There’s an edible for almost every space and condition, and fruit trees are no exception. Since most of us are space limited, home garden fruit tree selection can be a particularly difficult decision. They’re often more expensive, slower to yield, and much bigger at maturity than other garden edibles. Making the right selection on a long term investment is important.
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! I have been learning a lot about soils, pruning, training, rootstock, and grafting. The summary sheet below touches on key considerations and includes a summary of sizes and fruiting times (full fruiting) based upon our research; however, these are rough figures only. Every plant and garden will be different.
We have a moderate damp winter, warm summer, and a smallish garden with a myriad constraints for structures, 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 edible variety into our small space, and small mature size potential to maintain safe-distances as well as balance in our space. For fruiting speed and multi-functional screening, we are going to include some vines as well.
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 using espalier and root bagging to fit more in my (larger but still limited) available space. I’ll add post links here when I share those details on the blog in the future.
What Do You LOVE to eat?
Grow Your Favourites
In selecting the edibles for your garden, a great place to start your wish list is with what you like to eat. Why expend money, effort, care, and time into something you are going to let wither unpicked? Although the local wildlife might thank you all the same. Haha! Put that investment into growing your favourites. Yum! What types of fruit do you and your family enjoy the most? How much is 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 expensive, so you might like to try growing your own. Others seem to be expensive no matter what the season or availability, so growing your own can be a worthwhile investment.
It’s also fun to pick fruit types and varieties that aren’t readily available commercially. This is especially true if (like us) you live in an area where fruit is grown. When in season, the common varieties are readily available and very cheap. Growing something different gives greater options and better value.
Reduce Your Exposure to Chemical Reside
If you’re concerned about sprays, some edibles are more prone to commercial chemicals and pesticides than others. Nectarines, peaches, cherries, apples, pears, and grapes often make the annual residue “dirty lists”. Fruits may be tricky to grow without extra attention, so be prepared to make an extra effort if you want to be a low or no-spray gardener yourself.
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.
Room to grow is the most significant limiting factor for most home gardeners when planning fruit trees Considerations include mature height, width, and root behaviour. Planting too close to buildings, walls, fences, paved areas, or pipes can cause a major headache.
Since some trees require cross-pollination, you’ll need even more room for a single 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.
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 need protection from harsh winds or frosts, while others require a minimum level of chill to produce. Different soils and drainage conditions are also factors. Wet feet 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.
Be aware of local pests and diseases that may impact the health of your 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 varieties before making a final decision.
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. 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 change to harvest, if possible.
Fruit Trees for Landscaping Double Duty
Do you need to plant for both form and (delicious) function? Fruit trees can be productive but pretty landscape plants. In many gardens, space for planting trees is limited, as noted in the conditions above. Trees may need to be both pretty and productive in your garden plants. Consider the full cycle, from flowering, through fruiting, autumn colour, and leaf drop (if deciduous).
Note that netting fruit trees and vines for protection from winter frosts or foraging birds when in 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.
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 is dated, but good ideas are always in fashion, so we’ve keep it with our updated post.
Of course, this information is ever-changing as 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.