When you think of the desert you may think of dry, dusty conditions which aren’t favorable for gardening. But the truth is that the desert provides excellent conditions for several species of fruit trees! Trees with a low chill point thrive in the warmer desert winters. Both the hotter low desert and the cooler high desert regions are considered excellent areas for growing fruit.
The fruit trees that grow best in the high and low desert are plums, pomegranates, figs, grapes, and peaches.
The success of growing fruit in the desert will depend on many factors like proper fertilization and irrigation. We’ll look at some of the considerations gardeners must make when planting any of these fruit trees in the desert.
What Fruits Grow in the Desert?
The desert provides plenty of benefits for fruit trees. The variation of clay and sandy soil in desert regions is suitable for a wide variety of fruit trees. The abundance of sunshine and the mild winters all lend themselves to a long bountiful fruit harvest.
Here are some of the best fruit trees to grow in the desert, and what they need to thrive.
Plum trees are one of the most bountiful fruit trees in desert regions. Many species of plum trees enjoy full sunshine and they thrive in sandy, well-draining soil.
Plum trees do need a period of winter chill in order to produce plenty of fruit. Chill hours are classified as winter temperatures below 45°F (7°C). For this reason, plums are best suited for high desert regions, but will still fruit in low desert regions.
Keep in mind that although plum trees grow well in the desert, they are not drought-tolerant. For optimal growth and fruit production, plum trees should receive at least one inch of water per week.
This fruiting tree was first grown in Iran and India and is now a common sight in California, New Mexico, and Arizona. Pomegranates grow best in subtropical and semi-arid climates, or USDA zones 8-11. They are a fairly drought-tolerant plant and aren’t picky about their soil. This makes them a great choice for beginners who want to try their hand at growing fruit.
Although they are drought tolerant, mature pomegranate trees should be watered every 7-10 days in the summer.
Figs are one of the best fruits to grow in low desert regions. They require very few chill hours compared to many other fruiting trees. This plant thrives in warm and dry areas, which makes them popular in states like Arizona. To combat the heat, they require irrigation every 5-7 days.
Fig trees require a minimum of 8-10 hours of sunlight a day. Like pomegranates, they aren’t picky about their soil. Other benefits of fig trees are that they are fairly pest free, and require very little in the way of pruning or fertilization.
If you live in the right region, the fig tree is another great beginner tree that isn’t fussy as long as it receives enough water.
Grapes can grow well in desert climates but will require more attention than other fruit plants. Grape vines can even handle the low desert heat, as long as they are given adequate water.
It’s best to plant European grape varieties which are designed to handle high heat, such as Thompson Seedless or Flame Seedless grapes. These varieties can also tolerate temperatures as low as 5°F ( -15°C). Because of the desert heat, these grapes tend to produce more sugar and taste sweeter. This makes them great for snacking.
Grape leaf skeletonizers are a type of caterpillar that are a common pest in desert vineyards. Their larvae feed on grape leaves, causing the fruit to become burned. A pesticide called bacillus thuringiensi (Bt) is the most common remedy for grape leaf skeletonizer infestations.
Peach trees are deciduous fruiting trees that grow in both the low and high deserts. They can be tricky to grow in the low deserts because it doesn’t get cold enough. Choosing the right cultivar is key here.
Peach trees require anywhere between 50-1000 chilling hours. The amount of chilling hours depends on the cultivar. For example, Contender peaches are a frost-hardy variety that require 1050 chilling hours. The Bonita peach tree only requires 350 chilling hours and is perfect for desert climates.
Because peach trees grow quickly, they must be pruned in the winter. Fruit emerges from the new growth, so pruning in winter will ensure plenty of new growth in spring, and fruit in the summer. Unfortunately, peach trees are susceptible to many fungal diseases, the most common being brown rot. Check for brown spots on the blossoms in spring.
All these requirements make peaches quite tricky to grow, so keep this in mind if you are a beginner.
Drought Tolerant Fruit Trees
All trees require water to produce fruit. But some trees are better designed to adapt to periods of drought with minimal effects on fruit production. Some of the most drought-tolerant fruit trees include figs, olives, and almonds.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, fruits like citrus, nectarines, and peaches are not drought tolerant. These fruits require plenty of water to blossom and fruit.
If you’re experiencing a drought or heat wave, there are a few precautions you can take to help conserve the moisture in the soil. After watering your plant, you can apply mulch to the base of the tree. In periods of high heat, you can also provide your tree with a shade cloth.
What Fruit Grows Best in Hot Weather?
Just because a fruit grows well in hot weather, unfortunately does not mean it is suited for desert climates. Many fruit trees that prefer hot weather are designed for humid tropical environments. For instance, bananas, kiwis, and mangoes need full sun and heavy rains and do best in well-draining tropical soil.
Many tropical fruits can be found growing in the region around the equator. This includes places like the Caribbean and Mexico and Asian countries like Indonesia and India.
Can Lemon Trees Grow in the Desert?
Citrus of any variety can be tricky to grow in the desert. It really comes down to the variety of lemon tree that you choose to plant. The popular Eureka lemon is one of the best options to plant in the desert. This species is sensitive to the cold, so environments with warm winters are ideal. Eureka lemon trees make great potted indoor plants for this reason.
Lemon tree trunks are very susceptible to sunburn in the desert. For this reason, gardeners often paint the trunks white to reflect the sunlight.
Can Apple Trees Grow in the Desert?
When we think of apple trees, most people think of the orchards in cool, breezy Washington State. But apple trees can actually grow quite well in the desert. The key is to find an apple tree variety with a low chill requirement. Ideally, you’ll want to look for a variety that needs less than 300 chilling hours.
Dorset Gold and Anna are two apple varieties that grow well in the desert. Dorset Gold requires 250 chilling hours, while Anna only requires 200 chilling hours.
What is the Easiest Vegetable to Grow in the Desert?
Just like with fruit, certain varieties of vegetables will thrive in desert environments. When you’re planting crops in low desert regions (an elevation lower than 5,000), you need to choose crops that can withstand long hot periods. Some of the best heat-tolerant crops are tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers.
If you live in a high desert region (an elevation higher than 5,000 feet), choose a more cold-tolerant crop. Cold-tolerant vegetables are less likely to die if the temperatures dip below freezing. Greens like kale and root vegetables like parsnips tend to do best in this environment.
What Can Be Farmed in the Desert?
Besides fruit and vegetables, the desert is suitable for many other high-yield crops. California and Arizona have become well-known for growing high-quality cotton in the desert. The dryness of the desert climate is also ideal for growing sorghum and alfalfa, two feed crops that are relatively drought resistant and pest-free. Sorghum is becoming a choice crop for desert farmers as it puts less strain on water reserves than other feed crops like soybeans.
Don’t let misconceptions about desert gardening stop you from planting fruit trees! There are some considerations to keep in mind, such as if you live in the low or high desert. The high desert has cooler temperatures and will require more cold-tolerant species.
Stick with fruits like plums, pomegranates, figs, grapes, and peaches and you should have no problem growing a productive fruit tree in the desert. Just keep in mind that the desert heat means you will have to stay on top of watering to keep your plant happy.