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Productive Landscape: The Fruit Tree

Many fruit tree varieties grow well in San Juan—providing edibles, shade and a great place to read a book.

Soon after Spanish conquistadores landed just south of San Juan Capistrano centuries ago, the area became an agricultural hub, making agricultural practices a major part of the city's rich history. Today's local gardeners know that the coastal breezes and early-morning fog, along with mostly sunny days, make this valley prime for growing.

For San Juan residents who have yet to dig into opportunities to make their yards more productive, planting a fruit tree or two is a great place to start. Now, in early spring, there's still time to choose and plant the perfect tree. More quickly than you'd expect, your trees will be bearing fruit while providing both shade and a great place to sit down and read a book.

What to plant? The most important rule is to plant a tree that bears fruit you will actually eat! Love oranges? Choose an orange variety. Famous for your apple pie? Choose a baking apple variety and you'll earn additional bragging rights for using your own apples! Does your mouth water for lemonade? Opt for a Meyer Lemon tree.

In San Juan, we have three great local resources where you can seek detailed advice and purchase your trees. The staff at , and will be happy to navigate you through your decision-making. 

Once you've made your decision, follow these basics for placement and maintenance. 

Directions for Placement 

Most shade trees (or fruit trees) prefer full to partial sun. The southeast or southwest areas surrounding your home are typically the best locations. 

Plant trees out of the way of prevailing winds if they are strong enough to displace branches.  

Consider the tree’s canopy and root size at maturity, noting that roots can grow three times the diameter of the tree’s canopy. 

Be sure to ask yourself: 

  • Is there enough room for the root system to grow? 
  • Will the tree’s roots meet your hardscape? 
  • Will the roots meet your neighbor’s foundation? 

Note! If you don't have a yard, you're still in the fruit tree-planting game. Simply choose a dwarf variety, which can be grown in pots. Choose a pot at least 18 inches deep and wide, and make sure you add drainage holes. Place it on your front porch, on a balcony or even inside near a window if it gets plenty of sun.

Directions for Maintenance 

Choose a native tree or fruit tree to reduce maintenance and the risk of disease. You’ll thank us later. 

Trim low branches sparingly, as low branches support the tree’s balance. 

Fertilize trees in early spring (right about now) if you notice a reduction in growth. Healthy trees don’t even require fertilizer. 

How easy is that? 

Besides protecting us from the sun’s rays and heat and providing delicious edibles, trees also sustain our ecosystems in other vital ways. They provide wildlife habitat,  prevent soil erosion and provide leaves for mulching and composting. Trees also serve as noise reduction barriers and windbreaks, provide privacy and reduce the heat island effect—a neat name for the often 10-degree difference between hardscape and softscape temperatures. 

KC April 14, 2011 at 08:24 PM
Don't forget to check if the species you're buying has any sharps with it, I've got a blood orange tree that has long, sharp spikes that firm up at harvest time. If I didn't have one of those harvester things I would have scars up and down my arms.
The Ecology Center April 14, 2011 at 09:50 PM
Thanks, KC! Great tip. I've wanted a blood orange for a long, long time - such beautiful fruit! - where did you buy yours?
KC April 14, 2011 at 11:19 PM
If I recall, I bought the tarocco variety at Laguna Hills Nursery. The owner has closed the original location and now operates from a website.

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