How to grow fruit in your backyard

(Photo: Getty Images)

COLUMBUS, Ohio—That tomato plant you had hopes for might have lagged during the summer’s rainless days.

Or maybe it had you filling bag after bag to give to the neighbors, and the triumph inspired a new ambition: I should add fruit to my backyard. Grapes. Berries. Maybe apples? 

Great idea if you’ve got the space. But there’s a lot to consider before you fill a patch in the yard, and months later, can reap the fruits of your labor. How sunny is your yard? Is it well-drained, or does it stay wet all spring? Do you want to spray pesticides? Do you have time to take care of backyard fruit?

It helps to start small, said Gregory Meyer, an educator with Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES). 

Berries—strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, or others—are a good choice, particularly if you’ve got limited space, Meyer said. 

If apples are on your mind, then choose dwarf trees that are easier to manage and also require a smaller area, he said. 

With apples and other tree fruits, it’s important to find out if they need another variety of apple or another fruit, so bees and other pollinators can reach both, Meyer said. That cross-pollination is necessary to produce fruit.

“No one wants to fail at gardening, but a lot of times we do,” he said. “Sometimes the reason we fail is we don’t take the time to match our landscapes with the fruit we plant. We just say, ‘I’m going to go buy an apple tree or a pear or peach tree.’”

Meyer, who has taught classes on growing backyard fruit for over 20 years, will share his expertise on the topic Sept. 22 at 11 a.m. during an online session called “Overcoming the Challenges of Growing Backyard Fruit in Ohio” during Farm Science Review. The annual agricultural trade show sponsored by CFAES is completely virtual and free this year.

If you want to test your talent for growing fruit in your garden in the Midwest, Meyer suggests the following: 

  1. Small fruits, such as any kind of berry, might be a better choice for backyard fruit than, say, apple, peach, or pear trees because those trees require more space than berries. 
  2. If you have options for what to plant, consider planting later-harvesting varieties because spring frosts in Ohio can kill off buds. 
  3. If you want to avoid spraying pesticides to fend off insects or disease, choose fruits that have fewer disease and insect problems, such as June-harvested strawberries or blueberries, or native fruit trees such as paw paws, mulberries, or persimmons. 
  4. Encourage bees, butterflies, and other pollinators to visit your garden. Pollination is important for any type of fruit production. Planting perennials nearby, such as coneflowers and butterfly bushes, will help bring pollinators to the area. 
  5. Match your fruit choice to your current landscape, instead of trying to change your landscape to match a fruit. One of the secrets to being a good gardener is to put plants where they want to be. For example, blueberries need acidic soils to thrive, and many garden soils aren’t acidic enough for them to reach their full potential.

To access all prerecorded and livestreamed talks at Farm Science Review, sign up on or after Sept. 8 at Meyer’s session is among the Utzinger Gardens talks, which include a daily Q&A from 1–2 p.m. with a different lawn and garden expert. Choose from among numerous sessions on gardening and agriculture throughout the show, which will be Sept. 22–24. After the show is over, all recorded talks and other content can be accessed for free at

CFAES News Team
For more information, contact: 

Gregory Meyer
(513) 695-1311