fruit in mid summer. Mulberries can be eaten fresh from the tree, or used in desserts with other summer fruit. Give mulberries some room though, as they eventually grow to a medium sized tree. The tree is hardy to zone 5 but does beautifully in warmer zones too.
Somewhat newer on the commercial market is the kiwi fruit, which hit the markets in the mid 1980s. The fruit is borne on a vigorous and heavy vine and here in the south we can grow both the smooth skinned variety (Actinidia chinensis) and the more common hairy variety (A. deliciosa). Unfortunately you really need more than one vigorous vine to produce a decent crop so make sure that you have sufficient support for them both. The flowers are not self pollinating, so you need to have at least one male plant with each female one. Apart from the fruit, the vine itself is attractive with a pale leaf or in the pink/white variegated strains. One thing not to do with this fruit is to add it to commercial gelatin – kiwi fruit, like pineapple, will react with the Jell-O in such a way as to not allow it to set.
Figs (Ficus) are often associated with warmer climates and, when happy they can thrive for years. Figs are a multi stemmed shrub rather than a tree, but they can get quite tall and broad, so give them a wide corner to grow well. The fruit is late in maturing, but is ready when it turns light brown. Leave it much later and you will find the birds have already eaten the sweet fruit!
So go ahead and try some different fruits in the garden - living in the south allows you to grow so much more than just apples and peaches!
Kate is a gardener, a garden writer and a garden educator living in Atlanta, Georgia. She has written for national magazines and local newspapers, plus hosts a weekly radio show. You can visit here website at www.katecopsey.com, her blog at www.katesgardenjournal.com, or drop her a message at her profile page www.theMulch.com