gardener in small backyard orchard with apples

Caring for Newly Planted Fruit Trees

by | Apr 17, 2024

Currently, we have a mix of trees in my garden—everything from seven year old trees to brand new bare roots we potted up this season. The other day I was thinning some of the fruit on our multi-graft peach tree and realized that I haven’t talked much about young fruit tree care at all. If you’ve read through my no-stress bare root planting guide, you likely might be wondering what happens after I’ve planted my brand new bare root fruit trees?  Today I’ll share a little about new fruit tree care and the steps we take to keep our young fruit trees healthy and growing.

To begin, I do realize that the term “fruit tree” is a little broad. I mean, are we talking about stone fruit trees, nut trees, citrus trees, avocados, figs? Furthermore, each type of tree can have slightly different care requirements and growth habits. For example, we prune citrus differently than we would prune peach trees. Therefore, I’m gonna do my best to offer foundational information and answer common questions about new fruit tree care. The good news is, we recently purchased seven new stone fruit trees, so maybe future posts can cover more specifics as we create our own backyard orchard.  Unfortunately, it would be impossible to cover everything in-depth here.

Small Backyard Orchard Culture Versus Commercial Farming

Backyard orchards, more specifically the idea of keeping fruit trees on a smaller scale, is not new. I fondly remember my Dad planting two trees almost right next to each other (in backyard orchard culture “same hole” planting is very common) on a tiny side yard at my childhood home. Apparently, he knew the secrets years ago! I would trade anything for the opportunity to ask him fruit tree questions now, as he grew peaches, plums, nectarines, TONS of citrus, cherimoya, and so much more. Sadly, I don’t remember many details because I was so young and he passed many years ago. But, he did leave me the knowledge that growing a wide variety of fruits, year-round, in a small backyard is absolutely possible.

In home or backyard orchards, gardeners utilize a variety of techniques to keep trees small. Things like closer spacing, aggressive pruning, and sometimes choosing to not fertilize, are all techniques gardeners use to keep fruit trees smaller than most commercial orchards would prefer.

As I mentioned above, this year I’m working towards creating a more devoted backyard orchard. Currently, we have a lot of our fruit trees around the perimeter of our yard and scattered about in various growing patterns. When it became obvious that growing fruit was a major goal here, we decided to move forward and commit more space to fruit trees. We recently purchased the following bare root trees: Saturn peach, Red Baron peach, Babcock peach, Gold Kist apricot, a Plumcot, a Multi-Pear, and we also bought a potted Indio mandarinquat. The new stone fruit trees I chose are all good, low chill varieties for Southern California zone 10. In case you’re wondering how to choose fruit trees for your specific climate, I go over the main points in Things to Consider Before Buying a Fruit Tree.

bare root fruit trees potted up into containers

I’m not setting a great example here, but these are the new bare root trees I ordered this Spring (2024). Ideally, they would be in the ground already, but I don’t have an orchard space designed or prepared yet. I definitely got impatient. If you’re ever unable to plant your bare root plants straight away, potting them up is always an option.

Why Do I start With Bare Root Fruit Trees

Pretty much one hundred percent of the deciduous fruit trees we grow came from bare roots. Our ‘wonderful’ pomegranate, the multi-graft peach tree , the juicy ‘double delight’ nectarine—all bare root. In my opinion, potted fruit trees are often just a way for vendors to make more money on their trees, as the price is mostly based on size of pot. Reputable companies will sell amazing quality bare root plants that rival anything you’d buy in a small pot anyway.

There are exceptions though. If budget isn’t a concern, there are times when it might be more suitable to purchase a larger, potted tree. What is it they say, ‘time is money’? And sometimes, we have no choice but to purchase potted fruit trees. For example, citrus and avocados are not sold as bare roots because they never actually go dormant. Especially for avocadoes, I highly recommend starting with the biggest possible tree your budget will allow. We have three avocado trees we bought at larger sizes (5 gallon, 10 gallon, 15 gallon) and it has really paid off in terms of production in just a few short years. We got tons of fruit within two years, compared to growing an avocado from a small nursery sleeve.

Protecting Your New Tree From Sunscald or Sunburn

One of the first things I consider for newly planted fruit trees is the risk of sunscald. Now, this is not necessarily applicable to all climates, but sunscald can be a major problem here in Southern California. I know from experience! I also talk about this particular concern in my Tips for Growing Apples in Southern California video.

Although sunscald can refer to a few different gardening situations, I’m referring to when the bark of young fruit trees gets so hot it essentially burns—like a sunburn. According to the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, sunscald can also happen during extreme Winter temperatures when rapid fluctuations can cause the bark tissues to die and even crack. Any type of sunburn or sunscald that damages the bark of your young tree can make it susceptible to further problems and will likely shorten it’s lifespan.

Now, the very first trees we ever planted (back in 2016), never had an issue with sunscald, but this was mostly likely due to their location. Truthfully, I didn’t even know about it! I learned about sunscald when I started to notice discoloration on the bark of one of the avocado trees. Later on, I learned that avocadoes are especially susceptible to sunburn until their canopies fill out more. Actually, both avocados and citrus are especially vulnerable to sunscald. Since concerns about sunscald or sunburn are not applicable to all situations, you’ll have to think about your particular tree and decide if your new fruit tree care regimen will include protecting from sunburn.

So what does a gardener do to protect a young tree from sunburn? For me, the best solution I’ve found for home gardeners is to paint the trunks or exposed branches of your trees with a special paint. IV Organics makes a paint that can be applied to the trunks of your fruit trees. There are two products—one is solely to protect against sunburn/sunscald while the second offers additional protections. This is not sponsored by IV Organics, but it is the only product I’ve found that is organic, OMRI listed and has been used by gardeners I know.

painted apple tree trunk to prevent sunburn

This is a ‘golden dorsett’ apple tree, which is a wonderful low-chill variety for Southern California. We painted the trunk with special white paint in order to protect it from sunburn while it is young.

Removing the First Fruits

Another very common question about caring for newly planted or young fruit trees is if the fruit needs to be removed the first 1-2 years? I believe most master gardeners will tell you yes. Removing the first fruits from your newly planted fruit tree will let the tree focus on establishing roots and growing stronger (rather than forming juicy fruit). Removing fruit on young fruit trees also has a safety component as well, as the branches are most likely spindly and can’t support fruit without breaking. There is no harm if you want to follow this guideline for new fruit tree care!

For me personally, I do remove most of the fruit the first year. If I want to try the fruit, I might leave one the first year and a few the second year—only if the tree is looking very healthy! Don’t forget, if the fruit is on the end of a weak/thin branch, it’s probably better to remove it so the branch does not break. However, if the tree is struggling, I won’t leave any fruit. Keep in mind, it’s totally normal if your bare root fruit trees don’t set any fruit the first or second years.

Thinning Fruits On Fruit Trees

Thinning fruit is a different process, not solely reserved for young fruit trees. What does it mean to thin fruit? The process that gardeners call “thinning” is essentially performed to help the tree focus on growing larger, juicier, better fruits. For instance, some trees can set so much fruit that there is not enough energy for the tree to develop all the fruits well. This can result in smaller, drier, sadder fruit production and quality. I’ve definitely noticed that thinning helps our peaches and apples.

In short, thinning fruit is really just about helping the tree focus it’s energy on creating the biggest fruits and preventing branch breakage/damage. Thinning should be done throughout a tree’s lifetime, not just in the early years. My tips for thinning fruit trees are as follows:

♦Envision the mature size and shape of the fruits, and remove any that are too close together to allow the fruits to grow that large.

♦Look carefully at each branch. Can it support the weight if each of those remaining fruits grows to full size?

♦You want to thin fruit when they are around 1 inch in size

That’s my more intuitive approach for thinning fruit. In general, most deciduous fruit trees benefit from thinning (think peaches, plums, nectarines, etc) but cherries, nuts, citrus, figs and avocadoes don’t necessarily. There are always exceptions! In my apple video I mention that I thin each apple spur down to 1 or 2 fruits per spur and that has worked wonderfully.

example photos of thinning peach fruit

Thinning fruit on your fruit trees doesn’t have to be perfect. I prefer a more intuitive approach. As you can see in the picture on the left, there is no way that cluster of baby peaches would be able to all grow into plump fruit. Although thinning can feel difficult, it’s worth it in the end.

Fertilizing Young Fruit Trees- A Basic Approach

I personally think fertilizer is over-applied and over-used. This is terrible for both the environment and our wallets. I’d much rather err on the side of less fertilizer than too much. But here’s the cold-hearted truth about fertilizing anything in the garden: you can’t truly know if you are fertilizing correctly without a soil test. Performing a soil test is the only way to accurately measure what nutrients are present in the soil and what nutrients need to be replenished. Obviously, as a home gardener it’s just not practical for me to test my soil that often. I do test my soil every so often  (or when starting a new garden or if something is going badly). However, it’s just not practical for me to be testing my whole garden on a frequent basis. Because of that, I stick to a fertilizing routine that I can remember and that has been working thus far—I call it my very basic approach to fertilizing.

Currently, I fertilize the majority of my fruit trees with an organic fruit tree fertilizer, once a year, per the package instructions. Typically, this happens after the dormant pruning (late winter/early spring), once the tree starts to push out growth. For container fruit trees, I might have to fertilize again a few months later, as rain and watering leaches out nutrients from container plants a lot faster than in-ground plants. This is especially applicable here in Southern California because we get most of our rain in Winter and Spring. When fertilizing fruit trees I use a balanced fruit tree fertilizer like this Down to Earth 6-2-4 or this Kellogg 4-3-2. As you know, I’m always using what I have or what is available.

While this very simple approach has worked for many years for me, I’ve been interested in trying some different approaches too. Keep in mind, some approaches are tree specific—meaning each tree will have its own requirements. One such approach has to do with peaches and nectarines, and taking cues from your tree to assess if fertilizer is necessary. University Extensions in both Oregon and Utah talk about fertilizing according to how much new growth the tree has put on. If your peach or nectarine is under three years old, and put on at least 18 inches of growth, you don’t need to fertilize. They say that trees 4 years and older only need to put on 12 inches of growth to be sufficient. Cool, right? I haven’t been able to find this information specifically for California, and I do wonder if climate conditions would effect the ranges of expected growth rates. Either way, it’s a concept I think is worth exploring more.

So, like everything in gardening, there are many ways to do things. Fruit trees can and will grow with minimal effort, but you can also explore the nuances of growing fruit and increasing production if that’s something that truly interests you. As I cultivate the new trees in our backyard orchard, I’ll share anything new I learn along the way in terms of fertilizing and new methods.

young bare root fruit trees in backyard garden with blossoms

This is a side by side of a ‘double delight’ nectarine (left) and a ‘flavor grenade’ pluot (right). The nectarine is 4 years old and it gave us a huge crop of fruit last year. Meanwhile, the ‘flavor grenade’ pluot is two years old, and gave us one fruit last year. This year the tree set a lot more fruits, but I will be thinning them for sure. The ‘flavor grenade’ pluot is growing in a pot, which I think speaks to the ability to grow fruit in containers and smaller spaces.

Pruning Young Fruit Trees

I hope this doesn’t disappoint you too much, but this won’t be a guide to pruning young trees. Pruning is different for stone fruit, apples/pears, pomegranates (but more on pomegranates here), citrus, figs, etc. so there’s a lot to cover there.  Additionally, I haven’t been growing my fruit trees in a very traditional fashion, so they were not put through the traditional steps of backyard orchard pruning. Here why: the majority of our fruit trees are located along our fenceline, which means they are all trained to be somewhat flat on one side.  For instance, take a peek at the double delight nectarine in the photo above. It’s planted close to a fence, so I can’t truly do the traditional vase-shape tree (as one of the limbs would by hitting the fence). I’ve just been keeping the height down and doing my best to keep good airflow amongst all the branches. In case you’re wondering, I’d personally avoid planting fruit trees along a fenceline in the future unless you keep it a certain distance away. First, the fence line can be the “neighborhood animal highway” making it easier for critters to access fruit. Second, unless you are doing a very traditional espalier or plant far from the fence, I don’t like how the trees can end up being unbalanced in structure. We planted our fruit trees along the fenceline when we first moved in (AKA completely novice gardeners), and it’s not really something I’d recommend if I were to do it again.

One thing I do want to emphasize about new fruit tree care is the importance of pruning to control size in a backyard garden setting. Trust me, if you forget pruning, your trees will get too large and be very difficult to bring back down. Sadly, I know this because two of our oldest trees we let go for a few years and they grew over 15 feet tall. You might think, why is this an issue?! More fruit! But the biggest issue is that all the fruit ends up too high for us to harvest (easy for the birds to reach though), and the taller canopy can shade out bottom branches, preventing fruit and new growth from ever forming lower down on the tree. It’s terrible!

For the sake of this conversation, let’s just talk about stone fruit trees for a moment—peaches, nectarines, plums, etc. In general, I don’t prune any of my new fruit trees right after planting. I’ll wait and see how they grow. Once the Summer arrives, if I see that the new tree has put off tons of new growth, I might perform a summer pruning.

Summer Pruning & Dormant (Winter) Pruning

Good fruit tree shape starts with bare root selection. When selecting our trees in person, I typically have an idea in my mind of how I will be training the tree to grow, and so I attempt to select bare roots that are compatible with that vision. That being said, one thing I wish I knew when we first started gardening is that there are two opportunities to prune and shape your (mostly stone fruit) trees: Summer pruning and Winter pruning. For backyard gardeners who might be looking to control the sizes of their fruit trees, performing both a dormant pruning and a Summer pruning, can be helpful!

Summer pruning is more geared towards controlling the size/height/width of your tree, whereas Winter (or dormant) pruning is more like detailing. Taking advantage of both types of pruning is hugely beneficial for backyard gardeners. For example, Summer pruning typically happens when the tree has put off lots of new growth (this can be throughout the Summer season) and you can remove part of the new growth to control the height of the tree. You do need to be careful when Summer pruning to not leave the tree wide open to burn. On the other hand, Winter pruning (which happens when the tree is dormant), will focus more on removing major limbs, removing dead, dying, or diseased growth and crossing branches.

With our newest batch of bare root fruit trees, I plan to train them to grow in a more traditional backyard orchard manner, so maybe I can take you along on that journey (be sure you’re subscribed to my newsletter and YouTube channel). As of now, those trees are just in their pots waiting to be planted in the ground. The best source of pruning information will come from your local Master Gardeners Extension (this pdf is from UCANR on deciduous fruit trees). Although, be aware that these educational sources are very specific and regimented. It’s one way to do things, but not the only way as you can probably see from a lot of our current fruit trees.

mesh tree bag covering persimmon tree to protect fruit in the garden

This was our backyard fuyu persimmon tree in its second year. We decided to try a zipper-closure mesh bag to protect the fruits. It worked so well! Even though mesh bags might not look “pretty” in the garden, it’s worth it to be able to enjoy some homegrown fruit.

Protecting Your Fruit

The last part of new fruit tree care that I want to discuss is your options for protecting your fruit. Specifically, how to protect your fruit when your trees are young and there might not be as much fruit to enjoy!

Ultimately, I have documented the methods I’ve tried over at Protecting Fruit in a Backyard Garden, but I do want to highlight two products here. The first product being organza bags. Now, you do want to purchase the larger size organza bags because they are the most versatile. I remember when our peach tree produced fruit for the first time. There were only a dozen or so fruits! So, I carefully wrapped each fruit in an organza bag, and we got to try our very first homegrown peaches!

The second method I like to use to protect fruit on smaller fruit trees are these mesh tree bags. There are actually two versions of these bags that I’ve tried—a zipper version and a drawstring enclosure. Personally, we like the zipper closure the best. Tree bags are great for when your fruit trees are small, and it’s way too much work to wrap each fruit individually. For example, once our peach started to set way more fruit, I couldn’t take the time to wrap each one. We ended up tenting the entire tree with one of these bags. We also used a tree bag for our two year old persimmon. Thanks to both of those products, we have been able to enjoy our fruits.

Establishing a Backyard Orchard

There’s so much fruit tree goodness to come. Back when we first planted our original trees, there was no blog, no social media really, and no photos or video to capture how things went. Therefore, it’s going to be quite the adventure to follow the lives of these newer fruit trees and the establishment of a more definable backyard orchard. Make sure you are subscribed to my newsletter and feel free to share, comment, and pin this post if you found this blogpost helpful!

Plant a California native shade garden


  1. Heather Altobello

    I have two cherry trees in Los Angeles/Van Nuys. One is a yellow cherry and one a red. They were both bare root fruit trees and have been in ground for about five years. Every year we get more cherries. This year seems to be the most promising. We are looking forward to our harvest.

    • FreckledCalifornian

      That’s incredible! If you know what types of cherries, I’d love to know! I bought the royal crimson because it’s supposed to produce without a pollinator, but I’d be open to trying other low chill varieties as well. Cherries are so delicious.


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Meet Randi

Urban gardening is my jam. I’m Randi, California girl who obsessively gardens to grow food and flowers around my urban home. Seasonal, simple living is what inspires me~ I hope it will inspire you too. Join me in crafting a life and home connected to the garden Read More>>>>

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