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Most people have designated the frigid tundra of the Midwest as the last place where tropical fruit trees can grow. Until recently, they might have been right. But somehow, all manner of citrus groves, pineapple bushes, and cherry trees are cropping up in greenhouses across the Midwest. So, gather round, and learn more about growing tropical fruit in the Midwest.
Greenhouse or Patio?
When you think of tropical fruit, groves filled with lines and lines of gorgeous green trees probably come to mind. Well, depending on the size constrictions of your home, you probably don’t have acres of land to sacrifice to such a massive operation. But don’t lose hope!
If you’re an avid gardener and want to spend lots of time of energy into the upkeep of a variety of trees, the best option for you is to create a geothermal greenhouse. A geothermal greenhouse extracts heat entirely from the scorching fumes trapped in the center of the Earth. It also uses much less electricity than other types of plant nurseries because of the natural, renewable source of energy powering it.
Russ Finch is testing the effectiveness of such greenhouses in keeping tropical fruit alive in colder climates. His Nebraskan grove of citrus trees stays alive year-round in his hand-crafted greenhouse, which he built more than 20 years ago. Though the winter forces the greenhouse to run at a cooler temperature than a true subtropical climate, it manages to stay toasty enough to allow the flourishing of his trees. He proudly states that he can grow “practically any tropical plant,” which is great news for you!
However, if you’re an urban dweller, you certainly won’t have adequate space for such an endeavor. Most full-grown fruit trees require 500 square feet of space—unless you opt for dwarf or semi-dwarf species. These only require 9-16 square feet of space and can fit easily on a deck or patio space.
Sunny patios and balconies can accommodate a dwarf tree grown in a container, as long as you adjust the container size as the plant grows. Consider the viability of your dwarf tree based on your climate—dwarf trees have much shorter roots, so heavy winds can uproot them easily. Staking your little friends is a must to give their shallow root systems adequate support. When harsh weather hits, move your tree indoors and store it in a garage or basement.
Pick Your Trees
This is the exciting part—choosing what delicious fruit you’ll have on hand year-round! But, before you get to your desired fruit, consider whether or not your tree is self-pollinating. In most temperate climates, cross-pollination between more than one tree of the same species is necessary for your trees to be fruit-bearing. Self-pollinating trees do not require another pollinator to produce fruit, and thus are an excellent option for small, indoor growing operations.
- Dwarf Common Fig
- Citrus Trees (most common are improved Meyer lemon, eureka lemon, bears limes, and navel oranges)
- Sour Cherries
If you want additional guidance, consider this guide for growing citrus in the northwest—you’ll find lots of helpful advice about growing fruit in less than ideal conditions.