The idea of harvesting sweet, juicy fruit from your own yard is many a homeowner’s dream. Imagine the delicious fun of being able to reach out and pick your very own apples or nectarines or pears. You’ll need a little patience, however, since it typically takes four to five years for a young tree to produce fruit. But it will be worth the wait. And in the meantime, you’ll have a beautiful addition to your landscape.
Here’s what you should do to ensure the best start for your fruit tree…
Know what grows well locally. You may be longing to grow the juicy peaches that you remember fondly from your grandparents’ yard in Georgia. If you live in Upstate New York, however, it won’t be so easy. Like many plants, different fruit trees require different climates. While there are some peach varieties that can grow in colder climates, an apple tree is a more climate-appropriate choice. Conversely, many apple trees don’t do so well in hot climates.
To find what thrives where you live, ask for guidance at a local nursery or explore what grows well in your region by doing some online research on the websites of fruit-tree nurseries in your state. Of course, the best thing is to drive through your own neighborhood, taking note of the types of fruit trees that flourish there…assuming you can see into the yards.
Find a spot roomy enough to plant two trees. Most often, you have to plant two of the same trees because they need to pollinate each other. Examples of fruit trees that need “pollinator” trees include apple, pear, plum and sweet cherry.
When a pollinator tree is required for good fruit production, a reputable nursery will advise you how much space you will need and how closely they need to be planted. Size and distance vary by the type of tree and variety. It can be as little as 10 feet for dwarf varieties or as much as 50 feet for regular size trees.
If you only have room for one tree, choose a “self-fertile” tree, meaning that it can pollinate its own flowers. This is true for most citrus, peach, apricot, nectarines and sour cherry trees. If space is truly limited, consider a dwarf fruit tree. See below.
Choose a spot with good drainage and full sun. Generally speaking, fruit trees prefer protected areas with good drainage. Fruit trees like front or back yards where a garden, fence or home provides some shelter without crowding them. Give the trees room to grow without bumping up against other trees or your house. Good air circulation around a tree helps prevent some plant diseases. They thrive in full sun. If you live in deer territory, use deer repellent or fencing to protect young trees from being nibbled.
Helpful tip: If nothing but grass was growing there previously, test your soil before you plant the tree. For a state-by-state listing of soil testing labs at cooperative extension offices, go to GardeningProductsReview.com/soil-testing. The test will tell you about your soil’s fertility and pH and you will receive recommendations about how to alter it to make the area more hospitable. Most fruit trees want organically rich, well-drained soil.
Consider a dwarf tree for a small space. Those who garden in smaller suburban yards can still grow tree fruits by choosing a dwarf variety. Almost every kind of fruit tree, self-pollinating or otherwise, comes in a smaller size. Some of these can even be grown in large containers or tubs, as long as they are well-drained. These may reach between 10 and 15 feet high, as opposed to twice that for many regular fruit trees. Benefit: Dwarf trees tend to produce fruit sooner than their regular-size counterparts—sometimes even their very first season in your garden, and certainly by the third or fourth year. Drawback: They can have poor root anchorage and you’ll have to stake them for extra stability.
You may be able to find some appropriate dwarf fruit trees at your local nursery. Or, you can go online. Two of my favorite mail-order nurseries for dwarf trees are Stark Bro’s and Raintree Nursery. Similar guidelines for soil and weather apply to dwarf trees as to their full-size counterparts
Prepare the tree for planting. Its best to plant your tree in the Spring. As soon as you get your tree home, unwrap it and stick its roots in a bucket of lukewarm water to plump up the roots. Snip off any that are black or damaged. You also need to trim back the top growth a bit. Follow the instructions that come with your tree. Some trees have already been trimmed back before shipping. Don’t worry, the tree will rally once in the ground. Use sharp clippers and remove any branches closer than two feet to the soil line down by the roots (you’ll be able to see this line on the slender trunk). If the tree has more branches, clip off all but three or four, arrayed around it on all sides. Then shorten all the remaining branches to about three or four inches. It’s normal for young fruit trees not to look too lovely when you first plant them.
Dig a hole that is at least as wide and deep as the existing roots. Some gardeners prefer to create a hole that is significantly larger than the root size, but it is a matter of personal opinion. Mix any recommended additives such as fertilizers right into the planting hole. Lastly, kneel down and rough up the insides of the planting hole with a garden fork or your fingers, to help the young roots move into the surrounding area.
When ready to put in the tree, bring it to the site. Scoop some surrounding soil back into the hole and form a mound inside it upon which you set the tree, gently splaying the roots around and down its sides. To allow for settling, adjust the height of the mound so the tree trunk is about two inches higher than it was in the nursery. You can see the soil line on the trunk. Do not bury it.
Finish up by backfilling the hole with one hand while holding the little tree steady with the other. Tamp it into place until the tree is self-supporting.
Arrange dirt so that it creates a foot-wide basin around the trunk. Water well. Let the water soak in. When it no longer soaks in, then the soil is saturated, and you can stop. The basin will assure that the roots below get the water instead of it running off.
Water once a week through the spring and summer months unless there is a soaking rain. Mulch and/or pull weeds so no other plants compete with your young fruit tree for soil nutrients and water. If you live in a cold-winter area, you may want to protect the tree with mulch and burlap wrapping.
Now you just have to sit back and wait to enjoy the literal fruits of your labor.