If you wanted to grow the easiest fruit trees for the South, what would you plant? Today I recommend my top three favorite Southern fruit trees along with some additional orchard options.
Three Totally Crazy Easy Fruit Trees for Southern Gardeners
I got a comment the other day from Rhonda. She writes:
“I would love to know what trees, especially fruit trees you have planted. I live about 7 miles north of Interstate 10 on the MS gulf coast. I figure we must be in the same zone as you and want to plant some trees too. We have blueberries, blackberries and strawberries but want fruit trees too.”
This is a question that I get asked moderately often. What fruit trees grow here? What should I plant?
In the deep south my favorite three trees for sheer ease of growth, productivity, and sheer ease of growth, are sand pears, mulberries and Japanese persimmons.
Sand pears are the classic hard storage pear. A lot of people don’t necessarily like them. They say, “Oh man – those things are so hard! They’re not like those pears we had up north!”
That’s because you’re not treating them properly. They are a hard pear that is made for processing: you can make pear sauce (like applesauce), pear cider, sliced pears in syrup and that sort of thing. And pear pie? That’s awesome! But they are not a great fresh-eating pear.
And don’t forget that pear salsa!
My number two tree is the mulberry. The mulberry is the most productive, amazing tree. We’re talking buckets of organic berries with almost no work, year after year after year!
If you’ve tried to grow all those small berries, like blueberries and strawberries and raspberries and blackberries, those take some work! They need support or they need weeding, they take some care.
It’s not like that with a mulberry tree. If you plant a mulberry tree, you get buckets and buckets of mulberries. Buckets and buckets of fruit, and they produce very, very quickly. I highly recommend mulberries.
There are native mulberries called the red mulberries which vary in flavor. Some of them are kind of okay, and some of them are not great and some of them are fantastic. There are varieties that have been bred to have better flavors and I recommend those. Some of the black mulberries and some of the white mulberries are very good, too.
The taxonomy of mulberries is really confusing. Morus rubra, Morus alba, Morus… well just don’t get into all that, but when you say that it’s a “white mulberry” tree it doesn’t necessarily mean that the fruit are white; it means that it’s a Morus alba. And if you say it’s a “red mulberry,” it doesn’t mean that the fruit are actually red, it means that it is a Morus rubra, the native, but whatever – forget it! Just plant mulberries.
Tree number three is the Japanese persimmon, most specifically, the “Fuyu” cultivar. You can get Japanese persimmons in astringent and non-astringent versions. Astringent varieties of fruit turn your mouth to cotton if you eat it a little bit early.
It’s like trying to swallow cotton balls.
Super, super astringent and not a pleasant experience. However, if those astringent varieties reach full maturity, so they’re soft, almost like pudding, the flavor is very complex. Almost spiced, and delicious!
They’re really great but not as forgiving as the Fuyu persimmon, which is why it’s the most commonly planted of the Japanese persimmons.
The Fuyu is the beginner tree that I recommend, as you can eat the fruit when they’re still a little crisp and not fully ripe and they’re still good. You can eat them like apples, or you can wait until they get softer and eat them when they’re soft.
More Fruit Tree Recommendations for the South
Those three trees right there are your basis of a great backyard orchard in the Deep South.
Now if you are down in zone 9 or 10, the loquat becomes a very productive and useful tree. I definitely recommend loquats but I would try to get cultivated varieties. Some of the seedling varieties are pretty good but the loquat has been used extensively in the landscape industry as a pretty ornamental rather than a fruit tree.
This is because it takes no work, it’s evergreen and it’s beautiful, but sometimes the fruit are more tart and unpleasant or the pit is very large. A well-bred cultivated variety of loquat is a different ball game. The fruit is larger, the pit is much smaller, and they are much sweeter. It’s a much better experience off the tree.
I’ve used a lot of seedling loquats in the past. I’ve eaten them and preserved them and made liqueurs out of them and that sort of thing. They’re good, they’re useful but they’re not up to the quality of a cultivated variety.
If you are going to plant fruit trees I highly recommend that you plant the easiest ones first. Plant the encouraging trees!
My book Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening was based on this idea of planting a scaffold of super easy-to-grow plants and making them the backbone of your gardening and of your food supply. First, plant super easy stuff. Don’t plant the harder stuff to begin with! You can play with those tougher varieties, but make sure that you have secured that backbone of something easy. The super easy crops will keep you fed! These three trees are the super easy fruit trees that will keep you fed.
That said, there are many many other trees that grow in our area. If you want to get into growing some nuts, pecans and chestnuts are both very good. Try to get the “Dunstan” chestnut if you can, because it is blight resistant with a large sweet nut. It’s a very good tree.
If you want to get into other fruit trees of course you can grow apples. Apples are a little touchy and are not great in this area. You can also grow peaches. Peaches are touchy. Peaches are like growing a vegetable; they need a lot of care, they need pruning, they need feeding, or else you tend to end up with a big, ratty, bushy peach tree and they don’t tend to last very long either.
It’s not a long-lived generational tree. Sand pears are likely to last for decades and decades and decades even if you ignore them, whereas peach trees are not. They tend to get rot issues, they have plum curculio issues, they have trunk borers and all kinds of stuff that make it difficult. Plus the squirrels are really, really good at stealing peaches for some reason.
Don’t not grow them because you’re scared of them, though. Sure, go ahead and grow them but if you want easy-to-grow tree they’re not it.
Plums are a little easier than peaches in my experience but they also tend to have issues with getting borers and with getting the fruit damaged by various things. It’s a spectrum, right? You start with the really easy stuff first, then you plant some other things.
Fig Trees in the South
I’m gonna give you a bonus easy tree right now, and that is the fig. I didn’t put it as one of my top three because there are figs and there are figs! There are fig varieties that grow really well in California and make a lot of fruit which don’t really like the Deep South.
For the Deep South your two classic figs are “Celeste” and “Brown Turkey.” The LSU breeding program has released multiple other ones as well. I was talking to Florabama Homestead yesterday when we were visiting and he said that they used the Celeste fig as the basis of their breeding program because the Celeste is already a proven variety for the area.
We’ve also had good luck with “Texas Everbearing” figs. Figs are easy to grow. Just don’t put them in a real wet spot as they like it kind of dry. They also like to be around rocks. I’m guessing because they’re a Mediterranean plant. If you put them near the rocks they put their roots down and they feel nice and anchored and happy. If you grow them alongside a wall or alongside a building, they love that and they thrive.
For a great start on growing fruit trees in the South, start with the easy stuff! Check out my book Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening for more details on growing in Florida in particular; and of course, you can follow my YouTube channel for advice for Lower Alabama and all the way through the Gulf Coast area.
I am in USDA zone 8, so I know what it’s like to be in a zone between the tropical and the temperate. You can certainly grow a lot here. Start with the easy stuff put that backbone together and then plant all the crazy fruit trees you want to plant, knowing that you have secured a food supply for decades into the future.
Thanks for joining me. Catch y’all next time and until then, may your thumbs always be green.