All About Growing Fruit Trees

Growing fruit trees organically is possible with the proper amount of care and attention. To bite into a fresh peach, or spread homemade apple butter on warm bread, is the epitome of a sweet, sweet reward.

| February/March 2014

  • Illustration Of Peaches, Apples And Cherries
    There are many types of fruit trees, and with a little research you can easily find the best variety for your region and tastes. Try growing apples for homemade cider or growing peaches for a heavenly summer treat.
    Illustration by Keith Ward
  • Tree Seedling Illustration
    When learning how to grow fruit trees, be sure to research trunk guards and pruning techniques.
    Illustration by Keith Ward
  • Cherry Pitter Illustration
    Special fruit-processing equipment, such as a cherry pitter, is useful when growing cherries on your homestead.
    Illustration by Keith Ward

  • Illustration Of Peaches, Apples And Cherries
  • Tree Seedling Illustration
  • Cherry Pitter Illustration

(For details on growing many other vegetables and fruits, visit our Crop at a Glance collection page.)

No plants give sweeter returns than fruit trees. From cold-hardy apples and cherries to semi-tropical citrus fruits, fruit trees grow in nearly every climate. Growing fruit trees requires a commitment to pruning and close monitoring of pests, and you must begin with a type of fruit tree known to grow well in your area.

Choose varieties recommended by your local extension service, as some varieties need a certain level of chill hours (number of hours below 45 degrees Fahrenheit). For complete details on planning and maintaining a home orchard, we recommend the book The Holistic Orchard by Michael Phillips.

Types of Fruit Trees to Try

Even fruit trees described as self-fertile will set fruit better if grown near another variety known to be a compatible pollinator. Extension publications and nursery catalogs often include tables listing compatible varieties.

Apples (Malus domestica) are the most popular tree fruits because they are widely adapted, relatively easy to grow and routine palate-pleasers. The ideal soil pH for apples is 6.5, but apple trees can adjust to more acidic soil if it’s fertile and well-drained. Most apple varieties, including disease-resistant ‘Freedom’ and ‘Liberty,’ are adapted to cold-hardiness Zones 4 to 7 (if you don’t know your Zone, see "Know Your Cold-Hardiness Zone” later in this article), but you will need low-chill varieties, such as ‘Anna’ and ‘Pink Lady,’ in mild winter climates. No matter your climate, begin by choosing two trees that are compatible pollinators to get good fruit set. Mid- and late-season apples usually have better flavor and store longer compared with early-season varieties.

Cherries (Prunus avium (sweet) and P. cerasus (sour)) range in color from sunny yellow to nearly black and are classified in two subtypes: compact sweet varieties, such as ‘Stella,’ and sour or pie cherries, such as ‘Montmorency’ and ‘North Star.’ Best adapted to Zones 4 to 7, cherry trees need fertile, near-neutral soil and excellent air circulation. Growing 12-foot-tall dwarf cherry trees of either subtype will simplify protecting your crop from diseases and birds, because the small trees can be covered with protective netting or easily sprayed with sulfur or kaolin clay.

10/3/2018 1:13:03 PM

We love fruit trees! Just wish we had more space to plant them and grow more fruit :) thanks for sharing

4/9/2014 7:40:31 AM

After planting a young pear tree, my dog rapped his dog tie around the trunk and in distress, started chewing the trunk. I put tree tar on the damaged area. Are there any thoughts from anyone on this? Will the tree Heal itself from this damage since it is so young?

2/26/2014 7:28:47 AM

I've got a question about netting. Last year I moved into a new house, which has a cherry tree in the back yard. A week or two into the summer it was clear I was going to lose most of the fruit to birds, so I put up netting. Six weeks later I had to go rescue a squirrel that had gotten caught inside (I guess I didn't fasten it tightly enough at the bottom), and a week or two after that I had to rescue a robin that had run into the net and gotten tangled. Is there a better kind of net to use, that won't trap bird wings? Frankly, if the choice comes down to "having cherries" or "not killing the local wildlife", I'd rather just buy fruit at the store.



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