Replace Front Lawn with Fruit Trees

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson

'Golden Dorsett' apple blossoms

‘Golden Dorsett’ apple blossoms

Sara Siskin's harvest of 'Golden Dorsett' apples

Sara Siskin’s harvest of ‘Golden Dorsett’ apples

'Golden Dorsett' apple foliage turning color in the fall

‘Golden Dorsett’ apple foliage turning color in the fall











Amidst thoughts concerning alternatives to the front lawn, I recently came across “Self-Reliance,” Ralph Waldo Emerson’s classic essay, composed in 1841. “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” he wrote. “Whoso would be a man must be a non-conformist,” and, finally, “Insist upon yourself; never imitate.”
Emerson’s non-conformist, if not rebellious, tendencies are distinctively American, and are more and more in evidence as you drive the streets of Los Angeles. Slowly but surely, front lawns are shrinking and, in some cases, disappearing altogether. Will lawns some day be as exotic as typewriters, cloth diapers and rotary phones?
Of course, there are legal and economic aspects to having a lawn, and/or conventional sprinklers, which make rebellion easier.
No one wants to be told when or how much to water what grows in front of the house. However, as long as you have a lawn or even a lawn-less yard, but with conventional sprinklers, you will be under the watchful eye of the local water police. And, even if you obey all the water laws, if you use more than your allotted quantity of water, you will pay a huge premium for it to LADWP.
In Los Angeles, drip irrigation systems are not subject to watering restrictions. You can water any time of the day or night, any day of the week, without breaking any law. So if you want to bring irrigation scheduling back under your control, and stay comfortably under your water allotment, make your plantings drip friendly.
In Studio City, I recently encountered a front yard that is so simple, economical and productive, that only a few words are needed to describe it: Drip irrigation, woody mulch, citrus trees. For a tiny bit of water, compared to what a lawn requires, this orchard of lush, evergreen trees with orange and golden treasures hanging from their branches, will provide plentiful vitamin C refreshment throughout the year in the form of juice and fresh fruit. There is also a calming, minimalist, aesthetically pleasing quality about 10 citrus trees painted/planted on a canvas of mulch. You only want to be sure that the mulch does not touch your tree trunks since such contact may cause potentially lethal fungus problems.
A front yard orchard, irrigated by a drip system, is a sensible idea as long as the area in question receives at least half of the day’s sun. If plums are your passion, plant the ‘Santa Rosa’ variety. If you think apricots are more appropriate, plant ‘Moorpark,’ ‘Katy,’ or ‘Royal Blenheim.’ Japanese persimmons, most notably the ‘Fuyu’ cultivar, not only have attractive orange fruit that hangs on the tree late into the fall, but leaves that turn fiery colors as well. As for apples, you can select from ‘Golden Dorsett’ and ‘Ein Shemer’ if you prefer yellow types or ‘Anna’ for the most reliable red variety. If you fancy figs, you should probably plant ‘Black Mission’ or ‘Brown Turkey.’ If you want to invest in a nectarine tree, the white fleshed ‘Goldmine’ will probably pay off for you.
Where citrus are concerned, virtually any type seems to do well in our area as long as fertilizer is regularly applied between January and May. Citrus leaf miner is a nuisance pest that has appeared during the past few years. It is less of a problem on mature trees so plant the largest citrus specimens you can afford.
If you are looking for more exotic fare, you can visit a nursery in Granada Hills, by appointment, that has more that 100 fruit tree varieties, including several types of guava, which you have probably never seen before. For more information, go to or call 818-363-3680.
Once you have a drip irrigation system in place, you do not have to confine yourself to an orchard as far as planting options are concerned. A rose garden would do just as well. Or perhaps you are especially fond of lavender and would like to plant one of each of the more than 20 varieties that are available in the nursery trade. You could also opt for a drip irrigated garden of California natives. Where you have more shade than sun, you could drip irrigate a collection of ferns, most of which are not that water needy once they have matured.
Many drip irrigation options exist, and the technology is expanding every day. A good source for everything you will need to put together a drip system, along with knowledgeable sales personnel, is Ewing Irrigation, with outlets throughout the Los Angeles area, including stores in Chatsworth, Glendale, West Los Angeles and Ventura. For detailed information, go to
Q. My dwarf avocado tree, about 3 years old, was snapped off even with the ground during a vicious wind in early 2008. It began to come back, and now is about 3-4 feet tall. I believe it had some flowers this year, but no fruit. Do you suppose it will ever do anything or should we just get rid of it?
– Frances Landry
A. Fruit trees purchased from nurseries are invariably grafted species. This means that the tree consists of a scion or top portion that bears a clonally propagated variety and a rootstock or bottom portion that is selected for vigor and disease resistance. If your tree was broken off at ground level, the regrowth you are seeing now is rootstock growth. The tree that develops will eventually flower but the fruit that follows will probably not be as tasty or as plentiful as a named avocado variety such as the black ‘Hass’ or the green ‘Fuerte’.

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