When we think about fruit, we tend to picture the more common things, Apple Trees, Orange Trees, Banana Trees and so on. Then, of course, there are the common berries like Strawberry Bushes or Blueberry Bushes. Besides all these, though, there are a lot of other fruits that are rarely seen in stores, or which you wouldn’t immediately think of eating when you wanted a piece of fruit.
These Unusual Fruits can, however, be a lot of fun to grow, interesting to see in the garden, and definitely interesting to eat with your family and friends. So here at the Tree Center we make sure we have an interesting collection of different plants that you can grow in your garden just for something unusual and different.
By their nature these Unusual Fruits are not often planted in large numbers in a garden. They are useful as additions to a basic collection of fruits that you may already have and of course there is a good argument that goes….”why grow what I can buy at the store? I am going to grow unusual foods that I can’t get anywhere else”. If you agree with that, then Unusual Fruits definitely belong in your garden. Fresh Guavas for breakfast, with a cup of coffee made with your own coffee beans perhaps?
A lot of gardeners like to try unusual plants and stand out in their neighborhood for being the people with the Loquat Tree on their front lawn. If that sounds like you, you are in the right place. Some, like the American Cranberry or the Goji Berry, can be made into novel hedges and will serve a valuable function in the garden as well as carrying a useful crop of fruit.
The American Cranberry Bush (Viburnum trilobum) should not be confused with the Cranberry (Vaccinium species). Cranberries are unfortunately virtually impossible to cultivate and commercial Cranberries are collected from wild plants in bogs that are managed but not really cultivated. The American Cranberry is a medium-sized shrub growing from 8 to 12 feet in height and hardy to zone 2, so it is an excellent plant for gardeners in colder regions. It will grow in most soils, requires very little care and produces red berries in summer which can be made into jams and jellies. This is a very easy plant to grow and adds additional beauty to the garden with its attractive heads of white flowers in spring.
The Goji Berry Plant (Lycium barbarum) is almost as hardy, growing from zones 3 to 10, so it can be grown everywhere. This is also an easy plant that will take most kinds of soil without problems and grow to about 8 feet tall and almost as much wide. It can be grown as a hedge, or trained on a wall or trellis. The shrubs will begin to fruit in a couple of years and the Goji Berry is a real super-food with all sorts of beneficial properties.
The Guava Tree (Psidium guajava) is not hardy like these other unusual fruits and should be grown outdoors only in zone 10, as it will not take temperatures below freezing until it is quite mature. However this is one of the easiest tropical fruits to grow in a pot indoors, so it is a great favorite of gardeners who love to grow something exotic and unusual in their house or greenhouse.
The tree can reach 30 feet tall outdoors but of course in a pot will be much smaller, and can be pruned easily to control its size. The fruits are 2 to 5 inches across, round with a pink center and can be eaten raw – they have a lemony taste – sliced in sweet or savory salads, or turned into jam alone or mixed with other fruits.
The Loquat Tree (Eriobotrya japonica) is unusual because it flowers in the fall and ripens its fruit in the spring. This means that you can grow this very handsome tree and enjoy its beautiful fragrant fall flowers in zones 8 and 9, but for fruit you need to be in zone 10 or the warmer parts of zone 9, because a freeze will destroy the developing fruit. Loquats are small yellow fruits around 1 inch across that are fragrant and make wonderful pies, jams or can be preserved whole in a spiced sugar syrup.
Everyone loves pineapples and if you live in zone 9b or 10 you can grow the Elite Gold Pineapple Trees (Ananas comosus) outdoors. If you have a frost-free greenhouse or well-lit indoor space you can grow them in any zone, and this variety is compact and the easiest to grow in a pot. Elite Gold Pineapple is a guaranteed disease-free plant produced under controlled conditions to be an exact replica of the parent and is one of the tastiest and easiest grown pineapples around.
There are lots of easy garden plants to make tea, like Mint for example, but growing your very own coffee is something special which is now possible. The Coffee Plant (Coffea arabica) is a tree that outdoors can reach 30 feet, but which will flower and set fruit when young and even while growing in a pot. The amazingly fragrant white flowers are also showy and the fruit which follows looks a little like a cherry and contains two coffee beans.
Preparing and roasting your own coffee is not hard and having your very own roast to share with your family and your friends is a pretty special thing to be able to do. The tree is hardy in zone 10, or it can be grown in a large pot and brought indoors for the winter. Because it naturally grows in lower light beneath other trees it can even be grown indoors all year round – so you don’t even need an outdoor space to grow your own coffee.
The American Cranberry and Goji Berry are for everyone to grow outdoors and are easy plants that should be in the gardens of everyone interested in having produce and healthy food from their own property. The Loquat Tree needs zone 9b or 10 to fruit, as does the Elite Gold Pineapple, and the Coffee Tree and Guava Tree do best only in zone 10, but these plants, as well as the pineapple, can be grown and will fruit indoors. Generally speaking all these plants do well in normal soil that does not stay wet or flood. More details can be found by looking at the details of the individual plants.
When planting outdoors, choose a sunny place for all these plants, although the American Cranberry and the Coffee Tree will both take some shade. Spacing should be around half the final height of the plant. Prepare the soil well with organic material and water very well when planting. During the first year your Unusual Fruits should be watered once a week or even more during any hot, dry spells, but as they mature they will need less frequent watering.
For growing in pots, choose a standard indoor-plant potting soil. Clay pots are usually better than plastic because the soil can breathe. A pot around twice the diameter of the one your plant arrives in is a good starting size. Plants in pots should always be watered thoroughly until water comes out the drainage holes and then left to become a little dry before watering thoroughly again, but in the first period after planting, make sure the root-ball does not dry out – until your tree has made new roots into the new soil it can only use water in the original root-ball.
Outdoors, none of these trees need detailed pruning, but can be trimmed to keep them more compact. Indoors more pruning will probably be necessary unless you have a lot of room. Always prune after fruit has been harvested, to allow plenty of time for new growth to develop and flower again. Regular fertilizer is necessary for plants in pots and outdoor trees will also benefit from fertilizer or an annual mulch of rich organic material like compost or well-rotted manure.
Plants grown in pots should be transplanted into a larger pot once the pot becomes filled with roots. Don’t place a small plant immediately into a very large container as the soil will always be wet around it because it cannot use that much water. It is best to gradually move your plant up through several pot sizes into its largest pot. Once your trees are established in large pots they can have fresh soil put on the top as necessary instead of transplanting.
Unusual Fruits are just that – unusual. The idea of growing something uncommon may not appeal to everyone, but if you are an enthusiastic grower then growing these plants can become an interesting activity that will be full of surprises as your Unusual Fruit trees come to bear their exotic crop. You will be justifiably proud of your achievement with these very different plants.