What fruit trees or bushes to plant in sloping backyard

Asked April 15, 2020, 3:21 PM EDT

Dear expert, I live in Bethesda and have clay reddish soil in my backyard. It slopes gets plenty of sunlight and is about 25 feet by 120 feet long...my wife and I are trying to figure out what would grow well there in suburbia. Any suggestions welcome- we were thinking of three apple trees and azaleas. Needs to be low maintenance. We have deer that wander through. I have two questions- is it too late to plant (it mid April) and what do you recommend that non- green thumbed like us plant?

Montgomery County Maryland

1 Response

Much depends upon your goals, e.g. attracting wildlife/butterflies/pollinators/birds or visual attractiveness, etc.

Fruit trees are fairly high maintenance and usually require spraying and annual pruning to produce fruit. Select ones that rate high in disease resistance: https://extension.umd.edu/hgic/topics/tree-fruit

You may be happier with crabapple trees which will flower, attract birds with their fruit and also pollinators: https://extension.umd.edu/learn/crabapple.

Azaleas are shade or partial shade shrubs--and favorites of deer. Some fabulous native shrubs that will give you interest at different times of the year, including winter: summersweet (clethra) for flowers and butterflies, fothergilla (flowers and great fall color), winterberry (bright berries all winter on bare stems).

Here is a good reference for more possibilities, with photos and cultural info (lists at the end): https://www.fws.gov/chesapeakebay/pdf/NativePlantsforWildlifeHabitatandConservationLandscaping.pdf

All the plants mentioned are basically zero maintenance and deer resistant. (If you have a lot of deer pressure, you may have to wire fence them till they get some size). Water during dry spells (spring through fall) the first two years. (This applies to all plants but especially on a slope where rain will run off and leave it extra dry.)

April and May are both great times to plant.

Ellen