When should I plant a fruit tree?
This is one of the most common questions asked in gardening. The best answer...three years ago. If that did not happen, the next best answer, Spring is the ideal time to plant a fruit tree in your garden.
When I planted my first fruit tree, I selected an 'improved' Meyer Lemon. Everyone recommended that particular citrus variety including the staff at a local nursery because, "it is easy to grow, disease and pest resistant, and has high fruit production." It was spring. We planted the young Meyer Lemon tree with dreams of marinades and lemonade dancing in our heads. Later in the year, the tiny tree rested in the shadow of the house for 5 months every fall and winter. Years later when the tree finally grew above the shadow and it produced fruit. Then I found out, it is an over hybridized version of a lemon and orange. Not reminiscent of either and not a citrus variety I would recommend to anyone. Here are 5 tips to help you select the proper fruit tree for your garden.
1. Lay of the Land- from what direction does the sun rise and set in your yard or what direction of your yard will the tree or trees be planted? If you only have room to plant on the east side of your garden or if you have many tall trees, then the fruit variety chosen will need to be shade tolerant to produce fruit. Also, pay attention to tall buildings, fences, and the path of the sun from summer to winter. Seasonal shadows can affect fruit production. Use a compass to find the direction and proper placement for the success of any fruit tree.
2. Sunlight- Most fruit trees need a minimum of 6 direct sun hours a day to produce fruit. Direct sun means back to back, unbroken sunlight hours. Typically, open areas like the front or back yard or the west side of a landscape have enough sunlight for most fruit trees.
If you have a more shaded area or north or east facing location, then choose a Dwarf Bonanza Peach, any variety of Plums, or Figs for shady environments. Not only is the fruit delicious but the trees are sculptural filling the garden with grace.
If the landscape is filled with sunshine, plant as many fruit trees as your heart desires or the garden can handle. Remember to watch for seasonal shadows and ask experts in your area what varieties are best.
For the southern areas of the U.S., Satsumas, Grapefruits, Oranges, true Lemons, low chill hour Peaches, all varieties of Figs, Loquats, Pomegranates, Pears, and Plums do well with good soil and little care. In Northern climates cherries, peaches, apples, and pears require cold temperatures to fruit.
3. Water- Depending on where you live, the amount of annual rainfall is of great importance to the success of your fruit tree. The best garden advice cannot accurately predict weather patterns and atypical ones at that. Thus, planting several different species of trees will support a better chance of fruit production in any year and if planted accordingly will yield year-round produce. Also, if you have a sprinkler system beware of overwatering small fruit trees. Twice a week is usually enough in high heat.
4. Size- How much space do you have? How big do you want the tree to grow? Most trees at the nursery are relatively small when purchased for the home landscape. For the novice, how fast and big will a tree grow is an important question to ask. Most tags identifying the specimen type will give additional information such as height and growth habit. Slow, Moderate and Fast are the most common terms. Slow is less than a foot a year. Moderate is 1 to 2 feet. Fast is more than 2 feet per year. Pears are fast growing fruit trees with beautiful fall color. However, 2 different varieties must be planted that flower at the same time for pollination and fruit production. A large lot is necessary for pear trees and be prepared to have an abundant yield after a few years. Citrus can grow large but are also amenable to pruning. Stone Fruits such as peaches and plums are smaller trees with a sculptural habit and also respond well to pruning. For more information about a particular tree variety and growth habit, see Trees by Production Season at the end of this post.
5. Crop Yield- How much fruit will the tree produce? Fruit Trees typically begin to bear fruit in 3 to 4 years. (This is why the best answer to when should I plant a fruit tree, is 3 years ago.) In the first year after planting, do not allow the tree to fruit. The young tree needs energy for root development and growth in the trunk and limbs to later support the weight of fruit. After flowering, pinch off any developing fruit. In successive years, the first crop or two may not be the best tasting or will contain many seeds in the citrus varieties. The tree is still immature. After the first couple of harvests with proper care and decent weather, the fruit will taste far superior to any perfectly formed, brightly colored store-bought produce. The juices will run down your face and stain your hands as you squeal with delight.
If you require additional consultation for your specific garden site, please contact The Botanical Journey. We provide consultation services for small gardens needing edibles, herbs, wildflowers, and native plants. If you have any additional questions about fruit trees for your garden, please email us and we will be happy to answer.
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Trees by Production Season
Loquat- early spring fruit with flowers in winter, evergreen or leaves year round, Medium Height
Plums and Peaches- pretty flowers, late spring/ summer production, graceful, loses leaves/deciduous, some fall color, Medium Height (Plums can handle light shade and for heavier shade plant Dwarf Bonanza Peach)
Figs- shade or sun, drops leaves/deciduous, summer into fall fruit, Smaller tree, little care
Pears- need 2 varieties, summer production, fall color, drops leaves/deciduous, fast growers, Tall tree, high yield
Citrus- any variety, fall and winter, evergreen/keeps leaves, bushy trees, hardy yields. Kumquats and Calamondin are small and produce year-round and are good in pots too. Satsuma is a high yield delicious orange that is good for salty or marsh like areas and can tolerate minor freezing temperatures. Ruby Red Grapefruit is the state fruit of Texas with high yields and sweet like candy. Eureka is a true lemon or Ujukitsu is hailed as the lemonade tree. Limes do best in pots because below freezing will kill the tree. If you are interested in how to use your citrus harvest read our Citrus Celebration or Lovely Lemon Harvest.
Olives- good for pots or dry area of the yard, fall fruit, graceful, fast growers, Medium Height, and the leaves make a wonderful tea loaded with nutritional value.
Pomegranate- late fall fruit, good for a dry area of your yard and graceful with Medium Height, will abundantly produce in good years Support Local. Be Organic. Change the World!