The Best Fruit Trees For Starting Your Desert Homestead


Figuring out which trees to start planting on your new homestead can be overwhelming. Nurseries, catalogs, and big box stores are filled with so many choices. When we started our first homestead, we planted a large variety of trees and had many discouraging failures. Now that we are developing a new homestead, we decided to start with the easiest trees to grow.

The best fruit trees for beginning desert homesteaders are mulberry, pomegranate, and olive trees.

After reflecting on the failures and mistakes we made at our first homestead, we realized that these 3 trees are the best for starting new desert homesteads for several reasons:

  • Easy to grow
  • Inexpensive to purchase
  • Produce fruit quickly
  • Many varieties available
  • Multiple uses

Easy To Grow

Our desert climate can present many challenges for growing trees. When we started our first orchard, we planted more than 10 different trees in our first year. We quickly became overwhelmed with the trees that were more difficult to grow.

The most common problems we found with the trees that are difficult to grow are:

  • Frost and freeze protection needed
  • Watering requirements varied greatly
  • Inability to tolerate full summer sun

Mulberries, pomegranate, and olive trees do not have any of those challenges. We simply planted them in 50% native/50% amended soil, watered deeply and infrequently depending on the time of year, and otherwise left them alone. We didn’t need to build expensive, elaborate structures to protect them from the cold or the sun or maintain multiple watering schedules.

Inexpensive To Purchase

No matter how experienced you are with growing trees, you will have failures. When the trees are less expensive, it is much less stressful to experiment and learn from mistakes. It is also easier to plant many varieties of trees when they are more affordable.

I was able to find varieties of all 3 trees for less than $40; I found many options under $20 and some under $10.

Tip: Mulberry, Pomegranate, and Olive trees can be propagated by cuttings. Check local Facebook groups, Craigslist, and gardening groups for cuttings.

Produce Fruit Quickly

Because the trees I purchased were less expensive, they were 1 foot or less tall. Despite their initial smaller size, they all started producing fruit in 3 years or less. One mulberry variety and the pomegranate trees produced fruit in the second year they were in the ground. Some of the olive varieties and a mulberry cultivar took longer. As a new homesteader, it was very rewarding to have fruit within a few years.

Important Safety Fact: Olives cannot be eaten safely until they are properly cured. Please consult a reputable source for how to safely cure olives.

Many Varieties Available

Each of these trees have many varieties available to plant. As a new grower, I found the following pages from California Rare Fruit Growers to be invaluable for helping me choose which cultivars to plant:

Mulberry Varieties We Tried

  • Pakistan – I purchased this cultivar as a 4-inch bare root. After 3 years it was easily 20 feet tall! It produced an abundance of delicious 3- or 4-inch long fruit after the first year. Mulberries do not keep well so you need to eat them quickly or process them. The fruit ripened at different times, so I picked ripe ones daily.
  • Perisian – I purchased this cultivar as a 4-inch bare root. I bought a dwarf variety. After 3 years it was 8 feet tall. It produced round fruits after the second year in the ground. These fruits grew and ripened after the Pakistan.

Pomegranate Varieties We Tried

  • Wonderful – This is the variety found in grocery stores. I purchased a 4 foot tall plant and also a 1 foot tall plant on clearance. After 1 year in ground, the $3 clearance plant was the same size as the more expensive, taller one. After 1 year in the ground, we had fruit.
  • Parfianka – I bought a small plant to try this. After the first year, it was 5 feet tall and produced fruit. This is my favorite pomegranate cultivar so far. I found it to be sweeter and less astringent than Wonderful.
  • White – I also bought a small plant to try this variety. It was 5 feet tall and produced fruit after 1 year in the ground. The ariels are white with a hint of light pink. This is my second favorite variety so far.

Olive Trees We Tried

  • Arbequina – We found 1 foot tall trees for under $20, so we started with this variety. We only had maybe a cup of fruit in the third year so we haven’t been able to taste any.

Bare Root Ordering Tip: If you are ordering bare root trees online, many companies start accepting pre-orders in August or September for delivery in December or January. Make sure you know when the pre-orders open for the largest selection.

Multiple Uses

We want trees on our homestead that perform multiple functions beyond food for us. Each of these trees easily met those criteria. We have found the following uses so far:

  • Animal food
  • Wildlife and animal habitat
  • Shade
  • Mulch

Animal Food

We have chickens and ducks on our homestead. They go crazy for the mulberries and the pomegranates. They cleaned up the ripe mulberries that fell to the ground. When mulberries were in season they raced past their daily crumble to eat these first. They also would crack open the pomegranates on the lower part of the tree and enjoy the tasty ariels.

Wildlife And Animal Habitat

I love watching my chickens and ducks; I also enjoy watching the wild birds in our area. Our chickens and ducks love spending hot, summer days under the pomegranate and mulberry trees. The ducks even kept the pomegranate trees trimmed up off the ground!

When winter comes and the leaves fall off the pomegranate and mulberry trees, I see many nests in the branches. The wild birds enjoy eating the berries off the top of the trees that are out of our reach. I am pleased to know we are supporting the local bird population with food and shelter.

Shade

In our desert summers, shade is a precious commodity. Temperatures can be 20 degrees cooler in the shade, and more delicate trees and plants must have afternoon summer shade to thrive. While there are many non-productive shade trees here, we prefer to have trees that offer fruit and other benefits.

The Pakistan mulberry is by far our best shade tree, given how quickly it grows and how large it is. It can easily provide afternoon shade for our animals and other trees and plants. Because they do grow so large, you must consider that when you are planting them. They can damage fences, walls, and patios with their large roots.

Pomegranate trees don’t get super tall, but they can form a great shade hedge when planted closer together. We surrounded our chicken coop with them to provide the chickens a place to hide from predators and the sun and to cool the coop during the afternoon.

Olive trees also provide excellent shade in the desert. We enjoyed visiting the Queen Creek Olive Mill; they have many large olive trees around the eating area. The curving limbs and large canopy create a beautiful oasis.

Mulch

Our intense sunlight and heat dry uncovered ground very quickly and can cook tree roots. We use mulch to conserve moisture and protect roots. Because these trees need frequent trimming, we run those branches through our chipper/shredder to make our own mulch.

Start Planning Your Orchard Now

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

Chinese Proverb

Starting an orchard on a new homestead can be a daunting project. Starting with a few easy to grow trees gives you confidence as well as useful trees for your needs. Start planning now so you will be ready to plant your first trees as soon as the season begins and look forward to enjoying the fruits of your labor!

Christi

Hey fellow homesteaders and future homesteaders! I hope this article about our journey to design the life we want on our personal piece of paradise inspires you to design the life you want. Thank you and enjoy the journey!

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