Yep, it’s officially fall now. For us, that doesn’t mean an end to gardening season, it simply means a transition to fall gardening. We finally got the last of our fall seedlings in the ground this past weekend, and we’re just starting to get harvests from some of our kale and chicory transplants that we planted a few weeks prior.
Fall is also the time of year when we get two other things in the ground: hardneck garlic cloves for spring garlic scapes and summer bulb harvests, and new perennial fruit and nut trees added to our food forest. After slowly adding plants to our food forest over about a decade, we don’t have too much space left to plant.
If you live in an Ag Zone where your ground doesn’t freeze solid by late October or early November, fall is a great time to get perennials in the ground to allow their root systems to get nicely established before the high-growth season of spring. Stark Bros Nursery has an excellent guide for planting fruit and nut trees, if you’re new to the process.
Why plant perennials instead of only growing annuals? Because biodiversity make for better, more resilient growing systems, whether that’s on a farm or a garden – and perennials are an essential part of a biodiverse ecosystem. Also, in a me-me-me, now-now-now world, we like the perspective that these long-lived plants engender. Planting perennials is an exercise in patience. The trees we’ve planted will long outlive us (many will live for centuries), so they’re also a gift to future generations.
It’s kind of neat to think that we just planted a garden for our (or someone else’s) grandchildren. And their grandchildren’s grandchildren.
If those reasons don’t resonate with you, then maybe the joy of getting freshly ripened fruit or delicious nuts out of your own yard will be temptation enough.
Since we now have about a decade of firsthand experience with our perennials, we thought we’d share our top-5 perennial fruit and nut trees that we’d recommend based on best taste and production. We live in Agricultural Zone 7b on the outskirts of Greenville, SC. So please keep in mind that these are perennial plants that grow and produce wonderfully for us here. If you live in Chicago or Miami, some of these plants might not work well for you. Always look at the growing zones on any perennial plant before you buy it from an online plant nursery (mango trees don’t grow well outdoors in Maine).
Top 5 Fruit & Nut Trees You Should Plant This Fall
1. Pawpaw (Asimina triloba)
We can’t express how much we love pawpaw fruit. Pawpaws are the largest edible fruit native to North America, and they dang well may be the best tasting. The taste is like banana-mango custard. Each variety tastes a little different, but there’s no such thing as a bad pawpaw. We’ve already got at least five varieties planted, but you can’t ever have too many pawpaws.
We’ve written more about growing pawpaws and how to make our favorite native fruit recipe (pawpaw passionfruit sorbet), here.
Pawpaw nutrition highlights (per 100 grams):
- 19 g carbohydrates (3 g dietary fiber), 1.2 g fat, 1.2 g protein
- 22% daily value (DV) Vitamin C, 124% DV manganese, 22% Vitamin C
Where to buy pawpaw trees (*you need at least two trees for good pollination): Hirt’s Gardens
2. Chestnuts (Castanea mollissima)
If you’d lived in the eastern half of the United States 100+ years ago, you’d have found forests full of massive American chestnut trees (Castanea dentata), many reaching as high as 200 feet. These majestic trees were treasured for numerous reasons: lumber, beautiful wood for furniture and other products, and perhaps most importantly, for their abundant nut production.
In 1904, that all changed. An airborne pathogen that we now call “chestnut blight” was imported into the US from Japan. By the 1940s, an estimated 4 billion native American chestnut trees were dead, and only a small isolated handful of the trees are here today.
As tragic as that story is, much breeding work is being done to create blight-resistant chestnut varieties, such as crossing disease-resistant Chinese chestnuts (Castanea mollissima) with the American chestnut to produce resistant offspring. Hopefully, within our lifetime, we’ll see chestnuts (with a high percentage of American chestnut genetics in them) in our forests again, providing an abundance of food for people and animals alike.
Interestingly, due to their high carbohydrate content, chestnuts have the potential to help reduce our dependency on more environmentally destructive annual grain production, instead sourcing comparable nutrition from chestnut-dominant food forests that provide far greater ecosystem services than annual corn, soy, or wheat crops.
We’ve got three Chinese chestnut trees incorporated into our young food forest now, and the oldest produced its first nuts this year. Woohoo!
Chestnut nutrition highlights (per 100 grams):
- 45 g carbohydrates (8 g dietary fiber) / 2.5 g protein / 2.2 g fat (good monounsaturated fats);
- a shockingly high amount of Vitamin C, providing 77% of your daily value;
- folate levels (15% daily value) that could make some green, leafy vegetables jealous.
The only negative thing we can say about elderberries is they produce too much fruit. Yes, that’s probably a good problem.
Elderflowers produce one of the most delightful tastes you’ll ever experience, and we enjoy making them into a sparkling (fermented) elderflower cordial in the spring. We’re pretty sure most of our neighbors and family got addicted to this beverage this year.
While harvesting the flowers reduces the fruit production, that’s not a problem if you have two or more elderberry trees growing as you can see from the picture below which shows a single night’s harvest from two plants in early June:
What do we do with all the berries? They’re not the best berry to eat fresh, but they’re delicious when cooked.
Once the berries are removed from the stems, we put them in five gallon freezer bags and store them in the freezer. Then we take a bag out once every couple months to make a concentrated elderberry syrup out of them. We drink a small glasses of elderberry syrup several times a week throughout the year (here’s our elderberry syrup recipe). Why? Elderberries are edible medicine. Numerous studies show their immune-boosting, anti-viral potential, and they’ve been proven to reduce the severity and duration of the cold and flu. They’re one part of our regiment for never getting sick.
Elderberries are also supposed to make an excellent wine, and we’re going to experiment with that once we get a bit more time this fall.
Elderberry nutrition highlights (per 100 grams):
- 18 g carbohydrates (8 g dietary fiber) / .5 g fat / .5 g protein;
- 43% DV of Vitamin C, 18% DV Vitamin B6, 12% DV Iron
- high levels of anthocyanin (a potent antioxidant found in purple/blue-colored fruits)
Where to buy elderberry bushes (*you’ll get better fruit set with two or more plants): Adams elderberry (a top performer for us)
4. Asian Persimmons
I’ve always loved the soft, gooey American persimmons that ripen in our area in the mid-late fall. However, if you’ve ever eaten an unripe American persimmon, the unpleasant puckering sensation in your mouth leaves a lasting impression.
Asian persimmons have been domesticated over thousands of years, producing larger fruits than their American cousins – and the varieties we’ve tried don’t ever cause the mouth-puckering effect, even when you pick them slightly unripe. In fact, we’ve eaten our Fuyu persimmons when they were as crunchy as apples and they were still delicious!
Asian persimmons tend to be smaller trees than American persimmon trees, making them easier to reach/harvest and quite attractive in an edible landscape. One of the greatest disappointments of my childhood was having a 100+ ft American persimmon in our yard whose fruit would often be squished and dirtied to the point of inedibility after falling on our driveway. Not so with our Asian persimmons.
Speaking of heartbreak: our young fuyu persimmon tree dropped all of its 100+ fruits this year due to drought stress in July, so keep yours irrigated if it’s really hot or really dry.
Asian persimmon nutrition highlights (per 1 persimmon):
- 31 g carbohydrates (6 g dietary fiber) / 1 g protein / .3 g fat
- 21% DV Vitamin C, 55% DV Vitamin A
Where to buy persimmon trees (they are usually self-fertile, so one plant will do if you don’t have much space): Fuyu persimmon tree
If you have a yard without at least two blueberry bushes in it, you’re yarding wrong. We don’t necessarily want to shame you for not having blueberries (yes, actually we do), but we do think you should get a couple of blueberry bushes planted this week.
Blueberries are so dang tasty and good for you. They’re also very easy to grow and maintain. “As American as apple pie” doesn’t really make sense considering apples are native to central Asia, while the glorious blueberry is native to North America. Why not “American as blueberry pie?” It’s your patriotic duty to grow blueberries, and you should thank your blueberry trees for their service.
We have almost 10 blueberry varieties growing, and each one offers unique flavors and gets ripe at slightly different times, keeping us supplied with fresh berries from late June through early August.
Blueberry nutrition highlights (per 100 grams):
- 15 g (2.5 g dietary fiber) / .7 g protein / .3 g fat
- 16% DV Manganese, 18% DV Vitamin K, 12% DV Vitamin C
- high levels of anthocyanin (a potent antioxidant found in purple/blue-colored fruits)
We hope this article was helpful to you and produces many lifetimes of delicious perennial produce. Now go get planting!