Fruit trees for desert climates

A ‘fruit salad’ garden for a desert climate

(For nut trees for hot, dry climates go here.)

Citrus trees. Lemon trees, lime trees, and orange trees do not do well in the parts of the desert with cold winters, for example, Las Vegas, Nevada. So don’t plant an Improved Meyers Lemon or a Nagami Kumquat except in a pot which you can bring indoors in winter. Some citrus trees can be grown in the low desert, such as Palm Springs and Phoenix, Arizona where winters are warm. Consult your local nursery for the varieties for your area because many citrus trees do not like very hot weather either and are subject to sunburn.

Then there are plums, pomegranates, peaches, apricots and figs — they all grow beautifully. Here are some proven winners.

Apricot trees (Prunus family) reach 15 to 20 feet in height and have pink or white blooms in Spring. Varieties that do well in the desert are: ‘Early Gold’, ‘Blenheim’, ‘Royal’, ‘Chinese’, ‘Tilton’, ‘Floragold’ (a dwarf variety), and ‘Newcastle’. Most of these are self-pollinating and need some winter chill.

Plum trees (Prunus) reach 10 to 15 feet in height and will need a winter chill period to produce abundant fruit. Among the best varieties for our hot, dry climate are two self-pollinators: ‘Beauty’ and ‘Santa Rosa’. The ‘Satsuma’. ‘Burbank’, ‘Howard Miracle’, ‘Mariposa’ and ‘Friar’ can be pollinated by the ‘Santa Rosa’. There are, of course, the ornamental plums, but why grow them when you can grow fruit bearing trees!

Nectarine_prunus_persicaNectarine trees (Prunus persica nucipersica) need to be pruned back severely every year because the fruit grows only on the first year growth. Even then you are likely to have a bumper crop annually. Plant these self-pollinating varieties: ‘Goldmine’, ‘Gower’, ‘Stanwick’, and ‘Le Grand’ and you can feed the whole neighborhood!

Peach trees (Prunus persica) as well as nectarine trees grow to about 25 feet high, if left unpruned. Pruning is recommended to keep tree height to under 12 feet. They will start producing fruit in about 3 or 4 years and you can place 2 or 3 varieties in one hole when you plant. Some varieties that do well in the desert are: ‘Desert Gold’, ‘Early Elberta’, ‘Bonita’, and ‘Rio Grande’. The following are dwarf trees: ‘Bonanza II’, ‘Southern Sweet’, and ‘Southern Flame’.

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Most apple trees need a certain amount of winter chill but a few varieties will grow in the desert where the winters do not get very chilly at all. The fruit, however may not look as attractive as the ones in the grocery store.  If you decide to be brave and plant an apple tree here are your best choices:  ‘Dorsett Golden’, ‘Fiji’, ‘Pink Lady’ and ‘Anna’.  (Personally, I prefer buying apples in a grocery store.)

pomegranate fruit blooms

Pomegranate (Punicaceae) grows as a rounded shrub that reaches 8 feet in height and is self-fruitful. These can make an edible hedge if you plant them about 4 feet apart. The best variety to plant is the ‘Wonderful’. Pomegranates can take all day sun and will grow in alkaline soil.  Even better, they do not need a lot of watering.


Grape vine on arbor


While not a tree, some grapes grow well in hot, dry gardens including the ‘Thompson Seedless’, ‘Golden Muscat’ and the ‘Alden’. The ‘Golden Muscat’ needs some shade because its leaves will sunburn. Grape plants require strategic pruning and constant soil moisture in the Spring to produce ample fruit. They are, however, drought tolerant if producing an abundance of grapes is not your goal. Gravelly, fast draining soil is important.

(See more photos of this garden in Nevada)

For more about grapes suitable for your garden, visit your local nursery or for even more fun go on a wine-sampling road trip to the commercial wineries in locations from Southern Arizona to Southern Nevada.

See nut trees for hot, dry climates.

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