Plant fruit trees and bushes in the right spot and they'll give you years of flavoursome crops
The main influence on positioning specific fruit crops is the site and aspect of your plot: light, temperature and exposure all have an important impact on the selection of fruit you can grow.
Mapping out your garden or other growing area to note areas of shade and full sun is essential before you start planning and planting.
A few fruits are perfectly happy to grow and crop well in a shady spot, whereas most need full sunlight and the warmth that it provides to yield well. Gardeners with small enclosed gardens, balconies or courtyards may have to cope with a lot of shade and even shady, north- or east-facing aspects; such areas can be used to grow fruit such as alpine strawberries, acid cherries, redcurrants and whitecurrants and gooseberries. Sunny, especially south- or west-facing aspects on the other hand are ideal for growing just about any fruit, but especially sun lovers such as grapes, figs, peaches, nectarines and apricots.
Gardeners with a courtyard or garden surrounded by walls or fences should be aware of 'rain shadows'. The base of such vertical structures is vulnerable to drying out, even in rainy weather. So, the soil here can be very dry and a plant using a wall or fence as a support can succumb to drought stress, unless adequate irrigation is provided.
Minimum temperatures are also an important consideration - only truly hardy plants will crop reliably in gardens where the temperature frequently falls below freezing, and stays there for days or weeks on end, during winter. Gardeners in such conditions wanting to grow tender crops such as citrus, pineapples or passionfruit will need the protection of a conservatory or heated greenhouse.
Most tree fruits (tree fruit) flower early in the year, so need a sheltered site that attracts pollinating insects - predominantly bees. If these beneficial insects are discouraged from visiting flowers by strong winds the flowers won’t be pollinated and resulting fruit set will be very poor. If your garden is exposed it is a good idea to erect artificial, semi-permeable windbreaks to reduce the wind’s force, or plant screening trees or shrubs to provide shelter.
Damage from frosty weather is one of the most problematic issue for fruit gardeners. A badly timed late frost can destroy all blossom open at that time and any young fruitlets, reducing potential yield significantly.
Frost can also damage the soft shoots and foliage of various crops, which can result in more serious plant failure. Because most fruit crops have to flower and ripen fruit all in one year they come into blossom comparatively early in the year. This is especially true of peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums and pears, all of which are frequently in full blossom during late winter and early spring.
The ideal method of protection is to avoid planting vulnerable crops in frost-prone areas, which has its limitations, but certainly avoid frost pockets (see below). For most gardeners the main method of minimising frost damage is to protect vulnerable plants during sub-zero temperatures. This can be done by moving containerised plants to a more sheltered, frost-free position or by covering plants with protective materials.
Comparatively hardy crops, such as kiwifruit and grapes, are vulnerable to frost damaging their soft shoots and woody stems. A kiwifruit coming into leaf in spring can easily have all its foliage burnt off by a late frost, so it should be covered with a tent of horticultural fleece during this period. Conversely, the soft, unripened stems of a grape vine can be damaged by the first frost of autumn, causing them to die back. In this case it helps to position vines in a sunny, sheltered spot to help ripen the wood as much as possible before the onset of winter.
If you don’t have a frost-free area, or if your fruit trees are planted out permanently, then in situ protection is the only option. Polythene, horticultural fleece or glass cloches are useful for protecting the blossom of early strawberries, whereas fences or walls supporting fan-trained, cordon, fan or espalier trees can have a double layer of horticultural fleece attached to them and draped over the plant.
When using fleece be sure to erect a tent of canes around the plant to hold the fleece away from the blossom – if touching, it will allow the cold to penetrate through to the flowers. Similarly, keep polythene away from touching plants as it can lead to condensation and rotting.
Whichever method of frost protection you choose, only use it only when frosts are forecast and the plant is in blossom. Many temperate fruits need exposure to cold weather to break their seasonal dormancy, and pollinating insects need to be able to access the flowers during the day.
Areas where cold air collects are known as frost pockets, and it is important to avoid growing fruit in these areas because flowers that emerge very early in the year can be damaged or killed.
Cold air naturally sinks to and collect in the lowest point it can reach - so dips and the bottom of sloping sites are most at risk. If your garden is in a natural valley don’t plant fruit trees at the bottom of it, where there will be a natural frost pocket.
You can also inadvertently create frost pockets on sloping sites by impeding the downward flow of cold air with a hedge, fence or other impenetrable barrier. The cold air gets trapped on the upper side of the barriers. Where obstructions to airflow do exist, don’t plant fruit directly above them.