Nutrition Articles

The Giving Tree: Add 23 Edible Plants to Your Garden

Grow Your Own Fruits & Nuts in Your Backyard

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Most people would agree that trees are pretty terrific. They shade us from the sun, create a sense of privacy and, in some cases, bloom into beautiful spring blossoms. For kids (or the young at heart), a good tree can provide endless entertainment in the form of climbing, swinging and treehouse-sitting. Not to mention, they're keeping us alive with that whole oxygen-producing perk. In case that's not enough to bring you over to the tree team, consider this: Some varieties up the ante by growing edible foods in the form of fruits and nuts.
 
Below are some of the most common food-producing trees, followed by some tips for choosing and growing edible trees. (Sources included The Natural Society, The National Gardening Association and The Free Thought Project)
  1. Apple: Grown primarily in the Northern Hemisphere, apple trees produce more than 7,500 different types of apples around the world. A member of the rose family, the tree produces bright blossoms—ranging from white to pink to yellow—when it's ready to start growing  fruit. Explore some delicious ways to cook with apples.
  2. Apricot: Most commonly found in western states, apricot trees produce their juicy fruit in the summer, along with their beautiful white or pink blooms. Apricots are high in fiber, potassium, vitamins and antioxidants, with a taste similar to the peach and plum. They can be eaten fresh or used to make jellies, jams and pies.
  3. Banana: Originally from southeast Asia, the banana "tree" is now most commonly grown in tropical regions. Closer to a tropical herb than a tree, each plant grows approximately 100 pounds of bananas in clusters, along with flowers and evergreen foliage. Bananas are fat-free, cholesterol-free and high in potassium. Browse dozens of delicious banana recipes.
  4. Cherry: Cherry trees produce fruit in many different flavors, ranging from sweet to tart. Available in various sizes, from small plants to medium trees, they also produce colorful blossoms in spring. The antioxidant-rich fruit can be eaten alone or baked into cherry pies or other recipes.
  5. Citrus: In addition to oranges, citrus trees can produce lemons, limes, satsumas and other tropical fruits that thrive in warm, humid climates. Smaller citrus trees can be brought inside and grown in containers during cold weather. Citrus fruits are an excellent source of vitamins C and A, fiber, calcium and potassium.
  6. Fig: A symbol of fertility and abundance, figs are grown on small trees that thrive in warm, sunny Mediterranean climates, such as that of California. The fruit is packed with nutrients, minerals and soluble fiber. Fig trees can also be grown inside in containers.
  7. Fruiting Quince: This small, uniquely formed tree produces quince fruits, which resemble apples but aren't typically eaten raw. Instead, the pectin inside of quince is commonly used to make jams, jellies and marmalades. The fruiting quince tree is also renowned for its beautiful pale pink flowers.
  8. Hardy Kiwifruit: Ideal for colder climates, this resilient vining tree produces small, grape-sized kiwi fruits that can be eaten raw or used in kiwi recipes. With five times more vitamin C than an orange, the kiwi is chock full of nutrients. If not pruned, the vines will grow aggressively over fences and other plants.
  9. Highbush Cranberry: Distinguished by small white blossoms and bright red fruits, this striking tree is hardy enough to withstand cold winter climates. Its small red berries are best harvested in late summer or fall, and are often used to make juices, jellies, jams and sauces. Cranberries are high in vitamin C, fiber and other nutrients.
  10. Juneberry: Blooming with white flowers in spring, this sun-loving tree produces deep purple, red or black berries that can be eaten raw or used to make jams, jellies and pies. Juneberries are rich in antioxidants, flavonoids, fiber and many vitamins and minerals.
  11. Kentucky Coffee Tree: Attention, java lovers! The seeds produced by this Midwestern tree can be roasted and used to make coffee, although they're not safe to consume prior to roasting.
  12. Kousa Dogwood: Known best for their beautiful white flowers, the Kousa Dogwood also produces red fruits that can be harvested in mid- to late summer.
  13. Loquat: In order to bear fruit, this small evergreen must be planted in mild, temperate climates. Loquat fruits grow in clusters, are usually yellow or orange in color and taste like a blend of mango, peach and citrus. Health benefits of loquat include high levels of vitamin A, iron, calcium and other nutrients. The tree also boasts white fragrant flowers.
  14. Mulberry: There are three mulberry tree species—red, black and white—each of which produces fruits of various colors and flavors. When mature, the berries are juicy and succulent, ideal for raw eating or for making jams, cobblers, pies and wine. This antioxidant-rich fruit also provides alkaloids that help boost the immune system. The trees drop their ripened fruit onto the ground, which can leave purple or black stains.
  15. Pawpaw: Historically grown in the southern United States, this small tree produces a long, yellow fruit with a smooth, creamy texture and taste similar to the banana. It also produces maroon blossoms.
  16. Peach: Originally from China, this small tree now produces succulent summer fruit all around the world. Peach trees grow best in temperate climates with nutrient-rich soil and an ample water supply. In addition to peaches, it also grows beautiful pink flowers. Find dozens of delicious peach recipes here at SparkPeople.
  17. Pecan: This popular nut tree, native to North America, produces pecans twice a year (harvested best in late fall). High in vitamins and minerals, pecans can be eaten raw or used in recipes. The tree's large size makes it ideal for shade and privacy.
  18. Pear: Along with a delicious flavor, the pear fruit has a myriad of health benefits. These trees grow in temperate climates with ample sun exposure, producing more than 3,000 varieties of pears around the world. Pears can be eaten fresh or used in recipes. Part of the rose family, this plant also blooms beautiful white or pink flowers.
  19. Persimmon: Primarily grown in the South, this small tree produces attractive yellow-orange foliage and bright orange fruits, making it a striking addition to a fall landscape. Persimmon fruit, which must be cured before it can be eaten, is high in vitamins A and C and beta-carotene.
  20. Pineapple Guava: Also known as the Feijoa, this tree produces green, oval fruits that drop to the ground when they are ripe. The fruit perishes quickly and must be eaten right away. Its sweet flavor has been described as a mix of pineapple and banana. The pineapple guava tree also produces golden-yellow flowers.
  21. Plum: These small trees grow best in warm climates with direct sunlight. In addition to their juicy fruits, they also produce beautiful flowers in spring. Plums can be eaten raw or used in jams, jellies, marmalades or plum cakes. A rich source of minerals and vitamins, plums also help to promote iron absorption.
  22. Shadbush/Serviceberry: Distinguished by its white spring blossoms, red fruits and lush autumn foliage, this small tree adds a splash of color to any landscape. The dark purple fruit is best harvested in June, and can be used in pies, jellies and jams.
  23. Walnut: In addition to providing generous shade, it also grows walnuts several years after planting. The walnut tree will continue to produce nuts for up to a century. Learn about the many benefits of eating walnuts.
What to Know Before Planting an Edible Tree
  • A little goes a long way. You don't need a lot of edible trees to produce a generous amount of food. If you don't have a plan for harvesting and using the fruit, you could end up with a messy surplus.
  • Check the climate guidelines. Different trees thrive in different climates. A tree that prefers a warm, tropical environment won't do well in an area with cold temperatures. Some trees also need certain types of soil, so it's best to test yours before choosing an edible tree.
  • Choose the planting site carefully. When choosing the location, take into account how big the full-grown tree will be (width and height). Make sure there are no obstructions to future growth, such as power lines, fences or other trees. To prevent messes from dropped fruits and nuts, you might want to plant a good distance away from porches, decks and walkways.
  • Consider containers. If you have little to no yard space but want to grow your own tree-borne food, choose a small or dwarf version that can be grown inside in a container.
  • Check the fruiting requirements. Some trees are "self-fruiting," which means they produce fruit without any cross-pollination. Others won't produce fruit unless you have two or more different types of trees. 
Do you have any edible trees? What's your favorite fruit or nut to grow and eat?

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Member Comments

  • I'd really like to have some fruit trees.
  • I use to have a plum tree. My nephew destroyed it. He was very young, playing and needed a piece of wood for a gun or something so he chopped my small tree. Oh well. I would love to have another one. I am trying to go lemon trees now. They are only about 4-5" tall. Growing inside right now. Started from seed. We'll see how they turn out. A friend just gave me some bluebblueberry plants. I will plant in the fall (soon). I hope they do well. I love blueberries.
  • Wish that I could grow allot of them where I live but it is too hot for most of them.
  • I already have apple, plum and cherry trees. I also planted blueberry bushes and have been cultivating wild berry bushes on my property. Looking to add some pear trees and maybe raspberry bushes this years.

    I live in Western Wi and find all grow quite well. Simple netting purchased cheaply at a craft store does quite well at keep birds away from the cherries and blueberries. I regularly share with others.
  • Check how long a variety takes before it will actually set fruit. Berries yield fairly fast. Trees can take a couple of years or almost a decade.
  • Good Luck on growing those banana trees. My mom grows fruit and people steal it from her yard. There's a good reason to grow your own.
  • Good Luck on growing those banana trees. My mom grows fruit and people steal it from her yard. There's a good reason to grow your own.
  • Mulberry trees are all over Minneapolis and St Paul, Minnesota, they were planted as ornamentals. I have two in my yard which I harvest every year.
  • 1GNPARKER
    I have two apple trees, one pear tree, one peach tree and three blueberry bushes. Unfortunately the animals are always getting to the fuit and making a mess. Last year I barely got any pears or peaches since the squirrels made off with them before they were even ripe. The blueberries were eaten by the birds before I could get to them. Darn birds ate almost all of the raspberries and strawberries too. Problem with the apple trees is that when the squirrels take the fruit they leave all the seeds and I have little apple trees sprouting all over the yard now.
  • We have 2 peach trees and an apple sadly they are too new to produce much fruit. And yes they are OK to overwinter beside our igloo.
  • In our area neighbors who have apple trees and don't spray them with pesticide get a lot of bugs/worms. Is there such a thing as a safe pesticide for home use? I have used the organic apples and cut out spots, but that gets to be a lot of work.
  • I guess if you do not have problems with squirrels or raccoons you could grow a fruit tree. Ripped mine out as I never saw any fruit due to the animals getting it before I did. At least by ripping them out, I don't have to clean up after the animals. :) And--just a further note--the animals may also prefer to take up residence in your, or your neighbors' attic since a food supply is so close.
  • I do have a question - does anyone have a suggestion as to how to keep the squirrels from picking the peaches before they can ripen? They seem to think the little green ones are nuts and then just discard them after picking and biting into them! Love the ONE I got last yearI
  • I lived in a townhouse for over 13 years, and then I married my childhood sweetheart, after being apart for many decades. We know live in the mountains of north GA, and are lucky enough to have a few acres of land with nothing growing on it, except tall grasses and weeds. We've been wondering what to plant. Thanks to your article, I now have lots of ideas, and I just need to find out what would grow best at our 1500' altitude. Thanks again.

About The Author

Melissa Rudy Melissa Rudy
A lifelong Cincinnatian, Melissa earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from University of Cincinnati before breaking into online writing in 2000. As a Digital Journalist for SparkPeople, she enjoys helping others meet their wellness goals by writing about all aspects of healthy living. An avid runner and group fitness addict, Melissa lives in Loveland with her guitarist husband and three feisty daughters.