Backyard Fruit Trees

A woman up the street from me goes to great lengths to
protect her fig tree from thieves. She
drapes netting over the entire tree to protect it from an invasion from
above. As the tree has grown, she’s had
to construct a wood frame to support the netting and keep it in place. She’s built a fence around her front yard to
keep the neighborhood kids out. When
the figs are ripe, she even puts a sign on the tree: “Keep Out! Do Not Take
the Figs!” If the people in my
neighborhood ever held a contest, I’m sure her yard would be voted Least

My own fruit trees are usually inhabited by a pair
of mockingbirds or towhees building a nest. These old orange and lemon trees are so popular with them that I rarely
have a chance to prune or spray dormant oil for fear that I’ll disturb
them. The trees have become the “living
room” of my garden—a gathering place, a focal point, and, for the birds, a
place to call home.

While birds may take a nibble or two from a
small-fruited tree like a cherry or plum tree, this should only encourage you
to plant one. Coastal Californians tend
to choose Meyer lemon or Bearss lime, two citrus trees that tolerate cool
weather well. Inland, warm-weather
gardeners may prefer a Valencia orange tree, a potted kumquat tree, or the
popular Rainier cherry, known for its yellowish skin and pink blush. Most apples require between 900 and 1200
hours of temperatures below 45 degrees to grow and fruit properly, but even
southern California gardeners can grow Anna or Dorsett Golden apple trees. Wine country gardeners might want to try
Gravenstein apples, the crisp and juicy favorite of the region. No matter what fruit tree you choose, the
birds will take great interest in it as a perch, a shelter, and a place to
forage for insects. And chances are,
they’ll leave plenty of fruit for you.