Rhapsody in blue: Which fruit tree is worth the work?

Ideal for smaller yards, blueberry trees promise low upkeep and high rewards.

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Ideal for smaller yards, blueberry trees promise low upkeep and high rewards.

Story by Pamela A. Keene

Some backyard plants carry more weight than others, especially those that deliver edible rewards. If you’ve dreamed of enjoying produce grown just outside your window, blueberry trees may be more bountiful than peaches or apples.

“Blueberries don’t have to be huge to produce fruit, so they’re ideal for smaller yards,” says Walter Reeves, a Georgia gardener who writes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and hosts a weekly radio program. “As a native plant, they’re fairly disease resistant, and if you plant them properly, you’ll have low maintenance and a high reward.”

Choose either rabbiteye blueberry bushes, which are more drought-tolerant, or Southern highbush, which bloom and produce earlier in the season. Either species does better when at least two varieties are planted together for cross-pollination.

“You may even want to plant an early bearer with a later one to prolong the fruiting season,” Reeves says.

Plant them in full sun and prepare the soil several feet wide where you’re going to plant them. Next, work 1 cubic foot of peat moss into each hole.

“Blueberries like nice, loose acidic soil,” Reeves says. “Then, fertilize them with an organic product and water them well. They really are pretty low-maintenance.”

Other fruit trees, such as peaches, apples or figs, may be tempting, but Reeves says that peach trees are “not really worth the work” in a home garden.

“Bugs and disease love peaches as much as we do,” he says, “but it takes a vigorous spraying schedule and a lot of care to make peaches successful.”

Fig trees tend to sprawl, and full-sized apple trees can become too large as well. “If you want apples, consider any of the dwarf varieties,” he adds.

Reeves praises blueberries for more than their fruit.

“Blueberries are great in the landscape because they produce interest in three seasons,” he says. “Spring with blossoms, summer with fruit and the foliage turns red in the fall.”

walterreeves.com/food-gardening/fruit-trees-sources/

Insider tip

Walter Reeves suggests building a PVC pipe frame to surround the blueberry bush, then hanging bird screen over it for protection from hungry pests.

PAMELA A. KEENE has lived in Atlanta since 1981 and written for publications across the Southeast.