Spring Flowering Trees with Edible Fruit

Edible crabapples are larger and great for canning. (Image by JMiall)

Sometimes in our home yards and gardens, we plant primarily for ornamental purposes, but perhaps we overlook the fact that attractive plants can also provide food. The following flowering trees have both attributes. All are easily grown in western Oregon and Washington and garden-worthy, even without their food value.


Western serviceberry has delicious summer berries.

Amelanchier alnifolia is not exactly a household name, nor is it a name many gardeners find familiar, but call it western serviceberry or just saskatoon, and many would recognize it. Western serviceberry is a popular Oregon native plant that is often used in gardens, especially those with a slant toward native plants. It is a superb selection for a garden as it has clusters of white flowers in the spring that are attractive to bees and butterflies and then produces berries in the summer that can be eaten fresh or used to make pies, jams, or jellies. In the autumn, the leaves will often turn bright red for some nice fall color.

Western serviceberry is said to have the best-tasting fruit of the genus, but others say the hybrid Amelanchier x grandiflora also has delicious fruit. The hybrid is also easier to find at nurseries. Try the cultivar Autumn Brilliance®, which boasts spectacular red fall color.

Serviceberry might be considered a large shrub or small multi-stemmed tree, as plants can reach about 15 ft in height. Often found growing naturally along stream banks, it seems to grow equally well in open wooded areas and will probably perform best in a partially shaded home garden setting. Before planting, amend soils with Black Gold Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss or Black Gold Garden Compost Blend. Plants will need supplemental water for the first couple of years to become established and then can usually survive without additional water.


Hardy olive trees look great in the landscape and bear edible olives.

When we think of olive trees (Olea europaea), we probably think of olive groves in Spain, Greece, or the numerous olive groves in California. Olives are native to the Mediterranean region, but they have adapted well in California. Recently there has been an increased interest in olives as a garden plant for northwest gardens. ‘Arbequina‘ is a widely available compact olive tree, reaching just 8 to 10 feet, has that is reported to be remarkably cold hardy, surviving winters to USDA Hardiness Zones 7-9.

Olive foliage is gray-green and stands out against homes or other garden greenery. Cold hardiness is the deciding factor on whether olives will become widely planted in home gardens. Currently, at the Oregon State University North Willamette Research and Extension Center in Aurora, OR, there is an olive cold hardiness trial being conducted.

Edible Crabapples

‘Chestnut’ is one of several edible crabapples to grow.

Another group ornamental trees that provide spring color and fall fruit are true edible crabapples. Malus ‘Chestnut’ is just such a tree. This crabapple will reach about 15 ft in height and needs a full sun location. White flowers cover the tree in spring, and in fall, it produces large, red-blushed fruits. The sweet, nutty fruits are excellent for canning or jelly. They can even be eaten fresh.

Another edible flowering crabapple is the diseases-resistant heirloom ‘Hopa’, which reaches 25 feet. In spring, it bears clusters of fragrant, rose-pink flowers, and edible red fruit is produced in quantity in the fall, followed by yellow fall foliage. Its large, tart crabapples are best used for jam and jelly.

Cornelian Cherry

The cherry-like fruits of Cornelian cherry are good for jam making.

There are many dogwoods to chose from, but one of my favorites is Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas), a small tree reaching 15-25 feet. This dogwood blooms very early, even before the tree has leaves. The clusters of yellow blossoms appear on bare twigs in late winter, which are quite pleasant to see on a dreary winter day. In the fall, cherry-like red fruits appear, which can be used to make preserves, if you can get them picked before the birds get them! The fall color is usually yellow, and with the red fruit, it makes for an eye-catching display. The bare branches have gray and tan blotches for winter interest.

Peaches and Plums

‘Shiro’ plum is beautiful in spring, and its fruits are tasty.

Some more standard fruiting trees are also bestowed with beauty as well as delicious fruit. The peach Red Baron (12-18 feet) has spectacular double-red blossoms in spring followed by delicious golden peaches that ripen mid to late season. And, the exceptionally hardy ‘Shiro‘ (18-20 feet) golden plum produces clouds of white flowers in spring, loads of small clingstone golden plums in summer, and develops beautiful fall foliage of red, orange and gold.

This is just a sampling of some of the many trees and shrubs that can provide a multi-purpose plant in our gardens. Talk with other gardeners in your neighborhood, and you may be surprised at the choices you have.

These flowering and fruiting trees also have wildlife value.

Why Aren’t My Black Mulberries Blooming?

“I purchased two mulberry bushes from Baker Creek [Heirloom Seeds] several years ago (Morus nigra). Neither of these has bloomed yet, and I would like to know how long it takes for them to fruit.  There were 2 plants to the offer.  They have grown well and are healthy.” Question from Carla of Birchwood, Tennessee

Dear Carla,

Age is most likely the problem. On average, a non-grafted black mulberry can take up to 15 years before flowering and producing a big crop of fruit, but don’t let this worry you. I understand that the Dwarf Black Mulberries sold from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds are on dwarfing rootstock that encourages earlier flowering and fruiting. You will likely see some of its small, inconspicuous flowers in as little as three years, possibly four. They bloom in May or June and the summer fruits quickly follow, so this may be the year! Just be sure to feed and water the trees well and provide them with plenty of sunshine. The addition of quality compost to the soil can also encourage good growth. Our premium Natural & Organic Garden Compost Blend is OMRI Listed for organic gardening and works wonders. Ace sells it online. Give it a try.

Have a great gardening season!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

Growing Dwarf Apple Trees

Dwarf apple trees can fit into practically any sunny, small-space garden.

Walking out on your deck, balcony, or patio and being able to pick fresh apples off your own tree may be a dream to most gardeners.  In the world of today, we often have small lots, which means less available space for a standard-sized fruit tree.  Even if we did have space, there may be other competing factors to prevent an apple tree from flourishing, such as shade from a neighboring house or a mature tree casting shade and expansive roots, competing for sun, water, and nutrients. For many urban and small-space gardeners, dwarf apple trees (Malus domestica) is the solution, and fall is the best time to plant them.

Even with limited space, dwarf fruit trees can grow and thrive, if provided good ground. These small trees will even grow well in large containers, so they can be grown on a sturdy balcony or small patio if given adequate sunlight and good care.

What Makes Dwarf Apples Dwarf?

Garden centers sell our favorite apple varieties, like ‘Honeycrisp’, ‘Fuji’, or ‘Red Delicious’, as very very dwarf (5-7′ tall), dwarf (6-10 feet tall), or semi-dwarf (8-12 feet tall). The fact is, any apple variety can be in compact form if it is grafted onto dwarfing rootstock. So, what is grafting and how does it work?

A row of dwarf ‘Red Delicious’ apple trees.

Every commercial apple you buy is actually two apple varieties grafted or joined together; one variety is the main tree (scion) while the second variety is the rootstock. The scion of a dwarf tree is grafted onto dwarfing rootstock, so it’s the rootstock that controls tree size, among other factors such as disease resistance, hardiness, and vigor. (Learn all about the grafting process here.)

It is unfortunate that plant labels on apple trees don’t tell the whole story. It is as important to know what the rootstock variety is and the scion variety because the rootstock determines how a tree will grow. There are many different apple rootstocks. For example, G65 is one of the most dwarfing varieties, producing trees reaching about 4-7 feet.  The next size up would be a rootstock called M9, producing trees reaching about 6-10 feet.  (Learn all about dwarfing rootstocks here.)

The Best Dwarf Apple Trees

A semi-dwarf apple tree.

For apple trees in general, all need to be cross-pollinated, which requires two trees to be planted in close proximity to each other.  Apples can be early-, early-mid-,  mid-, mid-late-, or late-blooming, so you need to choose at least two trees that bloom at the same time for cross-pollination. Apples are primarily honeybee pollinated, so it also helps to plant other garden flowers and shrubs for honeybees, to make sure there are lots of pollinators in your garden to help your apples. (To learn more about flower gardening for bees click here. To learn more about trees for bees click here.)

‘Golden Delicious’ is a great eating apple and popular pollenizing tree for other mid-season varieties, like ‘Jonagold’ or ‘Gala’. Likewise, the mid-late-blooming ‘Honeycrisp’ will pollenize other mid-late-bloomers, like ‘Granny Smith’. Just choose the apples you like best, whether they be for fresh eating, cooking, or cider, and be sure their bloom is coordinated for best production. (For a full list of apple pollenizers, click here.)

Growing Dwarf Apple Trees

Dwarf apple trees are ideal for growing in large containers that are at least 10-15 gallons.  If planting in a container, fill the pot with one part Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix mixed with one part Black Gold Garden Soil. If planting in the ground, good drainage and good soil quality are essential. Amend the soil with Black Gold Garden Soil before planting to increase organic matter.  A yearly top dressing of Black Gold Garden Compost Blend is ideal for trees in containers or in the ground.  When placing your trees, remember that the critical factor is the sun; these trees should have daylong direct sunlight.

Espaliered fruit trees are great for training against walls or fences. (Image by Jessie Keith)

Gardeners with very little space should look for apples that are espaliered for training against a fence, trellis, or wall.  Espaliered trees require harsher pruning if they are to be maintained in their attractive architectural form, but they are space saving.

Yearly pruning in late winter will also help standard dwarf apples. Remove crossing or unwieldy stems as well as unwanted water sprouts that may arise from the rootstock. Another important step to winter care is spraying trees with dormant oil spray to control common pests, like whitefly, mealybugs, mites, and aphids. Spray before your trees have leafed out and when temperatures are below 40ºF.

Check out your local garden center in fall because if they have dwarf fruit trees, it is likely they will be on sale.  If they are not available now, spring would offer a better selection.  You might be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to have fresh apples to pick from your own trees.

Planting Bare Root Fruit Trees

Well-planted and maintained bare-root fruit trees will produce good fruit on a couple of years.

Out West, where the bare root season arrives early, February is time for planting fruit trees, and January is the time to prepare. New gardeners often miss this crucial planting time because it falls so early here. Bare root season is the best time to buy fruit trees at their lowest price of the year. Trees grown from bare root stock produce more adventurous roots because they’ve never been hampered by the nursery pot. Instead they’re grown in a field, dug while dormant, then the soil is washed off and shipping ensues.


Buying Bare Root Fruit Trees


Cherries require more winter chilling that other fruit tree types, which are better suited to warmer regions.

There are three ways to buy bare root fruit trees. The first is through mail order. Because bare root trees are so lightweight, they’re perfect for purchasing through catalogs, like Raintree Nursery which offers the widest range of bare root fruit tree varieties available.

Next comes your local independent garden center. These folks will order in bare root stock for varieties that they know are well adapted to the local climate. For example, late-blooming varieties may be chosen in areas where early frosts may damage early blooming trees and diminish fruit set. This kind of regional selection makes choosing garden center fruit trees a no-brainer.

Our garden compost blend will help bare root fruit trees become better established.

National chain home improvement stores tend to stock more standard varieties sold from coast to coast. These may not be ideal for your landscape, so research varieties before you buy. For example, a store may sell bare root cherry trees in a climate that lacks the winter chill necessary to make them produce fruit. You won’t realize this until years later when the tree fails to fruit at all. It’s a risk you can’t afford.

Bare root trees save you big money because they haven’t been potted, so you’re not paying more for pots, or increased shipping costs. And if you get your bare roots fresh and early, you might even be getting a better product. Those bare root trees left over after the season are usually potted up at the nursery and put on sale at higher prices. These may be the poorest trees of the lot, passed over by savvy buyers.

Planting Bare Root Fruit Trees


Once you have your bare root trees selected and have brought them home, be sure not to let the roots dry out. Many even recommend soaking the bare roots for several hours in a bucket of tepid water before planting.

Improve your planting hole soil by mixing in generous quantities of Black Gold amendments, such as compost and garden soil.

The next step is to plant them in enriched landscape soil. Because bare roots do not come with a rootball, they lack feeder roots and have a diminished root zone. Enriching the soil well will give them a better start. Begin by digging a hole that’s twice the width of the root spread and to a depth that will just reach the root flair at the base of the trunk. Next, enrich the extracted soil by blending it with Black Gold Garden Compost Blend or Black Gold Garden Soil. It’s also important to add a starter & transplant fertilizer to help build strong roots and reduce transplant shock.

graft union
There’s a line on the bare root tree, below the graft union and just above the root flair, which shows where the soil level should be for planting.

Planting trees correctly is essential for their long term happiness. When planting the tree, tease the roots out, making sure no major roots overlap, and then cover them firmly and completely, making sure the root flair is just covered at the point where it meets the trunk. You also need to be aware of the tree graft near the base of the trunk. The graft is not too hard to spot; just look for a line or mark at the base of the tree where the straight rootstock was grafted with the varietal wood (or “scion”). It’s wise to cover the graft union with protective wrap to protect against summer sunburn or winter sun scald.

Be sure to create a watering basin in the soil around the newly planted tree, and fill it to the top with water to help settle the new soil around the roots. Staking newly planted bare root trees is also wise as they won’t be sure-footed until they set strong, new roots. Continue to give it good care, and watch the bare stick come to life with flowers, leaves and fruits that get bigger and better each year.