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Enjoy the look and taste of a "fruitful" landscape

It shouldn't be only rabbits, squirrels and deer who get to enjoy the taste of your landscape. You planted it and you should get to eat some of it too!

A phrase you may have been hearing recently is "edible landscaping". As you might guess, this refers to those trees, shrubs, perennials and vines that bear fruit. Many fruit-bearing trees and plants burst into bloom with a beauty that rivals the "ornamentals" but with an added benefit: delicious fruit!

There are a number of fruit trees you can add successfully to your landscape, and many are hardy in most growing zones. As always, I'll be happy to advise you if you're not sure about a specific tree's suitability to your area. Send me a brief e-mail at steve@landsteward.org and I'll answer your question personally.

First, you need to decide which varieties of fruit you and your family are most likely to enjoy. If nobody really cares for peaches, then it doesn't make much sense to plant your own private peach grove, no matter how attractive the trees will look. However, it IS a good idea to pick trees and shrubs that will complement your existing landscape without overpowering other plantings.

For particularly small areas, you can find dwarf varieties of some fruit trees or you might prefer to plant shrubs such as cranberry or gooseberry. But for now, I have some suggestions for some "standard" fruit trees that are attractive to look at and produce fruit that is popular with even the most finicky members of your family! In this column we'll start with most everyone's favorite, then think about other fruit trees in a future column.

An apple a day does more than keep the doctor away, and apples are the single most popular fruit with Americans. Most standard-size apple trees reach a height of about 20 ft at maturity and need to be planted about 35 ft apart. It is important to note that you will need two different varieties for cross-pollination. Again, I can explain more about that if you would like to drop me an e-mail. One reason for the near-universal popularity of apple trees is their suitability to almost any climate, and the resistance (particularly among newer cultivars) to various diseases.

Here are some thoughts about my favorite apple trees.

Big Red Delicious. As the name suggests, this version of the famous Red Delicious produces fairly large fruit that has a solid, bright red color all over its surface and I think it's very tasty, particularly when I pick one straight from the tree and feel it's warm red skin against my hand!

Golden Yellow Delicious. My favorite dessert in the fall is a home made apple pie made with Golden Yellow Delicious apples picked that morning from my own tree. They also store successfully for enjoyment well into the winter. You can find good instructions for apple storage at your library or on the Internet. One useful resource is the U.S. Apple Association. Go to http://www.usapple.org/consumers/storage.shtml for some useful tips. There's a direct link that you can click on at my web site. Go to www.landsteward.org then find this column under "The Plant Man" heading.

Red Stayman Winesap. This is a variety that's less well-known than the first two I mentioned, but it's definitely worth your while to consider the Red Stayman if you're thinking of planting apple trees. It's highly prized for its quality as a dessert apple and, like the Golden Yellow Delicious, is a good "keeper". I particularly like the flavor, sometimes described as "wine-spicy".

Red Jonathan. Here's another that you might not immediately think of, but I believe it is well worth your consideration. If you like a slightly "tart" flavor you'll probably find that the Red Jonathan becomes one of your favorites. It also bears fruit at a younger age than many other apple varieties.

All four varieties that I've described here are hardy in zones 3 through 8, and the fruit will usually ripen in October. However, you might find that the apples on your red Jonathan tree are ready to pick as early as mid-September.

You can find a fairly detailed article on the planting and care of apple trees at http://greenwoodnursery.com/page.cfm/5668 and again there's a direct link from this "Plant Man" column at my web site. When planting apple trees it's important to remember that they need full sun for proper growth and quality fruit production. The early morning sun is particularly important since it dries the dew from the leaves, thereby reducing the incidence of diseases. Apple trees grow well in a wide range of soil types, but they prefer soils with a texture of sandy loam.

Next time, I'll have some suggestions about other fruit trees that can become part of your "edible landscape"!

The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to steve@landsteward.org and for resources and additional information, including archived columns, visit www.landsteward.org often.

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