How to Grow Fruit in Pennsylvania: Backyard Apples, Berries, Melons, and More!
Many families take to the backyard each summer to grow vegetables and herbs, but did you know it’s easy to add fruit into the mix as well? If you already tend a flower or vegetable garden, fruit can be a fun way to get even more out of your growing season.
Interested in learning how to grow fruit? Here are some of the basics for growing apples, pears, berries, citrus fruits, and melons in your backyard.
Note: In this blog, we’ll be focusing on fruits that can be grown in Pennsylvania (plant hardiness zone 5-6). You can find out which zone you’re in with the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.
Apples are one of the most popular fruits enjoyed across America. While many people interested in learning how to grow fruit are particularly curious about growing apple trees, they aren’t always the best place to start. While they are delicious, they are prone to fruit tree pests and need extra care to produce good yields. That being said, with time and care, you can grow beautiful backyard apple trees to enjoy for years to come.
Here are a few of the apple cultivars that you can grow in your yard in Pennsylvania:
Red Delicious & Golden Delicious: These apples are juicy with a mild flavor and are considered a classic variety.
Gala: Gala apples are still mild but have a sweeter flavor with notes of vanilla. They are enjoyed by many gardeners not only for their taste, but for their beautiful varied coloring.
Fuji: Fuji apples have both sweet, honey-like notes and more acidic citrus notes. They are often compared to the taste and texture of a pear.
Braeburn: Braeburn apples are both sweet and tart with notes of cinnamon and nutmeg.
Apple Tree Care
Plant your apple sapling in full sun, ideally on the north side of your home. Don’t crowd your tree against your home or other foliage, as apple trees are prone to leaf fungus and need to dry quickly after rain to stay healthy. You may also need to stake your tree to provide it with support until it’s strong enough to hold itself up. Water your sapling twice a week until its roots become established.
Apple Fruit Tree Pest Control
Apple trees are particularly prone to pest infestations. For this reason, you’ll need to keep a close eye on your saplings and use preventative fruit tree pest control at specific stages of your tree’s development. You’ll need to be careful not to use pesticides while the trees are being pollinated, as this can reduce the number of bees and affect the pollinated fruit.
In order to make your trees produce apples, they’ll need to be pollinated. This means you’ll need at least two apple trees of different varieties that bloom at the same time. You’ll also need some bees to do your pollinating, which you can attract by planting a variety of native plants nearby.
Dwarf fruit trees can begin producing fruit in just two to three years, while full-sized apple trees may need up to eight years, even with proper pollination.
While pear trees may not receive the same attention from those learning how to grow fruit, they can be a much friendlier place to start than apple trees. They do require some pruning, but are not nearly as susceptible to fruit tree pests as their counterparts.
There are a handful of pear varieties that can be grown in Pennsylvania, including:
Anjou: Anjou pears are the classic green pears you can buy in the grocery store. These juicy pears are originally from Europe and have the perfect amount of sweetness for enjoying on their own or using in baking.
Bartlett: Bartlett pears (also called Williams pears) are the most commonly-grown pears outside of Asia. They have a slightly softer texture than Anjou pears, but are just as delicious.
Moonglow: Moonglow pears are soft and juicy with a mildly sweet flavor. They ripen in early August, a few weeks before most other pear types.
Pear Tree Care
Full-grown pear trees can grow to nearly 40 feet tall, so be sure to pick a location with plenty of room before planting. We recommend starting with a small sapling, instead of trying to grow your pear tree from seed. Plant your pear tree in full sun in compost-heavy soil and water twice a week until the roots have become established.
Pruning your pear tree is crucial to its health, growth, and fruit production. You can begin to prune your tree soon after planting. The ideal pear tree has one main trunk (with one upward branch) and four or five branches growing outward, not upward. Remove any upward-growing branches, and trim just the ends of the outward-growing branches to encourage growth.
A healthy pear tree will produce fruit in three to five years. Many saplings for sale will already have a year of growth under their belt, shortening this timeline. While it may seem like a long time to wait, having homegrown pears for years to come is worth it!
Berries are a delicious addition to your backyard fruit garden and can be surprisingly easy to grow if you have appropriate soil. Learning how to grow fruit like berries can take some time, but eating fresh fruit right off the vine makes it all worth it.
Strawberries: Strawberries are a classic backyard berry with a quick growth cycle. Some are ready to be picked as early as late June, while others take longer to ripen.
Raspberries & Blackberries: These tart berries are surprisingly easy to grow and taste delicious straight off the bush, still warm from the sun.
Blueberries: Blueberries can be grown in your backyard fruit garden, but note that they require extremely acidic soil. It can take several seasons and ongoing composting efforts to create soil fertile enough for blueberries to thrive.
Berry Bush Care
Like most other fruits, berries grow best and produce the most fruit in full sun. The best soil for fruit trees is very rich in nutrients, which can be achieved by amending your soil with organic compost. Since berries don’t compete well with weeds, you’ll want to mulch the tops of your garden beds to keep them at bay. Water weekly and be sure to water deeply as your berries begin to ripen to give them the energy necessary to mature.
Seeds vs. Seedlings
While it is possible to grow berry bushes from seed, seedlings will have a better chance of survival and will save you time and energy. You can purchase berry bush seedlings at most local home and garden stores.
Many people interested in learning how to grow fruit are particularly curious about growing citrus trees. Unfortunately, citrus fruits can’t be grown outdoors year round in hardiness zones five and six. However, indoor citrus plants can benefit greatly from being brought outside in the spring and summer each year.
Lemons: There are two types of lemons that can easily be grown indoors: Ponderosa lemons and Meyer lemons. Meyer lemons are sweeter than traditional lemons, and their trees can grow from five to ten feet tall (with dwarf varieties available).
Limes: Key limes are the main variety that can be grown indoors. They are smaller than store-bought limes and very aromatic. Key lime trees are much smaller, only growing one to three feet tall at maturity.
Citrus Fruit Tree Care
Citrus trees are relatively easy to care for. Plant in full sun in a terracotta pot with good drainage. Keep temperatures between 65-70ºF, and don’t place your trees near any heat or air conditioning vents. Citrus plants need acidic soil, so be sure to add peat moss or other organic compounds to your potting soil.
Water your citrus trees once a week or whenever the soil feels dry at two inches deep. Fertilize only during the growing months (spring and summer) with a citrus plant or acidic soil plant fertilizer.
Transitioning Your Plants Outdoors
If you want to take your citrus trees outside for the warmer months, it’s important to help them acclimate slowly. Start by placing them in the shade of a tree or your house to better mimic indoor “full sun.” Slowly transition them into direct sun for the summer, and then transition them back into outdoor shade before bringing them back indoors in the fall. This will avoid shock and lower your plants’ susceptibility to fruit tree pests.
When learning how to grow fruit, pests will likely be one of your biggest frustrations. Much like other fruit trees, citrus plants are prone to pest infestation, so it’s important to keep a close eye on your plants and treat them at the earliest signs of infection. Scale and spider mites are two of the most common pests that citrus trees experience.
Pollination and Fruiting
If you opt to keep your citrus trees indoors or have them outdoors but don’t see any fruit, you may need to hand-pollinate your trees. You can use a small paintbrush or your finger to transfer pollen onto the flowers’ stigmas or gently shake each branch to help the pollen distribute on each flower.
Melons are a backyard fruit garden favorite because they are easy to care for and fun to watch grow! When selecting your melon seeds or seedlings, look for varieties with short growth cycles (less than 80 days) to ensure you’ll get at least one harvest.
Watermelon: Watermelon is an American classic and tastes delicious straight off the vine.
Honeydew: Honeydew is another beloved option that bears sweet and juicy fruit.
Cantaloupe: Cantaloupe, also known as rockmelon, is another tasty, easy-to-grow variety.
Muskmelon: While less common than the others, muskmelon is actually the broader category under which cantaloupe lives. In addition to cantaloupe, there are a number of other varieties of muskmelon that are backyard garden-friendly.
Melon Plant Care
When learning how to grow fruit in your garden, melons are a great place to start. They do best in well-drained soil (like in a raised bed) in direct sunlight where they can stay warm all summer long. When watering, deeply soak the soil around once a week. Avoid getting water on the leaves and fruits.
Planting and Timing
You want to plant your melons as early as possible to give them time to ripen in the shorter Northern growing season. Plant your melon seeds outdoors one week before the average last frost date. Or, start them indoors two to four weeks before the average last frost date and transplant outdoors once temperatures have warmed. Just be sure to use biodegradable pots or transplant very gently to not disturb your melon’s roots.
When to Harvest Your Melons
When the tendrils near the fruit start to dry and become brown, it’s time to harvest. With watermelons and honeydew melons, you may also see some of the leaves near a fruit start to yellow, another indication that the fruit is ripe.
Simply grasp the fruit and twist gently to separate it from the vine. If it doesn’t separate easily, the fruit is not yet ripe. Keep in mind that the fruit will not necessarily all ripen at the same time, so look for signs of ripeness right by each fruit before attempting to remove it.