When we’re trying to grow food for ourselves and our families, every bit of space available is precious. Although many fruit trees need a lot (and I mean a LOT) of sunshine to flourish, there are also some great fruit trees that grow in shade. This makes them ideal to grow along fences, or in spaces between taller trees. Read on to discover what you can grow in the less-than-full-sun areas on your property!
Are There Really Fruit Trees that Grow in Shade?
Why, yes. Yes there are. And furthermore, they aren’t really weird and obscure species either. You may be pleasantly surprised to discover that there are a few fairly common (and very delicious) trees that will produce fruit in partial shade. None of them will thrive in the dark, of course: they all need a bit of sunshine. But if you’re keen on making use of as much space as possible, you’re in luck! Check out the four species mentioned below, and get planting!
These understory trees thrive in dappled shade that emulates their native forest environments. In fact, they’re rather ideal for growing in tree guilds, and are great companions for white pines or quaking aspens.
Elderberry trees don’t like to have their roots disturbed, so be sure to situate yours in a place where it can grow in peace for several years. They can do well in various types of soil, provided that they get adequate moisture. You’ll get armfuls of deliciously scented flowers in summertime, which evolve into luscious berries from late summer through late autumn.
Although you can’t eat elderberries raw, they’re wonderful transformed into jams, jellies, and wine. Furthermore, if you leave some of them on the tree rather than harvesting them all, they provide an amazing food source for local animals in wintertime.
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Like elderberries, mulberries are also lower-story plants that can do well in the shade. Not complete shade, mind you: they still need a bit of sunshine poking through in order to be able to bear fruit. They need well-drained, fertile soil with quite a lot of sand in it. If the soil on your property is wet, or has too much clay in it, you’ll need to amend it with sand and perlite before trying to cultivate mulberries.
These also spread out like crazy, so be sure to leave 20 to 30 feet between trees. Closer than that, and they’ll make a hedge. That said, they need to be within 40 feet of one another to cross-pollinate.
As an additional note, keep in mind that purple mulberries will stain anything they come into contact with. This includes your hands, and face, and clothing, as well as any concrete they may fall upon. Never plant them next to sidewalks or driveways unless you want them to be purple. The exception to this would be if you cultivate rarer white mulberry cultivars instead of purple ones.
Sweet cherries need to be grown in full sunshine in order for the fruits to sweeten, but sour varieties (also known as “acid” cherries) don’t! Morello and Montmorency cherries are among the most popular tart varieties out there. You should be able to find these at your local garden center, but if you can’t, they’re readily available to order online.
If you’re low on space, consider growing them as espalier fruit trees along a wall or fence. This is a technique in which you trim and train their branches to grow out horizontally, rather than randomly. It’s a medieval technique that’s still put to good use in smaller spaces around the world.
Since Pawpaws are forest trees, they do really well with just a tiny bit of dappled sunlight. If you’re looking to cultivate some great lower-story fruits that grow in shady spots, definitely add these to your list.
These fruits grow best in regions where they get cold winters followed by hot summers. They’re native to the northeastern USA and most of southern Canada, and their flesh is absolutely exquisite. The pioneers referred to them as “custard apples” because they taste something like banana-vanilla pudding.
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You can plant pawpaws as understory plants in fruit guilds, much like elderberries. Furthermore, pawpaws are the only fruits that will thrive alongside black walnut trees! This is because they’re immune to the juglone chemical that these trees release into the surrounding soil.
As you can see, there are a few fabulous choices if you’re looking for fruit trees that grow in shade. Get your garden planner out, consult with your local garden center, and get growing!