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How To Choose A Fruit Tree

Lynn Coulter
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Grow an apple tree, and you could harvest apples for decades. Pears, peaches, cherries, plums, and apricots are also long-lived, and citrus can survive up to 50 years. Planting a fruit tree lets you pick your own delicious, fresh fruits for the table. (Image: Shutterstock/Mazzzur)

Before you dig, give some thought to finding the right tree for your region, growing conditions, and available space. Your local Home Depot Garden Center associate can help.

Keep in mind that fruit trees usually take 3 to 5 years to begin producing. Citrus and figs produce faster, in 1 to 2 years. Read the label on your plant and find out if it’s self-pollinating, or if you’ll need a cross-pollinator. Most citrus are self-pollinating, as are peaches, most figs, apricots, persimmons, sour cherries, pomegranates, quince, and some plums.

 Choose The Right Size

When deciding on a fruit tree, consider not only your available space, but also how much maintenance it needs. Smaller trees are generally easier to care for when you’re pruning, spraying, thinning, netting (to keep birds and squirrels away from the fruit) and harvesting. Choose smaller trees, and plant more of them, for a bigger variety of fruits and a longer harvest season.

 

 

Standard trees grow to 25-30’ and need regular pruning. If you want to hang a swing for the kids, choose a standard for its strong, big branches.

Choose The Right Fruits

Check your local Home Depot Garden Center to see which varieties are commonly grown in your area, or ask your neighbors what they grow. Exotic varieties might sound tempting, but if they’re not well-adapted to your soil and climate, you’ll have to work harder to maintain them, and you may not be successful.

Also, decide how much fresh fruit you’ll actually eat. Do you want enough to preserve? That will help you estimate how many trees to plant, and which kinds. For example, if you want to grow only peaches, you might plant an early variety, a mid-season, and a late peach, to stagger your harvest.

Read up on the trees you choose, so you’ll know how to care for them. Some fruit trees, like persimmons, pomegranates, figs and citrus don’t need a lot of spraying or pruning (although you may choose to prune, to control their size). Others, like apples and peaches, need a regular spraying schedule for pests and diseases.

Look up your garden on the USDA hardiness zone and pick a variety rated for your area. Different kinds of fruit trees need different amounts of chilling hours to produce fruit (chilling hours are the number of hours when the temperature is between 32 and 45 degrees F). For success, choose a tree that will get enough chilling hours in your garden for a full season of growing and bearing fruit before it goes dormant again.

Match your tree to your soil, and plant in a spot that gets good air circulation. Plums can handle damp soil, but apples and pears need drier soil and  good drainage. Different kinds of fruit trees have different pH requirements, so do a soil test and amend your soil as indicated.

For more tips, see our Top 9 Most Popular Fruit Bearing Trees. Then read on for our “sampler” of fruit trees.

Recommended Fruit Trees By Zones:

Cherries: Bing, Rainier, and Montmorency are suggested for northern gardens. Black cherries grow northward from Maine and westward to Minnesota. In general, zones 5 to 8 can grow tart cherries, and some cherries go down to zone 4. Generally speaking, zones 5 to 8 can grow sweet cherries.

Plums: American plums are hardy to zone 3 and will grow throughout most of the U.S. Damsons are hardy to zones 5 to 7.

Apples for northern regions: Northern apple varieties need a minimum of 500 chill hours. Recommended apples include State Fair, Ginger Gold, Gala, McIntosh, Honey Crisp, Jonagold, Red and Golden Delicious, Ida Red, Crispin, Sherry,  Regent,  September Ruby, Sunnybrook varieties and Richardson types, among others.

Pears: Most pears are hardy to zones 5 to 9, and, like apples, require a cold period. Recommended northern pears include Ayers and Summercrisp.

Peaches: Although states like Georgia and South Carolina are known for their peaches, these fruits need a certain number of chill hours and can be challenging to grow in the Southeast. Georgia Belle, Jefferson, and Redskin are rated for zones 6a to 7b. Juneprince, Junegold, and Suwanee are hardy in zones 8a and 8b.

Apples for southern regions: Look for varieties marked “low chill” for the South’s mild winters. Gold Delicious is hardy to zones 5 to 8, while Red Delicious grow in zones 5 to 7. Try Dorsett Gold and Anna within 50 miles of the Gulf Coast. Granny Smiths grow in zones 6 to 8, and Galas in 4 to 8. Fujis may grow in northern and western Texas and in Mississippi.

Plums: Japanese plums are hardy to zones 6 to 10, and some Japanese varieties have been crossed with American plums for hardiness to zone 4. Hardy European type plums grow well across most of the U.S.

Mandarin oranges: Recommended for zones 8 to 11. Try Page, Honey, or Encore varieties.

Fruits for Southwestern Gardens:

Stone fruits, such as apricots and cherries, don’t thrive in the hot, dry Southwest. Instead, try pomegranates,which are hardy to zones 7 to 10. ‘Wonderful’ pomegranates also make handsome ornamental trees. Recommended figs for southwestern gardens include Black Mission, Celeste, and Desert King. Also consider date palms, persimmons, and Mexican plums.

Apples with low-chill hour requirements (200 to 400 hours) include Fuji, Dorsett, and Pink Lady. Snow Queen and Arctic Star are low-chill nectarines. Donut, Eva’s Pride, and Red Baron are low-chill peach choices.

(Images: Tree with swing: Shutterstock/Mikael Hjerpa. Figs: Shutterstock/Vesna Cvorovic)

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