Can I Grow Fruit Trees at a Cabin in the Woods


Can there be anything better than enjoying fresh-from-the-tree fruit while relaxing at the cabin?  In my opinion, that’s about as good as it gets.

But can you really grow fruit trees at the cabin?  The short and simple answer is, yes.  You definitely can.  But depending on your situation, what you can grow and what you’ll need to do to grow it will vary pretty significantly.  So let’s dive into what you can grow and how to go about growing it.

Climate

Possibly the most significant determining factor in whether you can grow fruit trees at your cabin—and if so which fruit trees you can grow—is the climate.  Most plants are really sensitive to climate, but fruit can be really particular.

In warm climates where it never really freezes, more tropical fruits can grow.  These fruit plants tend to be ever-bearing, since these climates typically don’t have 4 distinct seasons.

Many cabins, though, tend to be in climates with very distinct seasons.  Some of these climates also have really wide temperature swings from day to night which can really hamper a fruit tree’s ability to produce much fruit.  Fruit plants have little flowers that bloom and that bees pollinate that then turn into the fruit of the plant.  If those flowers bloom while it’s still getting cold enough at night to freeze, you can lose all your blossoms in a heavy freeze and get little to no harvest from your tree that year.

To find out what climate you’re in, you can use the USDA Hardiness Zone map for those in the United States.  The nice thing about knowing your zone is that you can use it to search for specific fruits that do well in your climate.  For example, my cabin is in hardiness zone 6a, so a Google search for “fruit trees for hardiness zone 6a” yields several articles listing specific fruit varieties that grow well in my climate.

In addition to the right climate, every plant needs 3 things to thrive.  Those are

  1. Sunlight
  2. Water
  3. Soil

So now let’s get into how you can make sure the fruit trees and bushes at your cabin are getting just enough of each to thrive, whether you’re living at the cabin full-time or just visiting semi-regularly.

Sunlight

Every variety of plant is going to need some amount of sunlight.  Some thrive more in partial shade, whereas others do best in full sunlight.

Most fruit trees need full sun to thrive, which means a minimum of 6 full hours of natural sunlight each day.  Now, winter is the dormant season for these types of fruit trees, so don’t fret it if your cabin doesn’t even get 6 hours of sunlight in December.  But from Spring through Fall, your fruit trees need good sunlight.

You should definitely check your specific fruit variety for sunlight requirements.  It’s usually printed right on the label for the tree when you buy it.

The problem with full sun at many cabins is that cabins are often surrounded by hills or mountains and other trees.  You may not have a great spot that gets that much sunlight, which means a bit of work on your part.

If you don’t have anywhere with great sunlight because you have too many other trees on the property, you can do something about that.  You may need to do some clearing in a small area, in which case I recommend you get the help of someone with real experience felling trees.

But if you don’t have anywhere that gets enough sunlight because you’re surrounded by hills on the east and west and you really don’t get 6 hours of direct sunlight anywhere on your property, then you may be out of luck.  In that case, you might consider some fruits that don’t need as much sun like these.

  • Plums
  • Pears
  • Rhubarb
  • Currants
  • Most berries

Water

The real trick at many cabins is getting getting enough water to your trees when they need it.

If you’re like most people, you don’t live at your cabin full-time.  For those that do, this isn’t an issue.  Just water your fruit trees the same as you would if they were at your home.  If they’re surrounded by lawn, the water they get from sprinklers and rain is probably sufficient.

But for those who aren’t at the cabin all the time, you may need an automatic solution.  If you’re in a climate where rain is common, just water the trees when you go to the cabin if the soil seems dry.  But if you’re in a dry climate, you’ll need to water the trees with an automatic system.  If you have pressurized water, you’ll just set this up like you would a sprinkler system at home.  But if not, then you may need to get more creative.

How much should you water them?

Fruit trees need a lot of water.  Exactly how much you water them will depend on a number of conditions, like how old and established the trees are, how well the soil drains, and how dry the climate is.

Young Trees

During the first 2 years after planting a new fruit tree, it’s going to need quite a bit of water.  A good guideline is to water deeply once or twice each week.  Watering infrequently like this helps promote deep roots, but you’ll need to give them quite a bit of water.

For these young trees, you should probably give them a total of about 4-10 gallons per week.  So if you’re watering twice per week, we’re talking about 2-5 gallons of water per watering, at least during the summer months.  In cooler months you can decrease the amount of water you apply.

Mature Trees

Mature trees need even more water, but with deeper roots they’ll be able to absorb more water from the soil.  So if your cabin is in a pretty temperate climate, then you can probably back off to watering once a week or even every other week with a nice deep watering.

Good drainage

One important factor for the health of a fruit tree is good drainage.  You don’t want your tree planted in a place where it will sit in standing water.  The roots and base of the tree can easily rot if they’re constantly saturated with water.  For that reason, creating a bit of a basin around your tree is not recommended.  We’ll talk a bit more next about what you can do to the soil when planting your tree to give it the best chance to thrive.

Soil

Fruit Tree Planting Tips for Soil

While you’re planting your fruit trees you have a great opportunity to get the soil around the tree just right.  If the soil is sandy it’s going to have good drainage, but not a lot of nutrition.  I fit has a lot of clay, it’s not going to drain very well.  I like to dig out a hole about twice as deep as the root ball for the tree I’m planting and at least twice as wide.

With such a big hole, you can make sure the soil immediately around the roots of the tree is going to be good for the tree.  I like to mix some good organic compost with the soil I dug out of the hold in about a 50/50 mix.  Also, if the soil is too acidic, you can add some limestone and if it’s not acidic enough, you can add some sphagnum peat moss.  The peat moss will also help keep the soil lose if it tends to get really hard.

Add the compost/soil mix to the hole, just enough that the root ball sits on top of the new soil and the top of the root ball, where the tree trunk comes out of the soil, is level or slightly above the level of the ground around the hole.  You don’t want the base of the tree trunk lower than ground level.  Then fill in around the tree with the compost/soil mixture.

Once you’ve filled it all in with soil and compost, give the tree a really deep watering.  We’re talking about 10-20 gallons of water at least.  This will help the soil settle in around the roots and give the tree a first good watering after being transplanted.

It’s also really good practice to remove any grass or other plants from within a 3 foot radius of the tree to prevent other plants from competing with the tree for water and nutrients.  It’s also good to place mulch or wood chips over the soil in this 3-foot radius to prevent weed growth, and to help keep the soil moist.

Acidity

Fruit trees generally prefer neutral to slightly acidic soil.  If your cabin is in a wooded area with pine trees, chances are that the soil is somewhat acidic already.  Pine trees prefer acidic soil, and the pine needles make the soil more acidic.

It’s a good idea to test the acidity of your soil.  A basic soil testing kit will let you know the condition of your soil.  Use limestone to make it less acidic, and peat moss or sulfur to make it more acidic if needed.

Other Nutrients

Depending on the condition of the soil you may need to add more nutrients to help your fruit trees grow effectively.  The compost you added will give your tree a lot of good nutrition in the first year or two of growth.  But adding some more nutrients to the soil is a good idea.  Your test kit should help you determine what nutrients are missing from your soil, and you can use a basic fruit tree fertilizer to improve the nutrition in the soil immediately around the tree.

Other fruit tree maintenance

Once your fruit trees start to get established, it’s important to properly maintain them to promote good health, growth, and fruit production.

The most important thing you can do to maintain your fruit trees is to prune them properly.  Prune your fruit trees during the dormant season preferably in the late winter.  Keeping your fruit trees well pruned each year will keep your trees from growing too fast for their roots and will help stimulate new growth and fruit production.

So can you plant fruit trees and have them thrive, even up at your cabin?  Absolutely, yes!  Depending how often you’re there and what sort of climate you’re in, you may need to set up a watering system.  But in my eyes, having fresh fruit up at the cabin can be well worth the effort!

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