Home Garden Fruit Tree Selection

Mexican lime plant with fruit and flowers in a green pot

There’s a plant option for almost every space and condition, and fruit trees are no exception. Since most of us home gardeners are space limited and perhaps also time limited between moves, home garden fruit tree selection can be a particularly difficult decision. Trees are often more expensive than other edible planting options, slower to yield, and much bigger at maturity than other garden plants.  Let’s look at some fruit tree options for different types of home gardens.

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Fitting in Fruit

With the space and condition constraints of our current urban garden, this is a particularly difficult part of the garden plan. There are many scribbles in my planning notes and journals, and I continue to learn about soils, pruning, training, rootstock, and grafting as we experiment in our gardens. 

The info sheet at the end of this post touches on key considerations and includes a summary of typical sizes and general fruiting times (full fruiting); however, these are rough figures only. Every plant and garden will be different. I’m sometimes pleasantly surprised by how fast something fruits. And occasionally frustrated by plants that just can’t seem to get to production. Ah well! Such is the ever changing and ever learning nature of gardening!

We’ve just moved and are starting again with our home garden here in New Zealand. We currently have a moderate damp winter, warm summer, and a smallish city garden with a myriad constraints like mature trees, fences, retaining walls, and other pre-existing features. Because of this, our selection criteria include: disease resistance to cope with our conditions without needing harsh chemical treatments, self-pollinating and/or multi-grafted trees to fit more variety into our small space, and smaller mature sizes to maintain safe-distances as well as balance in our space, even if we’ll probably move again before the garden matures! And so, for fruiting speed and multi-functional screening, we’re going to include some vines and lean more towards smaller plants, like berry brambles and shrubs

Goodbye Old Garden, Hello New Garden (Yet Again)

Since this post was first shared, we’ve moved yet again. This time, it was a new build with a blank slate garden. The selection tips below still stand, but I’m also now using espalier, root bagging, and other tricks to fit more in my (larger but still limited) available space. Stay tuned for updates here and detailed garden guides and DIY posts on specific topics.

Feijoas growing on tree

What Fruits Do You LOVE to Eat?

Grow Your Favourites

Yep, you’ll hear (well, read…) me saying this about just about anything that’s planted for food. Whenver you’re selecting the edibles for your garden, a great place to start your wish list is with what you like to eat. Why spend money and effort growing fruit that’s probably going to be left to wither unpicked? Although the local wildlife might appreciate your efforts, haha.

It’s much better growing and enjoying your favourites. So, if you could grow anything and everything (wish list dreams), what types of fruit do you and your family enjoy the most? How much would be enough (or too much) for your household? 

Experiment with Different Varieties and Unusual Fruits

If you’re feeling adventurous and conditions allow, some fruits store and/or ship poorly. These tend to be harder to find fresh and/or expensive, so you might like to try growing your own if conditions allow. Others seem to be expensive no matter what the season or availability, so growing your own can be a worthwhile investment. 

Planting something other than the standard commercial varieties can also be fun (and tasty). This is especially true if, like us, you live in an area where a lot of fruit is grown for market. When in season, the common varieties are readily available and inexpensive compared to specialty produce. As a little update from when this was written, we’ve planted a Belgian fence espalier in our new garden for a huge variety of apples and pears in a small space. We also have lots of potted and dwarfed citrus trees, opting for things like true lemons, tangors, blood oranges, etc. that aren’t the standard grocery store or road-side stall varieties when in season here.

Reduce Your Exposure to Chemical Reside

If you’re concerned about sprays, some types of fruit are more prone to being heavily treated with chemicals and pesticides than others. Nectarines, peaches, cherries, apples, pears, and grapes often make the annual residue dirty lists. If this is a concern for you and your family, you might want to grow your favourites and control how they’re grown and treated. Pick your varieties carefully and be prepared to make an extra effort to foster healthy plants if you want to be a low or no-spray gardener. 

Fruit Tree Planning Favourites Wish List
  • What fruits do you and your family love the most?
  • What fruits are grown in your local area? What are the availability and in-season prices like?
  • Are there any less-common varieties of your favourite fruits that might be fun to try growing? 
  • Are you concerned about the chemicals used on the fruits you buy? If so, are any of your favourites hard to find (or extra expensive) as spray-free or organic produce?

We can all dream of a big garden filled with our favourites, right?  From there, reality will help adjust those dreams into a practical plan for what could be grown in the conditions and spaces available. 

Loquat fruit ripening on tree

Growing Conditions and Available Space

From your dream wish list, the practicalities of space, climate, cost, etc. will help you select which of your wish list you can try growing in your garden.

Gardeners on the Move

Woah there for just a second before we dig in further. No matter how much or how little space you have available for planting fruit trees, pause before launching into your plans to consider whether you plan to stay where you are for a while or if you’re just passing through your current garden. Trees are a long-term plant for garden planning. It’s totally ok planting for future occupants knowing that you’ll be long gone before your get to enjoy their fruits (more yield time below). But if you’re a rolling stone and want to enjoy your harvest, you’ll want to either plant yearly yielding edibles or consider fruits that will be happy growing in planters and pots that can move with you.  

Available Space

Room to grow is the most significant limiting factor for most home gardeners when planning big additions like fruit trees. Considerations include pot tolerance, vigour, mature height, width, and root behaviour. Some trees can be happy enough growing in large pots, but others no so much. Going into the ground? Planting a fruit tree too close to buildings, walls, fences, paved areas, or pipes can cause major issues as the tree matures. 

Since some fruit trees require cross-pollination to yield fruit, you’ll need even more room for growing a favourite fruit unless neighbours have suitable plantings for pollination. Multi-grafted trees are a space saving alternative, but it can sometimes be tricky to keep growth balanced between the varieties. Specialty planting and pruning, like family plantings, root bagging, and/or espalier can be options for squeezing more trees into spaces but don’t suit all tree types or fruiting styles.

Growing Conditions

Most fruit trees prefer to be planted in full sun for best flowering and fruiting yields, but some species and varieties are more tolerant than others. Some will need a long hot frost-free period to set and mature their fruit. Some won’t tolerate the cold of winter outside or need protection from harsh winds or frosts, while others require a minimum level of chill to produce flowers or fruit. Different soils and drainage conditions are also factors. Wet feet and heavy clay soils can be particularly tricky. If you’re not sure what will and won’t grow well in your local areas, ask your local nursery for suggestions.

Local Pests and Diseases

Be aware of any local pests and diseases that may impact the health of your fruit trees or quality of your crop. This is especially important if you want to grow organically or prefer to avoid spraying. Consider the whole of your growing and care plan. If needed, investigate alternatives or resistant tree varieties before making a final decision.

Fruit Tree Planning Garden Conditions and Considerations
  • How long will you likely be staying in your current home? Will the trees have time to mature and fruit while you’re there? Would you like them to be potted and mobile?
  • How much room do you have for growing fruit trees? Which of your favourites might fit? Are there special considerations like set-backs or covenants that also need to be considered?
  • Will you be planting the trees in the ground, in pots, or both? If you’re hoping to plant in pots, which of your favourites are tolerant of being grown in containers?
  • Do you have room for plants cross-pollinators, if needed? Do you enjoy those fruits enough to occupy that space, or might other type of fruit tree be a better fit (literally) in your garden?
  • What’s the growing climate in your area? What fruits can be grown in that climate? Will you need to protect them from frost or be able to move them during winter?
  • What’s the aspect like in your growing space? Which of your favourite fruit trees might thrive in those conditions? If conditions aren’t ideal, are there other fruits that might be more tolerant?
  • Are there pests or diseases that might need to be considered when you’re selecting fruit trees?
  • What type of care would the fruit tree need? Do you have the time and the patience for things like pruning, or might a lower maintenance variety suit you better?
Fig growing on tree

Time to Yield

Time is also an important consideration since most fruit trees are slower to yield (and much slower to mature to full yield) that faster growing veggies, herbs, and berries. As noted above, are you planting in your forever garden, or are you likely to move on? Near term or long term? Different species and varieties will start yielding at different ages, so make sure you will get a chance to harvest, if possible. If you’re likely to move, you can consider pots or plant knowing that they’ll be for someone else’s enjoyment.

Fruit Tree Planning Garden Conditions and Considerations
  • How long will you likely be staying in your current home?
  • Will the trees have time to mature and fruit while you’re there? Is that important to you? If so, are there other varieties that yield earlier?
  • Would you like the trees to be potted and mobile to move home with you? Which of your favourite fruit trees are tolerant of being grown in containers?

Fruit Trees for Landscaping Double Duty

Do you need to plant for both form and delicious fruit tree function? In many gardens, space for planting trees is limited, as noted in the conditions above.  Fruit trees can be productive and pretty landscape plants, although the pretty part might require a few sacrifices. 

Consider the full cycle, from flowering, through fruiting, autumn colour, and leaf drop (if deciduous). Covering fruit trees and vines for protection from winter frosts or netting them to keep foraging birds away from your fruit can be particularly ugly. If that’s going to be an issue for you, your neighbours, or covenants, lower maintenance fruit trees might be a better match for your garden plans. And on the subject of maintenance, some types of fruit trees and vines can be pruned, trained, or shaped into espalier, topiary, hedges, screens, or other double duty landscaping features.

Fruit Tree Planning Garden Conditions and Considerations
  • Do your fruit trees need to look attractive as landscaping features?
  • What, if any, extra functions do you need your fruit trees to provide? Shade? Shelter? Wind breaks? Screening or hedging? What types of fruit trees or vines might be suitable?
  • Will you need to cover your fruit trees for winter protection or to keep birds away? 
  • Do any of these factors change what you’d like to plant or where you’d like to plant it?

With a preference to our favourite fruits, putting the dream fruit tree wish list through the reality checks and considerations for your own specific garden space and conditions will help create your fruit tree selection and planting plan. Of course, not everything always goes or grows to plan when we’re gardening. Your garden will continue to change and evolve as you discover what thrives, what doesn’t, and favourites change with time. Happy planning, planting, and (hopefully!) eating, fellow fruit fans.

Ripe mandarins on tree in the rain

Fruit Tree Selection Idea Sheet

The follow-on infographic/idea-sheet was created many years ago, before Green in Real Life transitioned from Blogger’s blogspot to our home here at greeninreallife.com. The branding and design are outdated, but good ideas are always in fashion, so we’ve kept it here with our berry garden planning post so that readers can still revisit an old fav or stumble across it for the first time.

And on the subject of out-dated, tree varieties and options will continue to evolve, too. There are always new fruit tree varieties on the horizon, especially since the market for urban garden-friendly varieties is a growing (no pun intended) opportunity. These notes are but a brief snapshot in time, but the tips above will still help you navigate the options for fruit tree planning.

Home garden fruit tree selection and planting ideas
Home Garden Fruit Tree Selection

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