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Select and Care for Fruit Trees

What could be better than an orchard right in your own backyard? Fresh apples, peaches, pears, plums, figs or cherries can be just a few steps from your door.

Fruit Trees

Planning for a Fruit Tree

Planning for a Fruit Tree

Very few homes can accommodate a true orchard, nor would they want to. Large-scale fruit production can be pretty labor-intensive. One or two trees, however can be a great addition to the home landscape.

First, make sure that your landscape has room for a fruit tree. The planting area should have adequate sunlight and air circulation.  Both are critical to maximum fruit production and reduced risk of pests and disease. Fruit trees also prefer well-drained soil. Trees come in various sizes, based on geographic zones. Some varieties require more than one tree be planted in order to ensure pollination.

If you've got the space, decide what you want to grow. When choosing what to plant, the supermarket may not be the best place to make your decision. Much of the fruit for sale there is shipped in from other parts of the country or world and may not grow well in your area. If you have a local farmer's market, look there for some ideas. Lowe's garden centers stock trees that are proven to be hardy in your region.

Some other things to consider:

  • Fruit trees tend to attract bees and may drop their unpicked fruit. Neither of those are necessarily bad features, but you may want to think twice before planting fruit trees in the front yard.
  • Most fruit trees take several years to produce their first crop. After that you should expect fruit each season.
  • Your home-grown fruit may not be as attractive as the market's. Most people who grow fruit at home are quite happy to accept fresh-picked flavor over appearance.
  • For maximum yields of quality fruit, some maintenance is involved. Pruning is especially important to fruit trees.
  • Crop yield and the health of the tree itself are greatly affected by pruning, but it must be done the right way at the right time.
  • Timing and techniques vary by the type of fruit you're growing. Pick up a good book on fruit tree pruning to get the best results from your trees.

Selecting a Fruit Tree

Selecting a Fruit Tree

There are three basic types of fruit trees to choose from:

Dwarf produces regular-sized fruit on trees 5 - 8' tall.  Dwarf trees yield a more manageable amount of fruit for home gardeners. Fruit is easy to pick and the trees are simple to care for. Dwarf trees work well in containers.   

Semi-dwarf grows to about 15' if not pruned or trained. The fruit yield is comparable to a standard fruit tree and you probably need a ladder to pick it.

Standard are full-sized trees like the one you climbed on when you were a kid. Because of their size and extensive root system, they can grow quite large and produce a lot of fruit.

Without pollination, there would be no fruit. The plant tag should tell you whether the tree is cross-pollinating or self-pollinating.

Cross-pollinating means another variety of the same fruit tree needs to be planted as well. Plant them within 100' of each other to ensure pollination. The bloom periods also need to overlap to be effective.

A self-pollinating or self-fruitful tree is able to pollinate and bear fruit alone, although pollination by another variety will usually increase the fruit yield and quality.

Plant fruit trees as you would any tree or shrub. Keep adequate spacing between them to allow air to circulate - prevent pests and disease.

If it's fruit you want, make sure the tree you select is not a purely ornamental one, such as some cultivars of pear, cherry and plum.
Some out-of-the-mainstream fruits such as avocado, persimmon, olive, paw-paw, pomegranate and banana can make interesting specimens and provide food. Many varieties of nut trees adapt well to the home landscape. Look for regional favorites such as pecan, pistachio, English walnut, black walnut and almond.

A note on growing new plants from seed you collect from your own fruit: It's fun (a great project for children), but don't expect the resulting plant and fruit to be the same as the one you got the seed from. Like any grafted or hybridized plant, when a seed is planted the resulting plant will likely show traits of both the "parent" plants.

Most state's Cooperative Extension Service agencies have lots of great information on growing fruit for home use. Take advantage of this valuable local asset.