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I have a quarter-acre property, and by the time our growing season is in full swing, our plan is to have 21 fruit trees! Can you imagine being able to grow your own fruits at home? I have quite a few friends who are also growing fruit trees now, and more that are looking into it for their properties. Whether you want to grow apples, peaches, paw paws, or oranges, there are a few things you need to consider when selecting fruit trees to your garden.
5 Tips for Selecting Fruit Trees
- Be aware of the size of your fruit trees! For most home gardeners, you will want dwarf or semi-dwarf trees. These trees will grow smaller, produce earlier, and will bare fruit sooner than their standard sized counterparts. You can also grow (on average) 4 semi-dwarf fruit trees in the same amount of space you would need for 1 standard tree. Mature sizes vary per fruit variety, but for spacing purposes, expect your tree to be just as wide as it is tall.
- Dwarf trees are the smallest, typically growing to a height of 8′-10′. If you have limited space, dwarf trees can be grown successfully in containers, which means even if you live in an apartment, you can grow a fruit tree on your patio!
- Semi-Dwarf trees are the next size, and typically grow to a height of 12′-15′. These are the perfect size for most yards, and if you are limited on space, you can still grow them in containers. The average semi-dwarf fruit tree will produce almost twice as much fruit as a dwarf tree without taking up much more space.
- Standard trees are the largest fruit trees, and are the only ones that are not grafted. They are on their own original root stock, and have the potential to grow over 25 feet tall/wide. There are a few exceptions though. Standard peaches/nectarines only grow to a height of 12′-15′, which is typical of most semi-dwarf trees, but they do this naturally on their own. Pears & plums tend to be closer to 20′ tall when mature, with pear trees being tall and narrow – think of a champagne flute. Standard trees may take longer to fruit, but once they do they will produce more fruit overall. You will need a ladder or a fruit picker to harvest all of the fruit your tree grows. You can also always prune a standard tree to a smaller size – this is especially important if you live in extremely cold climates as the grafted root stock of smaller fruit trees can’t always hold up to the winter temperatures.
- Grow what you like to eat. This may sound like a given, but unlike growing a new veggie as an experiment, when you plant a fruit tree you are going to have it for years, possibly decades! A full grown tree will produce a lot of fruit, and you don’t want to be stuck with something you don’t like and won’t enjoy. If you need to have a pollinator, select a pollinator variety that you also enjoy. Most fruit trees have more than one variety that will work as the pollinator, so you have lots of choices!
- Pollinators needed, and I’m not talking about bees. Many fruit trees need to have a second tree as a pollinator in order to produce fruit. Some fruit trees are sterile and require a pollinator, but don’t pollinate anything else in return. As a very general rule of thumb, stone fruits and tart cherries are self-fertile, where fruits that have a core and sweet cherries require a pollinator. I use the guides on Stark Brothers to select my tree varieties, and find out what pollinators they need before I shop.
- I prefer trees that, at most, have 2 grafts. A graft is where the original tree is spliced together with another tree. This is how you get dwarf & semi-dwarf trees (single graft), but its also how you get trees that grow multiple varieties of fruits on a single tree. If you purchase a fruit tree that has 2 varieties, the two varieties will pollinate each other so you will only need 1 tree instead of two to produce fruit, which is great if you are limited on space. However, “fruit cocktail” trees that have 5 or more fruits on a single tree are much more of a challenge to grow, are only available as bare-root, and often receive poor reviews because they don’t grow or produce as well.
- You have a lot of options on where to shop – Lowe’s & Home Depot, privately owned nurseries, or even mail order catalogs. I recommend going where you can shop in person and purchase a potted tree vs online where you get a bare-root tree. Bare-root trees cost about the same amount as a potted tree, but they take 3-5 years before they begin producing fruit. A potted tree can start producing fruit by the second year. When purchasing a potted tree, look for bright green leaves, and a tree that has a nice shape that won’t require pruning right away. Avoid trees that are weeping sap, or have bug eaten leaves as you don’t want to bring that pest home with you. If you purchase a potted tree before it has leaves on it (like in early March), do a scratch test on an upper branch to make sure the tree is actually alive. To do a scratch test, use your fingernail to scratch a small part of bark. You want the limb to be green underneath. If it is brown, select a more central branch and do another scratch test. If that’s also brown, select another tree.
What other questions do you have about selecting fruit trees? Ask below in the comments!