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How to Grow and Care for Fruit Trees in Your Backyard

Fruit trees are extremely valuable to home gardeners who not only want to save money by producing more of their own food, but who also want to enjoy many more fruit varieties than are generally found at the grocery store.  By picking your fruit when it is ripe, you can enjoy the full flavor that only fruit from your own trees can offer. Commercially grown fruit is most often picked long before it is ready so that it looks ripe by the time it reaches your local grocer.  Unfortunately, that means that the fruit is lacking in both flavor and nutrients.

General fruit tree planting guidelines are as follows:

  • Plant where your fruit trees will receive at least six hours of sun a day during the growing season.
  • Sun should not be blocked by buildings, fences or other obstacles.
  • Plant at least three feet from sidewalks and driveways and six feet away from buildings, as roots will spread wider than the tree crown.
  • Allow ten to fifteen feet of space between fruit trees.

Bay Laurel Nursery is a strong supporter of Backyard Orchard Culture, a system designed to increase the number of trees a homeowner with a small or medium sized lot can grow.  Using this method, you can grow more trees in less space, which means that you can plant closer to sidewalks, driveways and buildings than indicated above.  Check out our Backyard Orchard Culture page for more details.

Once you have decided what kind of fruit you would like to grow and determined that there is enough sun and space, the next step is to select varieties and rootstocks that are appropriate for your situation.  Be sure to read the rootstock descriptions to choose the one that is best for your climate and soil.  The next factor is the chill hours.  Do you get enough chill (hours under 45 degrees) for the trees to set fruit?  The chill hours indicated on our website are the minimum number of hours that the trees need in order to produce fruit.  If you live in a very warm place like southern Florida, do not try to grow a 700 hour cherry because you will never get 700 chilling hours.  Conversely, if you live in Maine, do not attempt a 200 hour peach because the peach will almost certainly bloom way too early, the blossoms will be destroyed and you will never get any fruit.  The idea is to choose varieties that are suitable for your climate to maximize your success.

Once your trees are planted, there will be some maintenance required.  The amount will depend on what kind of trees you have planted.  Watering, of course, will be the most important task.  Mulching will help to retain soil moisture and reduce water needs.  Fertilizing with a good organic fruit tree food is also recommended.  Follow the directions on the package for application amount and frequency.  Most fruit trees will require some pruning, if only to remove any dead or damaged wood.  We sell an excellent book called How to Prune Fruit Trees and Roses that is available on the Orchard and Garden Supplies page.  Since pruning differs with each type of fruit tree, we strongly recommend this book or another pruning book to assist you in making the most out of each tree.

Seasonal activities will include insect, pest and disease control, if required.  The most common disease problem with fruit trees is probably peach leaf curl, a fungal disease that affects peaches and nectarines.  You can spray to control it during the dormant season.  Apples and pears can be prone to fireblight, a bacterial disease, and codling moth, a pesky insect that is responsible for the worms inside the fruit.  See our article on Pests and Diseases of Apple Trees for ways to deal with those problems.  Another seasonal activity is fruit thinning, which involves the removal of some of the fruit so that what remains will reach a reasonable size.  Some peaches and apples do require thinning for good fruit size.