How to Choose Backyard Fruit Trees

Kei Apple, Dovyalis caffra

I love fruit trees. Plant the right tree in the right place, care for it, and it will produce fruit year after year. So simple! There can be  many considerations but here are ten considerations to get you started.

  1. Design and plan, plan, plan.  Create a drawing of your property and consider the mature size of each tree (or the size you will maintain the tree to with pruning). How much space and light is there? How will each tree impact the property by creating shade or not creating shade? How do existing structures affect where you would like to plant? What does each tree require (water, protection from wind, sun, or animals)? Where is the water source? Are you going to plant an understory of berries or other supportive plants?
  2. Consider alternative planting strategies such as two or three or even four trees in one hole, espaliered trees, planting in a hedgerow, planting in containers, or planting in the parkway (the area between the sidewalk and street in front of your house--you may want to check local ordinances first).  Don’t forget about grafting additional varieties later!
  3. Place a stake where each tree will go. I’ve found this technique to be clarifying and can assist in final placement when working with a small space.
  4. Observe. Walk around your neighborhood. What are other people growing? Are the trees laden with fruit? Are the trees struggling? Do you like the tree’s body language; weeping, upright, dense canopy, etc.? Do you need to plant the same tree or will your neighbor share their bounty? What variety is the tree? When did they plant it? Where did they get it? Do they like the fruit; what does it taste like?
  5. Determine which specific varieties you would like to grow. Consider the rootstock just as closely! Plant fruit trees that you really love! Plant trees and rootstocks that are known to perform in your area or climate. Are there varieties that are indigenous to your area? Does the tree require cross-pollination (your neighbor might already have a suitable pollinator)? How many chill hours does the tree require? What about exotic or rare fruits? Apples, peaches, cherries, and apricots are great but what about kei apples and guavas? Ask friends and neighbors, research online, get catalogs from growers, or check out some books on fruit trees from the library.
  6. Find when the fruit is typically ripe in your area. Try to have some fruit ripening each month rather than tons of fruit in one month. 
  7. Do you plan on using greywater to water your trees? How far away is the greywater source? Is greywater tolerated by the trees you want to plant?
  8. Plant only the number of trees you are able to commit to caring for and caring for well. I admit it can be exciting to plant fruit trees but can you care for thirty new trees? The trees will need watering, mulch basin clean-outs, pruning, mulching, compost, etc.
  9. Bareroot season is typically December-February in Southern California. Bareroot selection can be amazing! Bareroot trees tend to be significantly less expensive than potted up trees. Aside from your local nursery, check out the many online sources for bareroot trees. Also, consider growing your own trees from seedlings or cuttings: guavas, figs, and loquats are good candidates for this.
  10. Plan for a bounty. Many fruit trees start producing in quantity in the third year. Three years might seem like forever when you plant that bareroot whip in December! When you find yourself with mountains of peaches, apricots, and apples--what do you plan to do? Give them away? Trade them? Can, freeze, ferment, juice, or dehydrate? A word to the wise though…be ready for the bounty!

Resources

  • Rosalind Creasy (2010). Edible Landscaping. Sierra Club Books. ISBN 9781578051540.
  • Michael Phillips (2011). The Holistic Orchard. Chelsea Green. ISBN 9781933392134.
  • California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc. http://www.crfg.org/index.html