There are so many fruit trees we can grow here in the desert of Tucson, Arizona! Some are very common but some are a huge surprise!
We have planted over 50 fruit and shade trees here over the last 4 years on our acre of land. I will take you through our tree planting journey and I will also talk about tree care in our unique climate. We have had very good luck with most trees that we have planted but we lost some too. I’m looking for trees that won’t be too fussy and are easy keepers. We have planted our trees using the Permaculture guidelines (more on that toward the end).
I will start by highlighting our standout favorites trees and berries!
This tree is one of the biggest surprises! It is the Dorsett Golden Semi Dwarf Apple Tree!
It is now 3 years old (planted 5 gallon size) and gave us a nice big bucket of apples this year. It blooms in February and is self pollinating. The fruit is ready for harvest Mid June. Do not let the fruit set on the tree much longer after this date as the apples don’t keep. The previous year we harvested them all Mid July and they were all mushy and not edible. It is a crisp semi tart / semi sweet apple. Most of the apples were small but that is because I let too many stay on the tree. I should of thinned to about 1 apple every 2-3 inches. They would of all been nice sized apples.
We have 2 other apple trees that we planted (5 gallon size) 2 years ago near the chicken coop. These ones needed to cross pollinate. The Anna’s Apple and the Sundowner. Both trees are roughly the same size but only about a 1/4 of the size of the Dorsett. There are 2 apples on the Anna’s and no apples on the Sundowner.
In all my research the Anna’s Apple was the most recommended so I’ll keep you posted to how it progresses! So far the Dorsett Golden is my top recommendation for a desert apple tree.
So, as amazing as that apple tree is, this peach is my ultimate favorite! I feel like a ripe peach off the tree is a delicacy! These were the best peaches I have ever had and you have to eat them outside or over the sink because they are sooo juicy!
We have 2 Desert Golden Peaches planted 2 years ago (5 gallon size), they bloom in February and are self pollinating. They are my favorite!! Both the Dorsett Apple and this Desert Peach had blooms all over when we got a hard freeze and 2 inches of snow and it didn’t even phase them! This Desert Golden Peach is ready for harvest the End of May. Thin peaches to 1 every 2 to 3 inches for nice sized peaches like shown above. Watch these peaches carefully toward the end of May as the birds will eat your entire harvest in a few days!
We also have 2 Kawean Peach Trees (5 gallon size) planted 2 years ago. They blossom later and their peaches are ready for harvest in late summer. This is the first year they have set fruit, so I will keep you updated on their progress. These trees are 1/2 the size of my Desert Golden Peach trees, but I like the idea that we will have a peach season twice a year!
Yes!! We can grow blackberries here in Tucson!! I’m pretty sure I have tried all the berries there are and blackberries not only took off wild but literally gave us big delicious juicy berries!
I tried raspberries and blueberries – all did not make it through the summer. Boysenberries are doing ok and I will get a few berries but the Prime Ark Freedom variety of blackberry was an incredible, productive find!
I now have these planted everywhere in our surrounding perennial border around our garden. They are thornless too!
We harvested these pretty much the whole month of May as they became ripe. If you have to really pull them off, then they are not ready yet. Their flavor is at its best when they are easily pulled off.
Limequats & Kumquats
So we all know that Citrus do really well in our warm desert but we live at the base of Mt. Lemmon and we can get some hard freezes. So now I am careful to select Citrus that can withstand these occasional freezes with very little damage without being covered.
The Eustis Limequat Semi Dwarf not only had zero freeze damage, it flowers and makes little limes almost year round! It is a cross between a key lime and kumquat. Its very tasty but different than the Mexican Lime. I planted 2 Mexican Limes 3 years ago and they are smaller than when we first purchased them and are not giving fruit because they just cannot keep up with getting freeze damage every year. If you live in the middle of Tucson you may have better luck with the Mexican Lime.
Another bonus to the Limequat and Kumquat are these trees can be grown in containers. This Limequat was on our front porch for a season and now is in the ground. This is a no fuss tree and I totally recommend it.
Ok, so the Fukushu Kumquat may be my favorite fruit of all time and would be at the top of my list but for what ever reason between the two trees I’ve planted I can’t get any fruit off of them! I’ve started using Mesquite Valley Growers Special Blend Organic Fertilizer mix to see if that will do it, I’ll keep you posted!
You eat the entire tiny fruit with its sweet peel and sour inside, its like candy! They are very cold hardy and flower later than most citrus in Mid Summer for a winter harvest. We planted 2 (5 gallon size) trees.
This is another stand out tree for amazing production with delicious little berries. The Teas Weeping Mulberry was planted 3 years ago (5 gallon size) and is self pollinating. These mass of mulberries are ready for harvest the End of April. The only thing is they are small but such great unique flavor and such a fast growing no fuss tree.
This tree was planted in our grey water laundry basin and it loves all the water. We use a special laundry soap that is plant based and used for this exact use.
I see Phoenix area homesteaders with the Pakistan Mulberry and the berries are much bigger. I would love to add this tree variety to our farm!
Pomegranates are well known to do well in our desert! I have 4 planted! The first variety we planted 3 years ago is this Wonderful Pomegranate (5 gallon size). It is finally giving us a good crop of fruit. Harvesting the tree at the right time is so important to its flavor.
These looked so beautiful and red early but they didn’t taste ready. I learned that more than color, its the shape that can tell you more! When they go from a rounded shape to a bit of a squared shape it means the little arils inside are bursting with juice and flavor. This Wonderful was ready to harvest Mid October.
The next Pomegranates we planted were the Angel Pomegranates. Planted 2 years ago (5 gallon size). We tasted one and it really was amazing. Not only the taste but it was super easy to get the arils out. The Wonderful was good flavor too but way harder to peel. Only thing is the flowers keep falling off and we really haven’t gotten much of a harvest. I’ll let you know what I figure out on this.
The last Pomegranate we planted about 2 years ago was a Sosa Pomegranate (smaller than a 5 gallon). From the Mission Heritage Fruit Tree Project! They start with cuttings from some of the original trees brought over by the Spanish Missionaries. I am super excited to have this tree and it finally has little fruits on it this year. I will definitely let you know how that tastes and how this tree does.
This is the Lisbon Lemon planted 3 years ago (5 gallon size). We just got a harvest from this tree and the lemons were very tasty! I was impressed with its cold hardiness as it had snow on it and just its tips were frosted after all was said and done. These are harvested in the winter months late December thru January but harvest them if a hard freeze is expected.
I hear the Meyer Lemon is even more cold hardy and the flavor is sought after for cooking. So the Meyer is next on my list for trees to add!
We have two figs a Brown Turkey Fig (5 gallon) and a Texas Blue Giant (5 gallon) planted 3 years ago near the chicken coop. Both are ready to harvest around Mid-End July.
I thought these trees would be bigger by now but we are getting a few tasty figs each year from them! I will say our ground is super hard in some places and these both were planted in that area. Even though they had a rich amended tree hole to begin with it may just be their location?
Grapes do well here! Especially these Crimson Seedless Reds planted 2 years ago. The only thing is this black moth looking bug comes every summer and lays eggs on the leaves. Then these black and yellow little caterpillars eat all the leaves! It makes the leaves look like skeletons and unfortunately the chickens don’t even like to eat these caterpillars.
So I now grow my grapes with the blackberries or the tombstone rose to hide the unsightly grape vines. Somehow though I still get a small grape harvest off these now two year old vines.
This Japenese Loquat is such a beautiful tree! It keeps its beautiful unique leaves year round and it flowers in the winter and fruits in the spring. Even though it flowered for the first time since planting it 3 years ago (5 gallon size) it didn’t produce any fruit. From my research it takes a while for these trees to get established. I have two of these trees because I just love that they are green all year!
From researching trees that do well in the desert we came across the Pluot. It is a cross between a plum and apricot. When we saw two of them at the nursery we made an impulse buy. These two trees need to cross pollinate so we got a Flavor King and a Flavorosa. They were planted 3 years ago (5 gallon size) and have grown so much! The only thing is for the first two years they flowered at different times … so no fruit. Except this last year they finally had better timing with each other and 3 little fruits set on the tree. Then before I could harvest them and taste these pluots for the first time ever the birds ate them! I will definitely keep you posted on these trees, fingers crossed for next year.
Grapefruit, Orange, Mandarin & Pummelo
First thing I will say is that all these trees are supposed to be fantastic trees to grow in our desert climate but they are struggeling for me in my location!
The first thing is all these trees were planted small (5 gallon size) and they went through a couple hard freezes setting them back and then the Giant Swallowtail Butterfly’s caterpillars munched them pretty good.
So lessons learned are young citrus need covered during hard freezes until they are larger and can take it. Also, those beautiful butterfly’s need their caterpillars removed at least until the trees are bigger and can take it!
We have the Redblush Grapefruit and Chandler Pummelo. I have three different Mandarins an Owari Satsuma, a Page and a Tango (all planted 5 gallon size). I guess I haven’t even planted an orange yet! I will let you know if I find a freeze hardy one! If you live more central Tucson then you will most likely have more luck!
The Pineapple Guava planted 2 years ago (5 gallon and 1 gallon size) is another evergreen tree/bush with beautiful leaves and the most gorgeous edible pink flowers! Yes, you can eat the petals of the flowers and it won’t hurt the fruit production. Of course mine haven’t actually made any fruit yet. The petals taste like strawberry ice cream and are perfect for adding to a salad. I highly recommend this tree/bush even just for ornamental purposes.
I see others in Phoenix have luck with this tree but when I inquired about it at the nursery they said it was a fussy tree. Darn, but they only had a few left and might not grow them anymore so …. impulse buy! I decided to plant this right in my garden so that it could have the best chance and sure enough look at those little fruit starting! The jury is still out on this one so I will keep you posted. It is the Fuyu Persimmon, (planted 5 gallon size) planted March 2019.
My Mother in Law has this tree growing really well in Mid-Tucson and its super productive for her. It made little trees and she gave me one. It is so little that it will take some time before it fruits. These dates are a super fruit and I’m excited to see how this tree does for us. Planted 3 years ago as a tiny transplant.
The Netleaf Hackberry is a native tree to Tucson that grows along washes. It produces a tiny tasty little fruit. We have 2 (planted 5 gallon size). They are very bushy and look wild. Ours haven’t produced fruit yet but I tasted a wild one and they are yummy. I may have tasted a Desert Hackberry though, so not sure how similar they may be?
- Sweet Acacia (1 from TEP, 5 gallon, 3 years old) doing great
- Velvet Mesquite (1 from TEP, 5 gallon, 3 years old) doing great
- Fan Tex Ash (1 from TEP, 5 gallon, 3 years old) doing great
- Red Push Pistache (1 from TEP, 5 gallon, 3 years old) doing great
- Desert Willow (2 from TEP, 5 gallon, 3 years old) doing great
- Chinese Elm (1 from TEP, 5 gallon) just planted
- Bottle Tree (1 was already established here) doing great, but its a messy tree
- California Pepper Tree (1 already established here) very fast grower, with weepy limbs
- Chilean Mesquite (1 huge one already established here over our garden) and then 5 new ones (1 gallon size – they grow super fast)
- Palo Verde (several already established here)
List of Trees we tried but did not make it or are struggling
- Almond (All-in-One) – The ants actually de-leafed both of our almonds and it killed them. This tree was doing great for 2 years until that happened. Need better Ant Control!
- Asian Pear – Not sure why this didn’t make it but it just may have needed more of a micro climate and we planted ours in direct sun.
- Apricot – Still holding on but very little growth
- Walnut – This didn’t make it long at all and it was a $100 tree. the nursery warned us this was a fussy tree.
- Mexican Lime – They are still alive but struggling (from freezes)
- Plum (Burgandy) – This tree is ok, not much growth, it may be its location. these are supposed to do well.
- Blueberries – none made it through summer
- Raspberries – none made it through summer
- Pecan – Still alive but very little growth
Fertilzers/Mulch – I really did not want to use outside fertilizers. I wanted to make good use of our own animals natural fertilizers and from our own compost. But it was not enough for the trees or I should say I wasn’t doing it often enough maybe. So I just started using Mesquite Valley Growers Special Blend Organic Fertilizer on all fruit trees 3 times a year. Valentines Day, Memorial Day and Labor Day. I really think my citrus will do so much better because of this. I just started the regime so I will keep you posted!
All of our trees get a deep mulching with bark too. This is so important to help retain moisture through our hot summers.
Butterfly management on citrus – This one makes me sad because I love butterflies and I even have a garden just for them! They have set my citrus back so much that they are really struggling. While these trees are young I am going to have to remove them.
Ants – Late summer these ants start stock piling for the winter and they have de-leafed several trees and my tombstone roses. They de-leafed two of my Almond trees overnight and just as they started to come back they did it again. Both trees died, it was too much. So now we are on ant management/control. We don’t want to spray so we boil water and pour down their holes several nights in a row and that seems to help slow them down.
Deep consistent watering – This is so important in our desert! In summer I water once a week. I fill up the big tree well three times to give it a really deep watering. In the winter I do every other week. For brand new trees you may need more often!
Rain Barrels – We were so excited to add two huge rain barrels for helping water all these trees. It is incredible how fast these barrels can fill. We have two 1320 gallon barrels and just use a small pump and hose to water from them. We use tap water when they are empty. Its so hard to know when to use them or when to save the water and keep it full for the hot months. We’ve saved water before then it rained and we lost all that rain water to the overflow. So now if water is there, we are using it!
Summer Pruning – This practice keeps the trees smaller and more manageable to harvest. Basically you are keeping the tree from getting to big. I have to admit I kind of want my trees large so we can walk underneath them some day!
There are really great resources out there on using Permaculture. We even have our own Sonoran Permaculture Guild in which I was able to take a class. We have used these principles to design our farm.
Basically it is a way to design your landscape using principles that are found in nature. With this design you are planting layers of trees, shrubs, vines etc. in such a way that it all works with each other. You also design your landscape to make it easy to interact with. For example the garden, which needs more constant care than the fruit trees, will be closer to your home. There are several zones that start with your home and end with your surrounding wild nature area.
Taking the time to research these principles and the design examples will be well worth it. It will also help in making micro climates around your property and that is how gardeners in our area do so well in our brutal summers. Their landscapes become several degrees cooler over time as everything comes together.
Our goal is that all the trees planted will form a canopy. This will cool us and our animals in the hot summer heat, and of course feed us too! We still have a ways to go but things are growing!
Got a question about a tree? Please ask, I would love to try to answer it!