Things To Consider When Buying a Fruit Tree
Your heart is racing, you can’t stop drooling over catalogs, and the excitement keeps mounting—you want to buy a fruit tree! Welcome! You are about to embark on a rewarding edible landscape journey. While I will try fun and interesting new vegetables or flowers on a whim, fruit trees are different. Fruit trees typically cost more money, take longer to produce, and require a lot more space. For those reasons alone, it’s important to take the time to select the right fruit trees for your space.
On a personal note, we started out with one lonely lemon tree in our backyard. It was there when we moved in, but had not been watered or cared for in years. Since the lemon was smack dab in the middle of the yard, we had to move it to install our garden and landscaping, but to this day it is cherished and happy. Three years later, we now have over 15 fruit trees in our backyard—I’ve lost count. I hope the list below helps you narrow down your fruit tree choices and make the right decision for your garden.
What fruit do you like to eat?
Sure, you could always grow fruit for other people, but how about we start with something you actually enjoy eating? Haha.
Make a list of the fruits you enjoy eating or using for cooking. This might seem obvious, but it really is a great place to start. Unlike vegetable seeds or plants, buying a fruit tree can also be considerably more expensive and more of a space investment, so putting some time into planning for fruit is worth it.
What’s Your Gardening Zone?
Fruit trees will flourish when grown in a climate well-suited for them.
Now, take your wishlist and start researching which of those fruits might perform well in your garden zone. Over the years it’s become very apparent that happy fruit trees produce more fruit and require less maintenance. Yes, you can push climate boundaries for fun, but our best harvests come from plants (like our pomegranate) that love our climate. Plant choice is extremely important to being a successful gardener.
Most catalog and plant tags will list the best USDA garden zones for each tree. You can find out your USDA garden zone HERE along with my feelings on why your zone is very important to your garden adventure.
Check on the Chill Hours
In order for some trees to actually bloom and set fruit, you must make sure they receive the correct amount of chill hours. PS: I do believe there is some wiggle room here just based on experience.
Chill hours refers to the number of hours the temperature is between 32-45 Degrees F during Winter. This cold period lets the tree go dormant and have enough energy to bloom and fruit in Spring.
Chill hours are important for a lot of stone fruit (ie. plums, nectarines, cherries), blueberries, and apples, but not all fruit have a chill hour requirement. (for example: citrus, pomegranates, avocados, etc).
There are different ways to find out the amount of chill hours your area receives, but here is one method for how to calculate chill hours: The Master gardeners have a list of chill hours by location. You can find one close to you and get a pretty good idea of your max chill hours. Check out the link Here. I had 260 chill hours in the 2018-2019 season.
Some fruit trees require another to successfully pollinate and bear fruit. Others can be “self-fruiting,” “self-fertile” or “self pollinating.” To complicate things even more, some fruit trees are self-fruiting but have been observed to produce even more when paired with a second tree of a certain variety. When looking to purchase a fruit tree, look for the terms listed above to see if your tree needs any help in the pollination department.
In smaller gardens, it is nice to look for self-fertile varieties so you only need to provide space for one tree. Another option for saving on space is to purchase a grafted tree. Grafted trees are typically more expensive because of the skill required to graft, but they can sometimes include 3 or more fruit varieties on one plant!
»Want to save some money?
Fruit trees can be significantly cheaper if purchased as bare roots instead of fully mature trees. In fact, one reason I am writing this article now, during the dead of winter, is because the months of January-March really mark the times that bare root trees are sold in nurseries all across California. It’s the ideal time to buy and plant a bare root fruit tree.
In zone 10b, bare root season usually starts in January, but in colder zones bare root season runs from January-March.
What does “bare root” mean? This refers to the practice of selling a plant with its roots showing because the plant is in dormancy. Where can you buy bare root trees? If you head in to your local nursery during the right season, you will no doubt find a fabulous selection of bare root trees. Just look for things that look like sticks in a bag! Haha.
It does take time for trees to mature when started as bare roots (sometimes you’ll have to wait 1-3 years for fruit), but it is worth it! In fact, almost every single tree in our yard was started as a bare root, and I wrote about our experiences in my No-Stress Bare Root Planting Guide.
Tree Recommendations for Zone 10b
Where we live in Orange County, it is extremely hard to narrow down fruit tree choices. Our climate is mediterranean, so citrus is obviously a great choice, along with pomegranates and avocados. Those three groups right there require almost no effort to grow here.
Stone fruit can be a little more tricky. Our apricot is flourishing and producing wonderfully! It is an ‘ultra dwarf royal apricot.’ We also have a ‘burgundy’ plum that is having issues setting fruit due to pollination—so we also added a ‘santa rosa’ plum to help with that this year.
Guava also grows well in our climate. I’m currently growing a ‘Malaysian Red’ guava that is delicious and happy.
Figs! Oh I can’t forget these delicious morsels. My personal favorite fig is ‘Violette de Bordeaux’ because the flavor is warm and jammy. Another delicious fig is the ‘Panache’, which is both visually striking and perfectly sweet! Now, figs are technically ficus carica—meaning they can grow large, destructive root systems. For this reason, many gardeners advocate growing figs in pots or avoiding planting them near any structures.
Update: Our ‘Anna” apple tree is doing amazingly well. It has produced large, crisp, sweet fruit within the first two years! We bought ‘Ein Shemer’ as a pollinator for the ‘Anna’ and it is not as happy. I won’t write it off completely because the foliage looks good, but it has been growing very slowly. I do highly recommend the ‘Anna’ apple though!
Though not technically a tree, we really enjoy out passion fruit vine. It’s probably my favorite fruit (if you were cruel and made me choose). I wrote about my experience growing passionfruit HERE.
Organically Preventing Pests From Eating Your Homegrown Fruit
Gardener beware. It’s not all bountiful harvest baskets when growing fruit in an urban backyard. We have squirrels, opossums, rats, birds, slugs, and more! Everything wants to snack on your sweet, homegrown fruit. I share my tips for how we protect our fruit in my article Growing Grapes & Protecting Ripening Fruit in An Urban Garden.
Ready to Plant Some Fruit Trees?
Before I go, I’d like to say one last thing: Due to the amount of time it takes for fruit trees to establish and reach fruit bearing age, I always urge new gardeners to think about adding fruit trees as early as possible. For example, when we first moved in, our whole backyard was grass (which you can see HERE if you’d like) but we knew we wanted to line the our left fence side with fruit trees. We added them first (as bare roots), and now that we have built the garden and settled in 3 years later, our fruit trees are starting to provide huge harvests. I am so thankful we planted those trees when we did!
Do you have any fruit tree dreams? What kinds of fruit are you growing? Leave a comment below⇓
PS: Tag me in your gardens with #FreckledCA on Instagram!