Fruit trees are fairly easy to grow and many are hardy enough to cope with cold winters. Many fruit trees make a beautiful display of flowers in spring and require little maintenance apart from some watering and mulching in their first year. And for the hardy varieties, during any very prolonged hot dry weather.
The downsides of growing fruit trees tend to be that your bounty arrives as a glut of fruit all at once rather than a steady stream of fruity goodness all year around. And you’ll need to do some pruning unless you are very adept at clambering around in the branches, otherwise you won’t be able to reach all that lovely fruit!
- Which fruit trees are easiest to grow?
- Which fruit trees are hardy?
- How long do fruit trees take to bear fruit?
- How big do fruit trees get?
- What is a rootstock? (And why it matters!)
The very first thing we did when we took over our homestead, was to plant a small orchard. Fruit trees take quite a while to mature and start producing a crop, and we wanted to live to see the results!
Which fruit trees are easiest to grow?
We have found that Bramley apple trees, Victoria plum trees and Conference pears have been very easy to grow and bear generous amounts of fruit at quite a young age. Apple trees do need to experience a period of cold weather each year, so if your climate is warm all year around, then they may not be your best choice.
Most fruit trees are tolerant of a wide range of conditions but prefer a slightly acid soil. Our soil is slightly alkaline so we mulch regularly with piles of wood shavings from our rabbit pens.
The fruit trees get a bonus burst of nutrients from the rabbit poop, while the wood shavings encourage some acidity. Most manures need composting but rabbit manure is what’s known as a cold manure. Meaning that you can apply it straight from the rabbit!
Which fruit trees are hardy?
The ever popular apple trees and pear trees are hardy and will tolerate frosts and winter temperatures down to as low as 20 degrees fahrenheit. Cherries and plums are somewhat hardy and many will cope well with winters in zones 7 to 10.
The Victora Plum in the photo below has thrived in our orchard and last winter we had temperatures down to 20 Fahrenheit
If your winters are milder you may be able to grow peaches and apricots especially if you have a warm and sheltered south facing wall to plant them against.
How long do fruit trees take to bear fruit?
Not as long as you might think, if you buy a tree that is five or six feet tall you’ll be getting some fruit within a year or two. We had some (a few) apples from our trees in year of planting, and in this, their third year, the quantities are starting to increase.
This Bramley tree is producing its first proper crop. Bramleys are an old English cooking apple, the kind that ‘fall’ or soften when cooked. And at the beginning of September these fruit are already looking good!
How big do fruit trees get?
Trees like our Bramleys can grow very big indeed – twenty to thirty feet tall. But you can also get fruit trees that will thrive in a small back yard. So you don’t necessarily need tons of space to grow a fruit tree.
The size your fruit tree will reach, will depend largely on their rootstock. And you can’t talk about fruit trees without talking about root stocks!
What is a rootstock?
Fruit trees are often composed of two parts, the scion and the rootstock. The scion is the stem and leafy shoots, while the rootstock is largely what grows under the ground plus a little bit of stem.
If the rootstock and the scion come from closely related plants, the scion can be grafted onto the rootstock and it will grow. With a keen eye you’ll be able to see the join, but for all intents and purposes, within a year or two it looks like a single tree.
The reason for grafting the upper part of one fruit tree to the lower part of another is to combine the fruity qualities of the scion with the disease resistance and hardiness of the rootstock.
Rootstocks can also determine size, so you can create much smaller verions of a large fruit tree that has great flavor, by simply using a dwarf rootstock. This gets you result much faster than selectively breeding for smaller trees over many generations. And it is an extremely popular practice among fruit tree growers. The chances are, if you buy a fruit tree from a garden center, it will be a grafted tree.
Do I need more than one fruit tree
The answer is possibly. Some fruit trees have both male and female elements in the same tree. So they are ’self fertilising’
For others you’ll need more than one tree, or to hope that your neighbour has a tree compatible with yours and that the bees and other insects travelling between them are plentiful!
Fruit trees come in different shapes and sizes
Fruit trees don’t have to grow as free standing trees like ours. They can also be trained up against wires or up against walls. You can buy varieties that are ideally suited for this purpose, known as espaliers.
Choosing a variety with a dwarf rootstock will help you pick a tree that needs less space, and many fruit trees of this kind will do well for several years in a large tub or container, provided you feed and water them well.
Everyone should have a fruit tree!
If you have a patch of ground, I recommend you get a fruit tree. It’s so rewarding watching the flowers burst into life in spring, and watching the tiny fruits develop and swell over the summer.
It’s wonderful to eat fresh fruit from your garden knowing that it hasn’t been sprayed with chemicals or shipped thousands of miles on a plane. And you can have fun learning about canning, bottling and freezing or discovering new ways to preserve your crop.
There may be a few rotten and damaged fallen fruits to pick up from under the tree. But these make a nice addition to your compost heap. Most likely your biggest problem will be finding homes for all the baskets of fruit left over!
We love to hear about our readers’ gardening adventures. Tell us what fruits you are growing in the comments below, and share photos of your fruit trees on our Facebook page.