Brian Barth

7 Easily Propagated Fruits for Transforming Your Backyard into a Food Forest

by , 07/26/14


food forest, fruit trees, berries, propagation, home food production, grafting, cuttings

Fruit trees cost anywhere from $20 to $100, which can be cost-prohibitive for some, especially if you’re looking to establish a neighborhood-scale orchard. Some people attempt to grow their own from the seed of fruit purchased in a grocery store, only to find out that most fruit trees do not ‘grow true’ from seed. In other words, the fruit produced by a tree grown from seed rarely resembles the fruit that it came from and is typically a half-wild, inedible version of the fruit we are used to eating.

This is because virtually all modern fruit tree varieties are propagated clonally and haven’t been grown from seed for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Thus, they have to be propagated by cuttings of wood from a tree of the desired variety. To make things even more complicated, most fruit trees cuttings then have to be grafted onto a special rootstock, which must be propagated separately.

Grafting is a slightly complex horticultural feat, but fortunately, there is an easier way, though it only works with certain fruiting plants. Those on the list below do not require grafting; instead, the cuttings can be rooted directly, making it much faster and easier to get your food forest growing.

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Here are the basic steps:

1)    Take a 6- to 8-inch cutting of a healthy, supple branch from a tree with good quality fruit, making sure it includes at least two nodes (the enlarged bumps where the leaves emerge from the stem). The cutting should be about 1/4- to 3/8-inches in diameter.

2)    Stick the lower half of the cutting into a rooting medium, making sure there is at least one node above ground and one below. If you do this during the dormant season, ideally in late winter, you can use potting soil or just loose garden soil to stick the cuttings in. If you do it during the growing season, it is much more effective to root them in perlite, in which case there are two extra steps:

  1. Remove all of the leaves except the top two and cut these in half to minimize the moisture lost through evapotranspiration from the leaf surface during the time period that roots are forming
  2. Keep the cutting warm and moist. One simple method is to secure a plastic bag over the pot with a rubber band as a mini-greenhouse and use a spritzer bottle to keep it humid inside.

3)    Once the cuttings begin to grow from the top, it is a sign that a substantial root system has developed below and it is safe to transplant the rooted cutting.

That’s the gist of it, but additional tips are included for each species listed below.

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Olive

These are evergreen trees and cannot be propagated with the dormant season method. Take cuttings in spring using the mini-greenhouse technique instead. Olives grow quickly to 30 feet or more, though they are restricted to regions where winter temperatures stay above 20 degrees.

Related: America’s First Food Forest – From Ground Level to Canopy, Urban Agriculture is Growing Seattle

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Figs

If you propagate them in late winter, figs are one of the easiest fruit trees to grow from cuttings. You can actually use much larger cuttings than the method above recommends—up to an inch in diameter and three feet long is fine—and stick them in the ground in their permanent location. Figs are slightly more cold tolerant than olives (15 degrees) and are one of the fastest trees to bear fruit from a cutting. They can be maintained as a 6-foot bush, allowing them to be grown in containers and brought indoors for winter in cold climates, or allowed to grow up to 20-30 feet tall.

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Pomegranate

Pomegranates grow into beautiful 12-foot deciduous shrubs with huge red flowers in spring, which are very popular among hummingbirds. They are slightly more cold-hardy than figs, surviving temperatures as low as 10 degrees. Propagate with either of the methods listed above and look for one of the dwarf varieties to take cuttings from if you want to grow it in a pot.

Related: 6 Surprising Fruits You Can Grow Organically Indoors in Containers!

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1 Comment

  1. Bob Massengale July 27, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    I must criticize the choice of Mulberry as a tree to use in food forests. While they do provide a lot of fruit, they are an incredibly invasive species that can easily spread through root offshoots and bird droppings. Additionally they produce a lot of staining and messiness that some find maddening. I lived at a house that had an incorrigible grove of Mulberries that were destroying wall foundations and nearly impossible to remove.

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