The time is ripe for fruit-growing in front yards. Fruit trees not only increase the productive potential of your garden but also improve the street appearance of your house. Fruit trees are inviting, colourful and ornamental - not just useful, but beautiful to look at.
You can celebrate the season with blossom in spring, followed by fresh spring foliage and developing fruit that change in colour and form as the year progresses.
The last time I was in Singapore, in the middle of the old part of town, I found a lovely lane with shuttered terrace housing. The front doors of the houses opened directly on to a terracotta-tiled sidewalk next to the street. Residents had lush potted gardens, including small citrus varieties fruiting happily in containers.
In the late 1960s, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, decided that Singapore should be a garden city. This vision and continued effort over the years has made for one very beautiful place to visit and live in.
Choosing the right tree
The type of fruit trees you choose will depend on the aspect of your front yard. Sunny spots suit citrus, pip and stone fruit. Damp sheltered areas suit subtropicals such as bananas. Cherimoya trees suit subtropical sheltered conditions. The fruit are quirky to look at with a flavour to die for.
We have feijoas, which are coping well with their south-facing situation. We've trained them into an ornamental "standard" shape - a bare trunk with a round, loosely clipped top.
Plums are good candidates as they require little pruning apart from opening up the tree for air flow and sunlight. My grandmother's sultan red plum has remained a small tree and is quite ornamental, something that would look good in a Japanese-inspired garden. Better still, it provided the fattest, juiciest plums I've tasted. Persimmon is an ornamental fruit tree that requires little care. Their foliage in autumn is quite spectacular. The non-astringent variety fuyu would be my choice.
Some fruit trees require thoughtful pruning to get the best out of fruit production, others need very little at all. If you choose wisely for your conditions onerous spray and pruning routines shouldn't apply.
The pip and stone fruit types require the most maintenance as they require pruning to encourage a vase-like framework. A little maintenance every couple of years is really all they require. Apple trees produce fruit on spurs, and old trees require spur pruning over time - something that is not too hard to learn with a little online or library browsing. Choose self-fertile varieties if you are short on space.
Stone fruit should be pruned after fruiting in late summer/autumn. Peach trees can be susceptible to curly leaf in humid climates and may need preventative spraying with copper occasionally. Plums get my vote for a hardy easy-care tree as they also cope with a wide range of soils.
Pip fruit are best pruned in winter and can be bought on different root stock, from dwarf to large orchard-sized trees. Ask garden centre staff about the correct root stock for your size requirements and soil type.
If you don't have much room, think about training a grape vine along the front fence. There's one up the road from our house which is netted methodically as the grapes ripen (which may rerel the fingers of picky passers-by, as well as birds). Also in my neck of the woods are two perfectly espaliered pear trees trained against a masonry wall. Espaliering requires a little more know-how, but again, do a bit of reading.
At the very least, by growing fruit in your front yard, you'll help improve the vitamin C uptake of the kids in your neighbourhood as they help themselves to your fruit.
Deciduous fruit trees and vines can still be planted, and are often on discount in spring. Now the threat of frost has gone and the soil is moist, you can plant subtropicals, giving them a chance to get established before summer arrives.
When planting, dig a hole at least twice as wide as the width of the root ball and loosen the soil well around the perimeter and base of the hole with a fork to improve drainage. Add sheep pellets, rock dust and dolomite, and gypsum if your soil is heavy.
Avoid digging too much compost into heavy soil when planting trees. This can cause problems as the compost breaks down over time, making a sunken pit in the planting hole. The hole inevitably fills up with water in winter causing roots to rot.
After planting, mulch the soil around the tree to preserve moisture over summer (avoid piling mulch against the trunk).
Next week - No matter who won the local body elections, I have some ideas for getting creative with those street berms.