Planting Fruit Trees at Home

Planting fruit trees at home will bring you an annual supply of seasonal treats. And don’t just think apples and pears. Home growers can enjoy figs, kiwis, plums, cherries and more depending on their available growing conditions.

Whether planting dwarf trees in containers or making ambitious plans to start your own orchard, making good choices is essential…

General Considerations for Planting Fruit Trees at Home

Growing tree fruit at home can be very rewarding. But to do well, you’ll need to choose the right fruit varieties and situation.

  1. Climate - You’ll need to know what the lowest temperatures in winter are likely to be in your area before choosing your fruit varieties. Use this information alongside the information found in our individual fruit growing guides to help you choose the correct varieties to grow.

    Even if your winter temperatures are not too cold, you’ll need to check how late in spring you can expect frosts to continue. Frost can damage buds on early-blossoming varieties. In addition, avoid planting your tree in an area that attracts early morning sun as this can add to frost damage.
  2. Yard location - Choose the right location to plant. All fruit trees need a sunny, wind-protected place in order to thrive. If your tree is constantly battered by strong winds, it will be unbalanced and may have a one-sided appearance. If this isn’t possible, you can use windbreaks to provide some shelter.

    If you’re trying to grow fruit in a slightly shady spot, there will be less sunshine for ripening on the branch. Choose early-ripening plums, apples and pears for best results in this situation.
  3. Planting tools - You can always dig a hole for planting with an ordinary garden spade. But if you’re planting more than one tree, it’s worth investing in a round-point shovel. Its pointed, tapered blade makes it easier to cut into and lever out the soil… doing a great job and helping to save your back in the process.
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How to Buy Fruit Trees & Seeds

Fruit trees are usually bought as young plants that have been grafted onto rootstock. This allows the trees grow predictably.

If you attempt to grow them from seed, it would be impossible to predict whether they would provide fruit. You’d also be unable to determine their final height.

You’ll be able to see the graft union (scion) when you buy the tree. This is usually about 4 to 12 inches (10 to 30 cm) above the soil mark. Make sure when planting that this union stays above the soil level.

Older trees are more established, so it may be tempting to buy them instead of their younger alternatives. However, one or two year old bare-root plants may struggle to thrive when transplanted into new ground. They’re also more difficult to train and won’t be suitable if you hope to attempt training a more advanced structure such as an espalier, fan or cordon (see our Fruit Tree Pruning Instructions page for more information about these techniques).

Unlike most of the trees we plant in our gardens, the size of your fruit tree will usually depend on the type of rootstock it has been grafted onto. Lots of varieties are available as dwarf trees whose height is produced by the dwarfing rootstock they are grown on. This means you can choose the variety you want and pick a rootstock that matches the space you have available.

Most fruit trees planted in gardens are dwarf varieties. Their compact size makes pruning, picking and controlling pests much more manageable. They also start producing fruit quicker.

You’ll also need to find out whether your chosen variety is self-pollinating. Varieties that are self-fertile make this clear before you buy.

Lots of fruit trees require some kind of cross pollination, which means that they need to be planted near another tree of a similar variety that will be in blossom at the same time. This is particularly true of apples.

If you’re growing a small number of fruit trees you will probably have enough bees in your area for pollination. But commercial growers often need to establish bee hives to guarantee success.

Finally, always choose disease-resistant varieties. Since your income doesn’t depend on producing a high volume of fruit per tree, you should look for fruit quality rather than quantity.

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Preparing the Soil Before Planting Fruit Trees

A good loam soil is best for planting fruit trees. Clay soil can also provide a good base as long as it has good drainage.

If you have less-than-ideal soil, adding organic mulches of compost and manure will improve any type of soil over time.

Start preparing the soil for your tree before you buy it. Make sure the area is weed-free and that soil has been dug over so that roots can establish themselves easily.

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Planting Fruit Trees (includes video)

Get the tree in the ground as soon as possible after purchasing as delaying planting may cause the damage to the tree. Don’t let the roots dry out or expose the tree to direct sunlight before it’s planted.

Don’t be tempted to add manure or garden compost during the planting stage unless your soil is extremely poor. Your first goal is to get the tree’s roots to grow, and adding too much fertility to your soil at this stage may cause your plant to use its energy on weak, soft growth. This won’t lead to strong fruiting wood.

You also need to think about how you’ll support your tree at this stage. If you are going to train your plant against a wall or fence you’ll need to set up any wires and supports before planting. This way you’ll be able to tie in the young plants as they grow.

The timing of your planting depends on the kind of tree you’ve purchased…

  • If you’ve bought a tree in a container, you can plant it into the ground at any time of year, but fruit trees will get the best start if you plant them early in spring (you’ll need to wait until the soil has thawed if you live in a cold area). Always avoid planting at times when the ground is overly waterlogged or if you’ve gone through a prolonged drought.
  • If you’re planting bare-root trees you can plant them any time between late autumn and early spring, weather conditions allowing. Just make sure they are planted while the tree is dormant.

When planting, dig a hole that is at least a third wider and about as deep as your tree’s existing roots. Firm the bottom of the hole with your foot so that the soil isn’t too loose.

Place the tree’s roots into the hole, loosely cover with soil and gently pat the soil down around the tree.

After your tree has been planted, put a stake into the ground about 3 inches (7 cm) from the tree’s trunk. This support will prevent your tree from rocking in the wind, which weakens the roots. This distance between the trunk and the stake will allow the trunk can widen into the space as it grows. After a few years, you can remove the stake altogether.

Your pruning should begin immediately after planting your tree. You’ll need to prune the central or leader stem to about 32 to 36 inches (70cm to 90cm) from the ground to encourage side growth (see our Fruit Tree Pruning Instructions for more on pruning).

Water your tree well with about 5 gallons of water to help it establish itself after planting.

Now that you have a solid understanding about how to plant fruit trees, Felix will take you through the entire process in the following video...

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