Mini-orchard in your yard

Planting blueberries or a small tree such as a persimmon is an easy way to grow fruit at home. These plants bear beautiful blooms in the spring, carry their colorful fruit into the summer and many of them have great fall color. They’d be worth planting even if you didn’t harvest a single piece of fruit.

To make it easy for you to add these to your garden, Georgia Organics and the Atlanta Community Food Bank have organized the Incredible Edible Grow-It-Yourself Fruit Tree, Vine and Berry Bush Sale. It’s being held Saturday on the grounds of the food bank.

Lindsay Bonfanti with Georgia Organics helped organize the sale, copying a model used by Urban Harvest in Houston that encourages people to grow food in the city. “We decided to offer 13 different kinds of fruits, including some antique varieties and unique fruits like pomegranates and purple figs,” Bonfanti said.

More than 1,000 individual plants will be on sale.

The plants came from Ison’s Nursery in Brooks, Ga. The nursery offers 200 varieties of fruits, nuts and berries, and plant sale organizers have selected 32 varieties to offer this year.

Greg Ison runs the family-owned nursery with his sisters Darlene Evans, Janet McClure and Pam Duke. He said interest in fruit-bearing plants has gone through the roof in the past two years. “People are thinking about how they can save money, and growing their own fruit is one way to do that,” he said.

The sale also includes some unusual fruits such as papaws and cold-hardy kiwis. Papaws are the largest native American fruit. The trees bear clusters of fruits that look like mangos but have a creamy, custardlike flesh. You’ll need two for best fruit production, but they’re a good choice for those looking for something that’s almost tropical.

The cold-hardy kiwi doesn’t resemble that fuzzy green fruit from New Zealand. These are small fruits that taste like the grocery store fruit but grow on long vines in grapelike clusters. You’ll need an arbor or long trellising system for these, especially because you’ll have to plant male and female vines. One male vine can pollinate up to eight females.

Robert Hamilton, an East Atlanta gardener who turned his front yard into a fruit orchard, is one of the volunteers who will be on hand to help guide your selection. A self-professed “fruitoholic,” Hamilton grows a whole range of unusual fruits such as jujubes, loquats and filberts. He’s so enamored of fruit trees that he started a Yahoo group, Atlanta Fruits, to support fruit growing in the area — /atlanta_fruits/join.

Hamilton cites the apple varieties available at the sale as a good example of four that are disease-resistant and relatively easy to grow.

“Varieties like the horse apple and the Yates have a history in the South, a story. They’re antique apples, and they appeal to people who want something outside what you’d find in the grocery store.”

When you’re thinking about adding fruit to your garden, consider where to put your plants. “Anything that bears fruit really likes full sun, but many plants will do OK in partial shade. However, it will result in less fruit production,” said Ison, who acknowledges many gardeners still feel some production is better than none.

Prices range from $5 to $20 per plant. Some will be sold potted, and others are bare root. The potted plants can go home with you and wait even a year for a permanent home.

The bare root plants come packed in a moisture-holding gel and wrapped in plastic. You’ll need to plant those right away, either in their permanent home or a large container, or heel them in, digging a temporary trench and laying in the trees, covering the roots with soil and keeping them from drying out. They’ll need to make it to their permanent home by the time the buds start to break dormancy, about March 15.

And for that permanent home, Ison likes to remind gardeners of the old saying, “Don’t put a $10 tree in a 10-cent hole,” adjusting the price for inflation, of course. “It’s important to prepare a good hole. Dig it 24 inches wide and 24 inches deep.”

Fertilize the plants every six weeks from April 1 to July 15 to get the best fruit production. “Fertilizer is the engine that gets the trees to the size we want them,” he said. When fertilizing that frequently, use about a quarter strength with each application. There will be organic fertilizer for sale Saturday.

A community orchard planting with Trees Atlanta is being held later in the day. You can also buy a tree to be donated to the food bank to be planted later in a school garden.